If you are considering adopting a dog if you work full-time or have other commitments that mean that you are away from the house for longer periods then it is important that you always put your dog’s needs and well-being at the forefront of your mind. Leaving them for the long durations on their own is not fair and it could lead to them having accidents or manifesting problem behaviors because of boredom and lack of proper stimulation. You need to make sure that your dog will get enough company, exercise, toilet break opportunities, and stimulation while you are away.
For many people, using a dog walker is their planned solution. It is important to make sure that you do lots of research in advance to make sure that the company or individual that you choose will be able to provide the support that your dog needs.
Choosing a dog walker can be a daunting prospect. It is a highly popular and competitive industry and while there are lots of truly wonderful professional dog walkers out there, there are some that bring the profession into disrepute. It is not a highly regulated industry and anyone, regardless of their passion or experience, can set up this type of business.
We hope that this guide will help you with some pointers on the things to focus on when making a choice.
A good dog walker can be a life-saver in terms of ensuring that your dog gets the enrichment they need if you are out of the house for extended periods during the day
When Can a Dog Walker be Useful?
If your dog is regularly going to be left for more than four hours a day on their own, or if you can’t give them the exercise that they need yourself, then it could be sensible to consider whether a dog walker may be beneficial for your dog. Even if you are usually around enough for them, some people choose to hire a reputable dog walker to take their dog out at least once a week as this means they have a back up contact should they need it in emergency situations and, if the dog enjoys the company of the dogs they are walked with it can be a good experience for them. If the dog walker also offers a home boarding service, it means that your dog knows the person already and you have a contact there should you need to book them in for an overnight stay.
When is a Dog Walker Not a Good Choice?
If your dog is very nervous or reactive around other dogs then a dog walker that only does group walks may not be fair on them and it could also make the walk difficult for the dog walker and her other dogs. It is always best to be upfront about your individual dog’s needs and requirements.
Some walkers may have experience of working with reactive dogs or ones that need more space and, with careful introductions, your dog may be able to integrate well into the group that they walk. If this was a possibility then it would be something you and the dog walker would need to work towards together.
Some dog walkers will offer individual dog walks, at a higher hourly rate, and this could be a possibility instead in this situation.
If your dog is nervous with new people if you find a good dog walker they may be willing to work with you and your dog to help build up their confidence so that they would then feel relaxed going out with them.
For elderly dogs or puppies, or other dogs on restricted exercises, the walks that a dog walker takes a group out on could be too much for your dog. In these instances, it may be better to look at finding a dog walker that offers an elderly dog or puppy drop in service. This will often involve them coming to your house to spend some time with your dog and letting them out into the garden or giving them a shorter walk to give them a toilet break.
Senior dogs may not cope on a long, high energy group walk. They may benefit from a home visit instead though
What To Look For In a Good Dog Walker
Ideally, you want someone that has experience in the world of canines. Perhaps they have been dog walking for a number of years, they may have a background as a shelter worker or a vet tech. Are they trying to further their doggy knowledge with courses or seminars on dog behaviour? Do they have a certificate in doggy first aid?
Having someone that has a good understanding of dogs means that they will be able to understand the dynamics of a group of dogs better and if small issues crop up they will be able to handle these with more confidence and if there is a dog that is having problems they will be better equipped to find a solution.
While a dog walker who has just set up their business without any real experience or understanding of dogs may be totally well-meaning and full of passion, if they don’t recognise when two dogs in their group are showing signs of not getting along, or they cannot read when a dog is uncomfortable, this could end up with dog’s exhibiting aggressive behaviour or even getting into a fight.
No matter how much experience the individual has, if they are not passionate about what they do then it is likely that the dogs will not enjoy their experience as much, you may not have a reliable dog walker and they could start to cut corners, potentially putting your dog at risk or not giving them the exercise they need.
Always look for someone that is truly passionate about dogs. Look for testimonials and watch how they interact with your dog at a meetup and how they talk about their business.
Good Level of Professionalism
Of course, it is good if your dog walker is friendly, open and honest but it is also important that they are professional too. They need to be organised and they need to have transparent, clear rates and a written contract with information about how they will handle cancellations, injuries, dogs getting lost etc.
While testimonials are not always accurate, if the dog walker you are considering has lots of great reviews or is recommended by your local and trusted vet, groomer, dog trainer or doggy loving friend, then this can be a good sign and a good place to start at least. After all, this person is being trusted with a member of your family and being given access to your house. It can be reassuring to hear from others who have used their services in advance.
