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How to find the right dog walker

Your dog is part of your family and if you're looking for someone to take him out while you're busy at work or with the kids, then you're a damn good owner. However finding the right person can be a minefield and with so many horror stories on social media, it can make your head spin. There's not many people out there I would trust with my own dogs! However sometimes we are caught short for dog care, and we have been very lucky so far with family and close friends helping out but if I ever needed to employ a professional dog walker (that wasn’t one of our amazing team) I have a few things that I would ask, look for.

Before I share my top tips on how to find the best care for your pets it’s worth noting that the pet care industry is totally unregulated. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can set up and start advertising. A lot of people have no real experience of dogs other than owning them, and unfortunately that isn't enough. I've had a vagina all my life but it doesn't make me a gynaecologist!

A lot of this will depend on how much you are willing to spend, prices will range from £8 - £30 per walk/adventure depending on what you want.

Cheap is not always cheerful and I’ve seen a lot of walkers disappear when they charge too little leaving their clients in the lurch after a couple of years. Or they take too many out at once which creates havoc, a dangerous environment for your dog and also a threat to public safety.

You see, there is no margin for growth and development.

If a dog walker wants to be the best it’s hard graft. You have to live, breath and love dogs.

Another thing to consider is how often you need help and how important it is that you are not let down by your dog walker. If they take a holiday (let’s face it we all need one from time to time) you may not want to go with a ‘one man band’ operation which will leave you without cover for periods of time while your dog walker is away. Another thought for solo entrepreneur-ships is if they suffer illness and you and your dog are caught short at last minute or sometimes for longer periods. If you do not have back up cover in place it may be worth using a more established company who have more than one pair of hands and have adequate help to cover when your walker is off work.

It’s so important to pick the right dog walker/pet sitter for your pet. They could be visiting up to 5 times a week with them. Not only do they need to connect with your pet you also need to feel confident about your choice too.

Looking after dogs might seem like a wonderful job and you can imagine these dog walkers skipping through the daisies full of the joys of spring everyday… And mostly we are!

But there are days, battling through the rain, wind, mud, endlessly cleaning dogs off, and spending amazing sharing your vast knowledge with people to ensure the happiness and safety of all dogs. All of this takes bucket loads of passion and patience, if your dog walker is always rushing and looking flustered I would think twice…how do you think they will react when something tips them over the edge and they out with your dog?

Here are my top tips:-

1.Is the Dog Walker Insured?

Most insurance companies will insure up to 6 dogs. I know a few dog walkers that will take more and will hire help, all the hired help will need insurance too. It maybe something to check. Also consider the more dogs that are on walks together the more potential for things to go wrong, dogs running of and not getting noticed or fights occurring due to their over excitement of being out in a larger group. We have industry specific insurance. Our Policy covers lots of things , including public liability, key cover (replacement of keys and locks if needed, locksmiths etc.) Most of our terms and conditions are based around what our policy allows. For instance, I must have permission from an owner to allow their dog to be off leash. If your potential new walker is not asking for permission, please check their insurance and ask the question. If your dog has an accident of lead and you haven’t given permission, then the insurance company won’t cover any costs.

2. Are there council restrictions?

Some councils restrict the number of dogs that a walker can take out. For instance London reduced the amount walked down to 4 per person due the amount of problems in parks and too many complaints. We are very lucky in our area that this is kept to a minimum and only enforced in select local mainstream parks. Though we don’t do snore boring park walks anyway.

3. Do they have a DBS (previously CRB) check?

A DBS check is a police database check to see if you’ve been up to no good and been caught! Most good dog walkers have one just for customer peace of mind but there is no legal requirement to have one. These people will be wondering in and out of your house with your most prized possession so seeing a DBS is reassuring. If you are looking at the DBS check then take note of how recent it is, things can change. We recommend and practice having a new DBS check done every 2 years.

4. Canine first aid training

A serious dog walker will do a days training learning CPR and how to deal with an array of tricky situations. If the dog walker doesn’t have this certificate it could be an indication they’re not really interested in their growth and development. For me it would be a telling sign. I am a Canine First Responder Instructor and train our team in house and certify them, with regular updates and refreshers. As an instructor I also attend regular CPD training days to ensure I am practicing and teaching the most up to date practices so we are all prepared in case of emergencies.

