Message from Citizen Canine: COVID-19

COVID-10 Update:

Citizen Canine is temporarily closed due to the ongoing COVID – 19 pandemic.  

We will reopen when given further guidance from the Ontario Government.  We wish you all love, peace and health.

Letter to Our Clients:

Dear friends,

It is with the most hopeful hearts that we temporarily close our doors.  By doing so, we hope that we can minimize the spread of COVID -19 and keep our clients and staff safe and healthy.
 
At this time, we have no idea when we will reopen; however, we assure you, once we can, we will.  We look forward to seeing you all then.
 
We will be sending out final invoices as soon as possible.  We are asking that everyone pays them and any outstanding invoices quickly.  We go into this time of uncertainty with the full expectation of supporting everyone on the CC team.  With the new Emergency Funds set up the Federal and Provincial governments, we now qualify for financial assistance; however, that aid is still a ways away.  Prompt payment will help everyone get to that point.  
 
At this time, we have no known cases of infection in any staff or any of our clients.  
 
We’d like to express our most heartfelt gratitude to you all.  Your kindness and support has kept us grounded.  We wish everyone peace, love and health.  
 
Jennifer

 

Why a 3 day minimum for walks?

Two dogs running on a beach walk.

 

Why do we ask for a minimum of 3 days a week for walks?  Simple. We want your dog to have the best possible experience with the group.  After walking dogs for twelve years, I can tell you with certainty, that the dogs who do the best at integrating in to a group are the ones who go for walks 3 -5 times a week.  

Routine:

The more they go out with the group the faster they learn what to expect on walks.   Why? Think about when you were going to school…when you start back at the beginning of the year, you’re not really in the mind set to learn, you’re still getting into the swing of the new routine, the new teacher, the new kids, your new surroundings.  But by the middle of the second week, you’ve got it down pat…..and your brain is ready to learn, because it’s made sense of all the other stuff. Same with the dogs. Once they are over the new routine, new dogs, riding in the car, the whole process of group adventure walks, they can settle in and start to make new friends, bond with the walker, and we can start working with them on their skills.   What we’ve learned over the years is that one or two days a week doesn’t work—there’s just not enough frequency for the dog. They never get over the ‘newness’ of the process, so every day is their first day. 

Exercise:

Your doctor / trainer / health professional doesn’t recommend that you exercise at least once a week.  (I wish!) No, it’s more like 3 – 4 times a week. Same for the dogs. Most dogs need a good solid walk each day.  That might include some off leash time where they can run and play with other dogs, or chase a ball, or go swimming.  When dogs get regular exercise, they have less pent up energy and are more focused—this is really helpful for us. It allows us to work with them on their recall and their socialization.  

Frequency:

Okaaaay…..so once my dog has been walking for a month or so, can we drop to one day?  Nope. Because everything that can be learned, can be unlearned. (We speak from experience, here.)  If you go to the gym four times a week for two months and hit your fitness goal, it doesn’t mean you can drop to one day a week and expect to keep those gains.  No way—you’ve got to keep it up. Same with the dogs. These are skills, and skills take regular practice.  

These two things: Routine and Exercise, help us integrate your pup into a group and help us socialize your pup—which is what you pay us to do.  Therefore, we would not be able to deliver on our promised level of service if your pup only goes one or two days a week. We would just be doing both you and your dog a disservice…..hence the 3 walk a week minimum. 

To find out more about what to expect from dog walking….click here.

 

 

What should I ask a prospective dog walker?

