Okay, you’ve decided you’d like to hire a dog walker…now what? I’ve been a Dog Walker for twelve years now, and I’ve seen a lot of things—good and bad. But one of the biggest mistakes owners make in the process of hiring a walker is: hiring the wrong walker. I don’t mean a bad walker, I mean the wrong walker or company for their needs. There are so many dog walking companies in the city now, that you, as a client, have LOTS of choices. But how do you know ‘how to choose?’ It can be overwhelming with so many options. That’s what this guide is about: How to find the right walker for you and your dog. And what do I mean by ‘right?’ I mean someone who offers the exact right type of service to meet the needs of you and your dog.
How to hire the right Dog Walker:
- Your dog. Imagine that everything that is in this section is written in bold. With italics. And a thousand exclamation points. Knowing who your dog is and what he likes to do is absolutely critical to finding the right walker. So ask yourself, if given the choice, what would your dog prefer: hanging out with other dogs? Or being by himself? (We’ll come back to dogs who prefer to be by themselves.) If your dog likes being with other dogs, you should be looking at group walks. Why? Because group walks are a great way to give them time with other dogs. Group walks are also great for socialization and enrichment, as the parks and scenery change frequently. But which group to choose? On leash or off leash? Ask yourself: when I take my dog to the park, what do they do: Stand around? Or run and play? If your dog is prone to standing around, an on leash group walk could be the best option. Think of it as forced participation—not that they’re being dragged around on the walk, but there’s no place to hide when you’re all walking on leash—you gotta keep up. If your dog likes to run and play, off leash group walks are a great option. And off leash adventure walks offer great socialization and enrichment opportunities, because they are having a new experience each day. Now back to dogs who prefer to be alone. This group could include, senior dogs, dogs who are afraid of other dogs or people, dogs who are reactive to other dogs or people. This group is a great candidate for private walks. These dogs get exercise and socialization, but on a walk which caters exactly to their specific needs in a one-on-one setting.
- Understand your needs, as the client. We didn’t forget about you! What is the most important aspect of walks for you: Safety? Socialization? A tired dog? A clean dog? Safety: Each type of service (private, group, off leash) has different levels of safety risks associated with it—you can find out more in our post: Will my Dog get Hurt? A tired dog: A dog who runs and plays for an hour with his buddies is going to be more tired than a dog who goes for a 30 minute private walk, but the off leash dogs are more likely to get dirty. Are you okay with that? All walks will have some level of socialization involved, but the dogs going on group walks to different off leash areas are getting the most ‘bang for the buck.” Really understanding your needs, helps you choose the right service level and the right company.
- Referrals: Ask your neighbours if they use a walker, and would they refer them? Check in with your vet or your local vet’s office if you don’t use the one in your neighbourhood. What about your trainer or a local trainer? Check out the companies’ websites. But remember, just because your neighbour uses them, doesn’t necessarily mean they are also a good fit for you. They might only do private walks, but you want group off leash walks. Maybe they have a different training philosophy that yours. The referrals may not fit your needs, but they can be a good place to start.
- Research companies: In this day and age of technology and Google, we can find lots of companies in a couple of seconds. Review their website for information about the types of services they offer, service area, their training philosophy, and general information about the company. Does it fall in line with what you are looking for? Check out their Facebook page, Instagram account and their Twitter accounts-most companies use these to share information and photos of the dogs on their walks. Do these photos reflect what you are looking for and what your dog would enjoy doing? Another way to do this, if you want off leash walks, is to go and hangout at your local off leash park. You can see people in action, and get a sense of how they are with the dogs.
- Contact them: This is an initial email or phone call. You’re looking to find out if they are taking on new clients, ask some questions and find out the next steps. This is where I would ask if they have business insurance (dog walking insurance), City of Toronto Dog Walking Licenses, what type of walking services they offer and about their training philosophy. Why? Because I would not meet with them if they didn’t have insurance or licenses, if they didn’t offer the service I wanted or if they weren’t in line with my training philosophy. Be prepared to answer some questions in return. When we get an inquiry, we always ask some in return, so we get a better picture of your needs and your dog.
- Meet-n-Greet: For most walkers, this is generally the next step. Most companies are going to want to come out and meet with you and your dog at your house. Why? Because they can meet your dog, familiarize themselves with where to find: collars, harnesses, crates, food, etc., and learn any tricks to the crate, house keys or doors. At this point, you can ask all your other questions, and be prepared to answer some too. This is when we start building our Profile of your dog…..basically cheat sheets to your dog. We will learn this all over time, but this gives us a head start. The questions we ask you, are the same questions we ask everyone. We want to know as much about your dog as possible before we bring them out with our other dogs. Be prepared to answer questions like: last vaccination (show proof), dog license tag number, your dog’s fears, triggers, favourite thing, style of play, where is the towel, where can they go when they’re really wet or dirty, vet info, contact info, emergency contact info.
- A selection: after you’ve spoken to different companies, and met with a couple, now is the time to make a selection. I can’t tell you who to choose, but the more honest you’ve been about your dog and yourself, the better your chances of picking the right style of service and the right company. The same can be said about the walking company. A good company is going to refer you on if you say you’re looking for on leash walks and they only do off leash.
- A trial period: I would expect a check in with the walker after the first walk, and after the first week. Most companies will do a trial period of walks. Usually two or three weeks…the first week is the ‘honeymoon’ phase for the dog and the second is where they have settled and the walker can see how they are doing on walks. At this point, you can check in with the walker to make sure all is well. You can also let your walker know of any changes that you’ve noticed, too. (Good and bad….we like to hear the good stuff, too.)
A couple of notes:
Questions: ask open ended questions. Not ones that can be answered with a yes or a no. And remember, the questions they ask you, are the questions they ask the owners of other dogs. Are they learning enough about your dog to make you feel comfortable?
Why insurance and licensing? For me, this is an indication of the walker’s seriousness about the service they provide. I feel if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. And I feel like this mindset extends to all aspects of their business. If they can do the easy stuff right like insurance, it’s more likely that they’ll do the hard stuff right, too. And insurance helps to protect you, too.
Training philosophy: While walkers are not trainers, there is an aspect of training involved in walking, whether it’s just general management, recall or working with puppies. Whatever your training style, it’s important to have a walker who shares it.
Senior dogs: I don’t always recommend senior dogs go on private walks. As long as they are allowed to go at their own pace, trips to the off leash park can be great for them. It helps keep them active and social, which, like with people, is very important.
Knowing what I know about the dog walking industry, this is the process I would follow if I was looking for a walker for my dog. I’ve seen young, social dogs on privates who are bored and under stimulated. And I’ve seen reactive dogs come out each day to terrorize the occupants of the off leash parks. But I’ve also seen timid dogs join groups and become vibrant and playful. And I’ve seen other dogs learn how to become comfortable with strangers while on private walks. Dog walks can be a tremendous life changing experience for your dog, and a stress relieving service for you, but only if you have the right walker.