How Many Dogs Do They Walk?
Some dog walkers take too many dogs out at once. This is a growing problem as, the more dogs they walk, the more money they can make.
It is important to establish how many dog’s they would plan to walk your dog with. Even if your dog loves other dogs, if there are too many being walked at once it can be dangerous in terms of transportation, the amount of time they are left in a vehicle while drop off and picks ups are being done and, most importantly, it can add risk on the actual walks.
Trying to control a large group of dogs can be challenging, there is more chance of dog’s going missing or scuffles arising within the group or with other dogs because of the lack of ability to properly supervise. If there is an incident or injury it can be difficult for the dog walker to handle when they are having to contend with too many other dogs.
It is also important that the dogs are introduced to one another carefully. Not all dogs are suited to walking in a group and sometimes big dogs that like to roughhouse may not be the best match for a toy breed that is slightly nervy. Your dog walker should be able to judge and manage groups appropriately and if they suggest that your dog may not be best suited within a group they are walking this is usually a sign of a responsible dog walker rather than one that you should be frustrated with.
It is important to understand how many dog’s will be walked at any one time. Too many can increase the chance of accidents, injuries, fights or lost dogs
Where Do They Walk?
Finding out where your dog walker will walk the dogs is also important. If they spend most of their time in a van and then only get a quick walk around the block then this is not ideal for you or your dog. They will not be getting the level of enrichment or exercise that you would expect them to get.
If your dog walker takes them to open spaces or enriching environments like the forest, or the beach, or some other suitable green space, if there is one close by, then this is fantastic. If they are able to vary the walks rather than always going to the same place, then even better.
They should also be being responsible in terms of having dogs off leash, managing interactions with other dogs and not going somewhere with livestock. Don’t be afraid to ask them about these things.
Some dog walkers may have access to a secure freedom field, where they can let the dogs off leash safely. Others may take them to a dog park. If they are planning to go to a dog park then you need to make inquiries about which dog park it is, how busy it is and how well it is managed. Unless it is hard to find another suitable environment, a dog park is not necessarily the best place to take dogs for exercise. Personally, I would not want my dog walker to take my dog to the dog park. Read our article on the pros and cons of dog parks for more information.
What Insurance Do They Have?
Making sure they have the appropriate licenses and insurances are important. Any licensing will vary from country to country, state to state. All dog walkers should have insurance though, and it is important to ask about this, they should be comfortable showing you their paperwork if this would be reassuring for you.
How Do They Transport Your Dog?
It is important to ensure that your walker has your dog appropriately restrained and comfortable while travelling. If they are in a van, is it kitted out with spacious, comfortable and secure crates? Does it have air conditioning and will they have access to water? Do you know that your dog is relaxed in a crate? Again, don’t be afraid to explain to a dog walker that your dog is not crate trained. Maybe some initial training could be useful to get them used to travelling in one?
If a dog walker just chucks a group of dogs in the back of a van or car loose, then they are putting your dog at risk of getting into a scuffle or getting injured if they have a bump.
You don’t want your dog to be in the van for extended periods either. Ask your dog walker about their route. How long will the dogs be in the van before getting to the walk etc.
If your dog gets very car sick or is extremely nervous in a vehicle, maybe you can find a dog walker that can do an individual walk with your dog directly from the house?
It is important that the dog walker has your dog’s appropriately and safely restrained while traveling
Do They Keep You Up To Date on Your Dog’s Activities?
A good dog walker will usually send you photos or at least keep you up to date with a note or electronic message on how your dog is getting on each week. They will keep you informed of the problems as well as the good things. Perhaps your dog is showing signs of being grumpy around other dogs, maybe they are being sick when they get in the van, their recall may be starting to get unreliable, maybe they are just having an off day or have had runny poops on their walk.
Knowing these things can help you understand if your dog is unwell, if you may need to work on a particular behavior, or even if they may not be enjoying the group walk environment and alternatives may need to be considered.
If your dog is hurt or injured, while this can happen even with the best dog walker, it is important that they are transparent and make you aware.
While not every dog walker will provide a full diary update every day, remember your walkers priority should be getting the dogs out and having fun, if there are never any updates, no photos or something that is always very vague then it can lead you to question whether your dog is getting the attention that they need and you are paying for.
Do They Promote Force Free Training Techniques?