Dog walker with dogs
As the owner of a dog walking company, I get asked LOTS of questions.  The one question I never get asked is:  what would you ask?  This would be my favourite….if someone had ever asked me.  Why?  Simple.  I’ve seen it all.  I’ve been working as a dog walker since 2006.  I’ve seen this industry grow dramatically during that time.  However, it still remains completely unregulated.  Outside of needing a City of Toronto Permit (you need insurance to get your permit) and insurance, you don’t really need anything to call yourself a professional Dog Walker.  You really don’t even need those two things.  You can call yourself a Professional Dog Walker because you feel like it.  Therefore, the majority of the industry regulation is self-imposed.   None of this is mandatory, so the onus is on the client to figure out with whom you’re sending your dog.  These would be the questions I would ask if I was looking for walker, included are the answers I would be looking for, and why.  With that thought in mind, let’s get down to business.
  1. Insurance and Licences?  (The insurance I’m talking about is dog walking insurance.)  As per the City of Toronto By-Law Chapter 608 34.1: No person shall have control of more than three dogs unless authorized by a commercial dog walker permit.  So if you’re sending your dog out on group walks (on leash or off leash) your walker needs to have a City of Toronto Permit.   In order to get the permit, we need to show proof of insurance.  If your walker has a permit, you know they have insurance.  But you can request to see copies of both these, the permit and the insurance.  Why is this important?  I’m a big believer in:  if something is worth doing, its worth doing right.  The insurance is there to protect both you and the walker.  If a dog is seriously injured the insurance could cover the bill and any rehab costs that might be incurred.  While the City Permit, doesn’t actually add anything specific (outside of someone else checking the insurance and being able to bring the dogs to city off leash parks without a fine), it adds something intangible:     Because there are so many ways dog walkers can cut corners, it’s important to find someone follows the rules and does things right.
  2. Training Philosophy? There is always an element of training involved with dog walking—either in management, working on recall or working with puppies.  This is really important to me, because having a great relationship with the dogs in our care is really important to me.  In order for us to have a great relationship with our dogs, we need to foster a safe and predictable environment for them.  I’m looking for a walker who uses Positive Reinforcement.   That means they don’t use any dominance theory based training with the dogs.  Dominance theory could include: hitting the dogs, alpha rolling the dogs, choking the dogs, kneeling on the dogs, kicking the dogs.  All they should do is pet the dogs.  This helps promote a safe and predictable relationship between the walker and the dogs.  Because we do off leash parks visits, I always want a dog to come when I call them.  That means they need to know we are always a safe place for them.  I never want a dog thinking:  “Oh no, Jennifer just called me.  Should I go?  She might hurt me.”  I only want them thinking: “Yes!  Jennifer called me!   That’s the best!   I love seeing her!”
