You have been looking for someone to walk your dog, you think you have found a responsible, caring person to take on the role (see my article on ten questions you should ask a dog walker) and now it is down to the “nitty gritty”. How, precisely is the dog walker going to make sure you and your precious pooch get the very best out of the arrangement?
If you think of the walks you enjoy with your dog, you will see that there is a lot more to it than simply providing exercise and picking up poop. A walk is an opportunity for a dog to have fun, to explore and to satisfy a natural curiosity. A walk is a chance for you to reinforce your dog’s training and teach new things. Most vets and behaviourists suggest that the walk is the most important part of a dog’s day and, as a professional dog walker, I totally agree.
They make it a point to repeat this information each and every time you pay a visit to their clinic which isn’t bad as certain people are careless when it comes to dealing with their dog’s health so it is a good gesture on their part that shows how much they value the lives of animals being vets.
A dog walker should be keen to make every walk a good experience for your dog, whilst providing you, the owner, with total peace of mind, and will only achieve this if provided with the right information. The dog walker should, therefore, be asking the following questions:
- Is your dog up to date with vaccinations and worming? If you are not being asked for this information, then neither are those clients whose dogs may be walked with yours. You would not knowingly put your dog in the proximity of potentially sick animals and neither should a dog walker
- May I have the contact details of your vets practice and an emergency contact number for you? Anyone with any empathy for a caring dog owner should know the importance of keeping the client informed of any problems. It is worth agreeing with your dog walker the emergency process. My clients have agreed that, in a serious situation, I would first ask a vet to stabilise the dog and deal with any immediate issues, such as pain, bleeding or breathing, and then call the owner, as soon as possible, for instructions.
- Do you want your dog to be given “treats” on the walk, if so, which brands? It is irresponsible to feed an animal anything without the agreement of the owner. Some pooches have pouches (weight issues), others have allergies and some have sensitive tummies. Some dog owners use treats as rewards or enticements, others prefer to adopt different training methods. A dog walker should be guided by the owner in these matters, not only for the sake of the dog’s well-being but also because dogs thrive on consistency.
- What commands do you use for your dog? Again, consistency is key. There would be little point in shouting “Fido come!” to a dog who is used to responding to “Fido here!” The dogs I walk respond to a variety of individual recall commands, including “What’s this?”, “This way!”, “One – two – three!” and “Look at me!”. This is not too much of a problem as I have worked out which dogs follow the others back, and therefore call the “followed” first! Sitting at the kerb is a must for some of the dogs I walk, whilst others are asked to “wait” or “stop”. Essentially, a good dog walker will want to use the owner’s commands.
- What sort of walk does your dog enjoy? A caring dog walker will always ask this question but, if walking several dogs at a time, may not be able to please “all of the dogs all of the time”. I walk some pooches who like to run like crazy on the beach and others who prefer to sniff and explore. Conveniently, we can have half an hour on the beach and stop off at a park on the way home, by which time the runners have burnt off some energy and are happy to join the sniffers.
- Does your dog get on well with other dogs? A conscientious dog walker will find out where the problems, if any, lie. Many dogs, for example, are fearful of greeting strange dogs whilst on lead; others may take a dislike to certain breeds of dog. This information will help the dog walker to take dogs out in appropriate groups, to plan walks by, if necessary, avoiding certain areas and to anticipate and manage potential problems.
- What does your dog enjoy in terms of games and toys? Some dogs are obsessed with balls; others prefer a Frisbee, squeaky or a chew toy. Some dogs simply enjoy running around and playing with other dogs. A dog walker should try to provide the preferred stimuli for each dog.
- Do you want me to exercise your dog off lead in safe places? A dog walker must never let a dog off lead without the owner’s consent. Personally, I prefer not to mix off and on lead dogs, as it can be frustrating for the restrained pooches.
- May I see the collar, harness, leash and anything else you want me to use when walking your dog? A dog walker should check the security of and make sure they know how to use all items. Harnesses and car restraints, for example, can be complicated affairs and must be fitted properly.
- What will be the routine when I drop your dog back home? A dog walker should routinely clean a dirty dog and make sure there is fresh drinking water available. Some owners may want the dog to be fed. Other dogs may be left with a chew or a Kong to relieve boredom. A dog may take comfort from a favourite toy or blanket. Some may have the run of the house and others will be restricted to certain areas. Many dogs like to hear the radio in the background. A dog walker is responsible for ensuring that your dog is left happy and your house is left as you would wish.
A dog walker would be wise to document of all of this information and should also ask if there is anything else that needs to be noted. If he or she does not ask the questions, you could volunteer the details; but perhaps you should, instead, be asking yourself if this is the right person to walk your dog?