5. CPD and training ethos

Does your walker want to learn more? Do they go on courses and learn about things like training and behaviour? Have they won any awards? Do they want to learn more about dog training, nutrition and care? If your dog walker doesn’t have any clue about dog language, behaviour or training how can they ensure they don’t have fights on walks between the dogs? There are many many signs dogs will give to say they would like more space before they get to the very obvious growling snapping and biting. Dogs shouldn’t have to escalate their behaviour to these measures before someone listens and helps them. I am a qualified international dog training instructor, I provide behaviour modification sessions and I teach my team how to read dogs extensively and how to avoid things escalating. I even send my team on courses with external instructors regularly too so they are always on top of their game to keep the hounds in our care a safe and happy as they possibly can be.

Check out their website and see what their ethos and views are on dog training. Any dog walker worth their salt will have a strong interest in dog training and behaviour and will fall into one of two camps. They're either invested and believe in modern, positive, reward based training that has roots in scientific research, or they're wrong! If they talk about 'putting dogs in their place' or ‘letting them sort it out between them’, then run for the hills!

6. Transportation

Is your dog going to be individually crated whilst being transported? I can tell you, there are irresponsible walkers that will place your dog into a group of dogs he doesn’t know, loose in the back of the van. Traveling in the back of a van can be a little daunting at the best of times so having their own space is essential for most dogs to feel safe. It’s not just feeling safe though, what would happen if a fight broke out during travel? What would happen in the event of a crash? What happens when you open the van door? There has been a case of a dog walkers being taken to court for irresponsible transportation because a little dog was attacked and killed whilst in travel, this was only in Worcester!

We regularly drive dogs to a different location for their walk. As well as having specific dog walker’s insurance that covers me for transporting dogs, my car insurance also covers business use. It’s a little thing, but if we had an accident with your dog in the car and didn’t have business use on the vehicle insurance then the business insurance won’t pay out.

7. Key holding and security

Ask your walker/sitter what they do with your keys. we have key safes. All keys have a tag on them, but there are no addresses on them. We also offer a key holding service in case you lock yourself out. Ask them if they will get extra keys cut, the answer should be no. do they have adequate insurance to cover if they lose your key and the locks have to be replaced? We do, but this is not as part of a standard policy, its an add on. How familiar are they with different types of locks? Will they follow your instructions to keep the property (and your dog) secure? Your dog walker should ask for an emergency contact, someone other than you that has access to your home in case of emergencies.

8. Emergencies

What policies and procedures do they have in place for cases of illness, contagious diseases, if they cannot make it to your dog, extreme weather etc? If they stumble or cannot answer what their protocol would be, then avoid like the plague. Things can and do happen that are not planned for, but the right dog walker will know what steps to follow in these events. We have a code of practice manual which covers clearly all the steps for cases of emergency and available for clients to read if requested.

9. The walk

What will the walker be doing with the dogs whilst out? If the answer is “I let them run about together and they wear themselves out” then you are in for a rough ride. It’s a proven fact that dog play without any interaction or control from the handler could leave your dog, dog obsessed and it could result in your dog entirely ignoring you the moment another dog appears. Find a walker that encourages your dog to ignore other dogs and wants them to enjoy playing with the handler instead of each other. Find someone the has a list of activities they like to do on the walk. That way your dog will be very dog tolerant but more interested in you than other dogs. You will see by our mission statement that we are very much aligned with this. We are not in the business of allowing or making dogs dog obsessed, we are always working on improving their connection with us which in turn creates a safer, more tiring and fun experience for your hounds. Ask them if they vary where they walk? They should and regularly as this makes it all the more interesting for your dog.