  3. How many dogs do you take on the walks? And how do you manage them all?  The city of Toronto sets the limit at six dogs.  If they take more than six, do they have an assistant who helps?  Managing six off leash dogs is work.  You basically have six toddlers with weapons running around a playground with any number of unknown toddlers who also have weapons.  (When you look at it like that, it sounds kinda scary.)  But there are ways to manage the dogs.  What techniques does the walker use?  Do these ways fit in line with your training philosophy?  Do they work with all the dogs on their recall—this is a great tool to use to bring the dogs close.  You should be looking for someone who is knowledgeable in dog behaviour and dog body language.  This helps the walker know when a dog is being bullied, terrorized or is afraid, and then they can intervene.   This also helps to prevent behaviour from escalating in to a fight and prevents resulting injuries.
  4. What do you do if a dangerous dog comes in to the park? Some walkers don’t even know when a dangerous dog is in the park—they don’t know enough about dog behaviour to know that the dog is dangerous. Again, you should be looking for a walker who is knowledgeable about   dog behaviour, so they can at least identify a dangerous dog.  The best thing to do in this situation is to leash up the dogs and leave the park.  No one wants their dog to be the victim of a dog attack.
  5. What do you do if my dog is misbehaving? I know my dog can be a jerk sometimes—he ain’t perfect.  If my dog is being naughty, I don’t want my walker to allow it.  But how do they manage it?  I’m looking for someone who will use leashed time-outs, or maybe leashing up the group and leaving the park.  I don’t want someone who will physically punish my dog for misbehaving—that will hurt my dog and damage the relationship between walker and dog.
  6. Where do you walk off leash? I want to know where my walker takes my dog—not every day, but in general.  Is it to city off leash parks?  Or are they going to places that aren’t official off leash parks?  It makes a difference to me because there are more potential hazards at non-off leash areas like: dead animals that my dog might eat or roll in; dumped garbage that could hurt my dog; broken tree branches or debris that could injury my dog as he runs through the bushes.  Also, I know that many insurance companies aren’t going to allow a claim from a dog walker if the dog was injured while being off leash outside of an official off leash area.  Some people may be comfortable with that, some may not be.
  7. Pet First Aid? First Aid kit? There are several courses you can take that will help a walker deal with an injury.  They don’t cost a lot of money, and they’re great at teaching the basics like bandaging wounds, Canine CPR, Canine AR.  A First Aid kit can be really useful at treating anything that might happen while on the walk, like cut pads, scrapes, broken nails, etc.
  8. Policy on Communication?  What is the walker’s policy on communicating issues?  I know my dog can be bad sometimes, so I expect to hear about those times.  Dogs aren’t perfect creatures—they get into arguments with other dogs, just like people do.  It’s normal when you’re taking dogs off leash at a park.  But keeping an open line of communication is really important.  And this works both ways, if you, the owner, are noticing changes, it’s a good idea to let your walker know.
  9. Cancellation policy?  You also make sure you’re clear on the cancellation policy…how much notice do you need to give without a charge? Does the walker have a holiday policy?  How often do they take holidays and how much notice can you expect?  Are you clear on the cost of the walks?  And when you will be invoiced?
These questions may not seem like a lot, but they will give you a good sense of how the walker treats the dogs in their care, their knowledge and their professionalism.  And at the end of the day, you can’t prevent all the accidents, but you can minimize or eliminate some of them, and that’s what you’re looking for with a dog walker….someone who will your pup’s best friend and keep them safe.