Looking for someone that is kind and gentle with your dog and always promotes positive training methods rather than punitive, dominance-based techniques is important. You want your dog to love going on their walks and to be rewarded for good behavior, giving them a strong bond with your dog walker. You don’t want them to be obeying out of fear.
If the walker uses aversives like choke chains, prong collars, or even worse, shock collars then you should look elsewhere.
While your dog walker is not a trainer and you should not expect them to be performing lots of training with your dog, if they do not have a basic understanding of dog behavior and training techniques, then their experience may not be enough to manage the dogs under their care as effectively as someone who does have that experience.
How Does Your Walker Interact With Your Dog?
Do you see your dog being picked up by the dog walker? Are they happy to see them? If your dog is running away when the walker comes to pick them up then this is a cause for concern. It may not be because the dog walker is doing anything wrong, but rather that your dog is finding the group walks overwhelming or perhaps they are not enjoying the van journey. Whatever the reason, it is important not to ignore it. It may be that a group dog walk is not for your dog.
If your dog walker is rough, never engaging or just can’t seem to be bothered with your dog then this is a cause for concern too.
When you have your initial meet up, how do your dog and the dog walker interact? If you have a nervous dog, is the walker happy to wait for the dog to approach rather than forcing themselves on the dog, picking them up or trying to give them enthusiastic belly rubs?
Do they grimace if your dog gives them a slobbery kiss on the face?
Be observant, you can tell a lot from how relaxed your dog walker is with the dog. They may not always be the best people persons, but they should be natural around dogs.
You want to look for a dog walker who loves interacting with dogs and doesn’t get phased by a slobbery kiss!
Are They Respectful Of Your Dogs Requirements?
If you have a dog that has not perfected their recall and can’t be let off leash, or you have a dog that scavenges, or is not good with strange dogs (outwith the dogs walked in their group) and wears a muzzle as a result, it is important that your dog walker respects this. If they ignore your wishes or try to tell you that it will fine for the dog to off leash or without a muzzle then it is time to look elsewhere. Of course, if they have been working with your dog on a long line and feel that enough progress has been made to have your dog off leash and they speak to you about this then this is different and very commendable and a judgment can be made from there.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask if You Can Observe a Trial Walk
A dog walker will usually come to your house for an initial free consultation. It gives you a chance to evaluate their experience and personality and can let you see how they interact with your dog. For some people this is enough but, if you want a bit more reassurance, don’t be afraid to ask if you can observe a walk to allow you to see how your dog and the walker get along outside. Don’t expect this also to be free though, for this a dog walker may, quite fairly, expect to be paid.
The dog walker may prefer you to observe from a distance so that the focus of the dogs remains on them as in a usual walk, rather than accompanying them. If they are not happy for you to observe then this should perhaps set off alarm bells.
Observing if you have a dog that can be a bit of a challenge is particularly important. If they are reactive and the dog walker assures you that the dogs that they walk will be fine with your dog, it is good to be able to see how they will manage introductions.
Who is Actually Walking Your Dog?
This may sound like an obvious one but, sometimes, if it is a larger dog walking company there may be multiple walkers. It is important to establish who it is that is actually walking your dog, that you get to meet them and see them interacting with your dog and that you know your dog will have consistency.
If you only meet the boss of the company rather than the individual that is going to be walking your dog at an initial consultation, the boss should be happy to give you the opportunity to meet the actual dog walker personally too.
Don’t Forget To Be a Good Client Too
If you find a dog walker that you like and trust, for your dog’s benefit and your own, you will want to hold onto them. Some dog walking clients forget that this is a business to the dog walkers. They will message them at ungodly hours expecting an instant reply or they will request a change to their dog’s walking schedule with short notice and be angry if this cannot be accommodated. Don’t forget you are not their only client and they are often juggling a number of different commitments along with the need to have a personal life!
Your dog walker is helping to enrich your dog’s life and they are shouldering a large responsibility taking your beloved pooch into their care on a regular basis.
If your dog is sick, don’t send them out with the dog walker anyway, just because you need to get to work. This could be putting the other dog’s in their care at risk and it is not fair on the walker. If your dog has started exhibiting unusual or new behaviors, make sure to let your walker know so that they can also be observing and on the lookout.
Don’t hide things that you think may put the dog walker off, just because you are keen to secure their services. If your dog has a medical condition or behavioral issue they should be aware of, it is important, for the well being of the dog and to be fair to the walker, that they are aware.
Be fair, communicative and appreciative if you want this in return.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.