10. Meet and greet

After initial contact to see if you’re a good fit for each other they will offer to pop round to your house to meet you all, equipped with a form and some treats they will have a good chat about your dogs character and want to know lots of information. From there, if all goes well they will offer you a space, the best ones will offer a trial period. We are slightly different in this regard. We have a 2-4 week trial period. We ask our new potential clients to log in to our online portal to fill out theirs and their dogs’s details, likes, dislikes etc before we pop over. This means we can concentrate on getting to know you and your dogs when we arrive for our meeting, rather than spending time filling out forms. We also will have usually sent you a comprehensive welcome pack in the post before our meeting so you know exactly what to expect how we do things and this allows you time to ask as many questions in person as you like.

11. Trial process

Integrating a new dog into an established group can be a delicate process because the first few times the new dog is going to be a little nervous and apprehensive. The best dog walkers will offer you some trial walks to start with so the dog and the handler can form a bond which will make his first group walk a lot easier for him. The walker will be wanting to see how your dog interacts with the others, how good their recall is and how happy they are whilst they’re out with you. They may want to keep your dog on a longline until they are 100% sure your dog is settled.

12. Do they know about dog law?

Anyone who is in charge of your dog is responsible and open to prosecution for anything that your dog does while in their care, this isn’t just professionals either, this could be a friend or family member helping you out and looking after the dog or taking them for a walk. If they don’t ask for a tag to be on your dogs collar with the correct details (your details – Surname and Address as a minimum) fixed to it they may be fined up to £5000 pounds! Although yes, it is the law for all dogs to be microchipped this isn’t enough alone to be legal. There are many laws relating to dogs in the UK now and anyone who is in the dog profession needs to be well versed in these laws and up on local legislation.

13. Social proof/recommendations

If a dog walker has some experience and been working for a while then they should have testimonials and reviews. Their Facebook page is good place to start, as a business cannot edit or change reviews on their page so mostly you can trust they're genuine. If reviews have been disabled and aren't visible on the page, ask yourself why!! Pages like Yell will also have reviews on to check. Word of mouth and referrals are probably the most reliable way to find out about a company.

14. Modern technology is your friend

Trusting your dog walker is everything! However we have gained many clients who have used other service providers before who were not doing what they were paid to do, only popping in to let the dog out for a wee when they are being paid for an hours walk, or just taking them out for 20 minutes or worse still not turning up at all and then swearing they did when confronted. So called professionals like this give the rest of us a really bad name and it really makes my blood boil! If your dog walker is not sending pictures and or videos of your dog out on walks then you have a few options - if you have an alarm system, most will log the times that it is unset and then set again, you can use this to tell if your dog walker arrived and how long they were out with your dog. There are plenty of home dog cameras on the market nowadays that link to your phone and are reasonably priced. If you have CCTV on your property you can use this. Finally there are cheap trackers and dog pedometers that go on your dog’s collar that will tell you if your dog walker is worth their salt or not. We encourage our clients to use any or all of the above devices as we have nothing to hide and are passionate about providing the best possible service, though most of our clients don’t feel the need as they know that we are amazing and that we do exactly what we say we do, unlike many others.

15. Be picky – go with your gut!

In this current climate, dog walkers are ten a penny! The right one is worth waiting for, interview a few if you aren’t totally happy with what you see. Remember price isn’t everything. What’s another quid per walk to ensure your beloved pooch is in the best hands. If your dog doesn’t take to them, that usually says a lot. However you can’t just depend on your dog loving the person that turns up stinking of dogs and with tasty treats. Grill them! Ask them about what happens when things go wrong, how they deal with other dogs approaching on walks, what steps have they taken to ensure your dog is safe while with them. Do they take pictures, and or videos when on walks? Do they post these online

I honestly can say that if any clients ask me any or all the above then I would happily answer their questions. I believe that all genuine, professional dog walkers/pet sitters would do so too. If yours is saying it’s not necessary then chances are they are not insured, tread carefully! Once you have a dog walker and you want to see how good they really are with your dog, try and be home one day when your walker comes to collect your dog. See how your dog reacts to their arrival. Does your dog run to greet them in excitement for their impending adventure? Or does your dog seem reserved, does he move away or look uncomfortable? If so then it's a cause for concern. Hopefully if you've done your research and asked all the right questions, you will have found the right person for your dog. A good walker is your dogs best friend when you can't be there.

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