How to Choose the ‘Right’ Dog Walker

dog walker with dog

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

What to Expect with Group Dog Walking?

happy dog running at the beach

For the purposes of this post, we are discussing group dog walks.  This could be either for on leash or off leash groups.

Ok, so you’ve hired a walker……now, what to expect?

  1. Expect that there will be some variance in your pick up and drop off times. Sometimes we change the order of pickups, which might make your pup first, or maybe last in the route.  We might be going to a park further away and come earlier to allow for more driving time.
  2. Expect that if there is inclement weather, that the walks may be shortened. Walks are supposed to be fun, not torture.  If it’s very cold or very hot, thundering, hailing, down pouring, we may choose, for the dogs’ safety or well being, to shorten a walk.  Expect to be notified, if walks are being changed to potty breaks or cancelled all together.  Expect to be billed for the full amount of the walk, unless the walk is officially shorted to a potty break.  Once the nice weather rolls around again, we will make up the time, because enjoy being out on those days, too.
  3. We normally suggest a three hour window is necessary to fulfill a service. One hour for pickups.  One hour of the walk.  One hour for drop offs.
  4. Expect that injuries happen. Usually they are minor: bumps, scratches, scrapes, bruises.  But more serious ones, broken legs, bites, broken toe nails, large scrapes, can also happen.  Fights can happen when the dogs are on leash or off leash.  Dogs can step on glass or large holes in the ground both on and off leash.  See our post about Will my Dog get Hurt, here.  Expect to be notified if an injury occurs on the walk.  Find out more, here.
  5. Expect that diarrhea and upset stomachs will happen. When you have six dogs in your care, you can’t possibly be watching them all, all the time.  It only takes a second for them to snatch up a dirty Kleenex or a rotten piece of food off the ground.   Or they drink out of a dirty puddle.  This is true whether they are on leash of off.  Expect to be notified if your dog eats something they shouldn’t, like a chicken bone.
  6. Expect that your dog will come home wet and dirty, on occasion. If it’s pouring rain out, we can’t do much about dogs getting wet.  It’s going to happen.  Leave a towel at the door, so the dog can be dried off.  If your dog is going on off leash walks to parks or other areas, expect that they may go swimming, get sandy or get covered in mud.  Have a towel at the door for the walker to use.  If a wet or dirty dog is a real problem, have a place for the dog to go when he’s wet or dirty.  This could be a crate, a bathroom, a basement or laundry room.  Or anywhere in the house that they can be so they can dry, or just to contain the dirt.   Note:  when you send your dog out for off leash walks, they will get dirty.  The parks are muddy when it has rained.  The group might go to the beach and get sandy and wet.  If this is the type of walk you want for your dog, you should have a place in the house that the dog can go when they come home wet and dirty.  We understand your home is your castle, and we don’t want to ruin it.  We want to fulfill our job of providing great off leash walks, without the worry of a destroyed couch, and so do you.  Having that space for them to go after the walk helps us and you.
  7. Expect that your dog will get burrs in their fur, on occasion. Burrs are very much a part of the late Summer/Fall park scene.  As much as we avoid them, they will happen.  We do our best to get them out, but they will likely go home with a couple embedded in their fur.  Expect that your walker will let you know that this has happened.
  8. Expect that your dog may get sick from the other dogs. Kennel Cough, Bordetella, can spread like wildfire through a group of dogs.  While super irritating, it does happen.  Expect that your walker will let you know when dogs have been exposed to it.
  9. Expect that your walker goes on holiday. If you use a walker who works for himself, expect that there may be days you’re not getting a walk.  Expect that the walker will give you notice of his holidays, so you can plan accordingly.  If you use a company with multiple walkers, expect that you will have someone else covering those days.  Expect to be notified when this is happening.
  10. Expect there to be some adjustments to your dog’s walks. Over time, groups change, dogs get older.   Your dog may start walks on the daily mid-day group at 2 years old, and the group is young and active.  But in 5 years, your dog is 7, and now the walk is full of puppies and your dog isn’t enjoying the group the same way anymore.  Your walker may recommend a change in group to a less active group, or a group with no puppies.  Your walker may even recommend a change in walking companies.  Or it could be that your dog gets bullied in one group, so they may recommend a change to another group for your dog.  These types of adjustments are natural, and not a reflection of your dog.  We want your dog to be happy and successful in group walks.
  11. Expect there to be an adjustment period when your dog starts group walks. Lots of dogs go home tired after their first group walk, especially if they are not used to having a walk in the middle of the day.  They will gradually get used to the increase in exercise.   However, some dogs go home “amped” after their first walks.  Group walks are very stimulating for both their mind and their bodies.  It can be overwhelming for some of the dogs. This is also normal.  This will also gradually decrease as they become accustomed to their new routine.  If it doesn’t, expect your walker to discuss options with you.
  12. Expect your walker may use their own equipment (harnesses) with your dog. Some dogs pull on leash in a group setting, even though they don’t with you.  Using harnesses protect the dog, so they don’t damage their trachea from pulling.  And it protects the walker from back, shoulder or neck injuries.  Expect that a walker will discuss the use the prong collars, e-collars and the like, prior to using them on your dog.
  13. Expect to pay more for off-hour services. Dog walkers are entitled to down time.  Walks in the evenings, mornings or on the weekends, require us to give up our free time.  Expect to pay a surcharge for walks or visits during this time.
  14. Expect to be billed the full amount of the service if you cancel the walk late or your dog’s not home when the walker gets there, or if you live in a condo building and the walker can’t get in. Once a spot in a group is allocated and saved especially for your dog, it’s yours. Expect your walker will let you know that they came by, but your dog was not home or they couldn’t get into the building.
  15. Expect that accidents will happen. Keys get misplaced.  Dogs get forgotten.  A tag falls off.  These types of things happen.  Not every day, but every once in a while.
  16. Expect that your walker really does care for your dog.  They do have your dog’s best interest at heart, and they don’t want anything bad to happen to your dog.