If you feel you need the help of a walker, take some time to consider your requirements. Different walkers offer different services, which will suit different clients and dogs, so when you start looking make sure you know the answers to the following questions in advance:
- Do you need a walker every weekday? Or a few days a week? Or even just occasionally? Walkers often fit their business around their own commitments so they may not be able to accommodate a Monday - Friday walking schedule, or they may not be able to fit in ad hoc requests for walks. Knowing the days and frequency of the walks you need will really help a walker work out if they can meet your requirements before you meet.
- Does your dog need an hour’s walk or longer/shorter? Different dogs have different needs when it comes to exercise, for example a young puppy may only be able to have a short walk to protect it's rapidly growing bones. As walkers have to accommodate the needs of all the dogs on their books, they may not be able to fit walks of a different length to normal into their schedule - best ask up front.
- What sort of time would you like your dog to be walked? Does it have to be exact, or is there some flexibility? I normally ask customers to let us know the earliest and latest pick up times they would be happy for us to collect their dog, which allows me the chance to shuffle my day around any extra things I need to do and still meet the needs of my customers. Lunchtime slots will always be the most sought after, so be prepared that you may only be able to get this if you commit to a regular booking.
- Would your dog be happy around other dogs on a walk? Group walks are not for all dogs. Some dogs become stressed if they are enclosed in a car with strange dogs, some dogs don’t like certain other breeds, same sex dogs, or over excitable dogs - if this is the case with your dog, tell any prospective walker. They will know if they already have dogs that your dog may struggle with. If you are not up front about these sorts of issues, you may find yourself without a dog walker at short notice. I appreciate owners telling me about their dogs temperament as it means I can prepare ways to manage any potential issues in advance and have a back up plan if there is a risk things will not work as we originally planned.
- Would you prefer your dog to be walked alone? Not all walkers offer this service, so it is best to check this in advance. Be prepared to pay more, as the walker will be sacrificing time when they could be walking multiple dogs for a higher overall hourly rate. Many owners feel that their dog would be happier in a group walk, but very often I find that dogs prefer to have my full attention and fuss during a walk.
- Do you want your dog walked on or off lead? We feel that on lead and off lead dogs should normally not be mixed as it makes the walk difficult to manage and can create issues. If you want your dog to be walked off lead, does your dog have good enough recall? If you would prefer your dog to be walked on lead has he or she been trained not to pull? A walker cannot train your dog and walk other dogs at the same time, so training may be needed before the walks can start. Either way, be up front about how you would like your dog walked and any problems with this, so your walker is prepared.
- Are there any extra jobs that you would like your walker to do? Most walkers will be able to towel off your dog’s feet after a walk and check the water bowls - but bathing, drying, feeding or doing any other extra tasks are usually not included. Dog walkers sell their time and usually aim to work to a tight schedule, expecting them to spend additional time for 'free' is not fair, so be prepared to pay more if you need your walker to do extra things that will take additional time. This will pay off in the long term as your walker will be happy to do this extra task for you, rather than resenting and possibly neglecting it when rushed off their feet!
- Do you feel strongly about training and handling methods? Some owners want their dogs walked or handled in specific ways and not all walkers will be able to do this. For example, I feel strongly that force and fear should not be used to train or control the dogs I walk and I would not be able to walk the dogs of an owner who insisted that I use a choke, prong, or electric collar. Equally if you would prefer your dog is not subjected to force or intimidation, then you will need to ensure that you contact walkers who use force free techniques.
Once you’ve considered all these points then start researching dog walkers. You will have a clear idea of the sort of walker that you are looking for and be much more likely to find the right walker for you and your dog.
A few points may be worth bearing in mind in your search:
- Dog walkers often have their hands full during the day with the dogs, so be prepared to leave a message for them to get back to you when they can concentrate on talking to you.
- If you are looking for a force free walker, ask how they handle difficult situations on walks and what sort of training or handling techniques they employ. It would be unlikely that anyone claiming they use leadership/boss/pack leader techniques is a force free walker.
- Insurance is a must, check that your potential walker has the necessary insurances.
- Taking references is an excellent way for you to check your walker’s credentials and see if they really provide the level of service they say they do. Many will be all too pleased to provide details of their customers who can recommend their services first hand.
- Whilst cost is important, a professional, reliable, trustworthy and experienced walker is worth every penny. They can help you when you need them most and at the last moment, go that extra mile for you (and your dog) and ensure that your dog is happy and well looked after - as with all things, you get the service you pay for. Also don't forget that, as well as the hours walk, your fee also covers transport (fuel, car repairs and maintenance) insurances, treats and toys, training and time spent collecting dogs and drying off paws, managing their schedule and liaising with customers.
- Are you looking for a walker who is also a trainer? This is a great way to find a good walker, as they should have excellent handling skills and work to ensure that they maintain a good reputation in the community where they walk. However, even if the walker is a trainer, do check their credentials, they should be a member of the APDT, CAPBT, IMDT or similar well respected organisation who carefully vet their members to ensure that they use modern, kind and effective training techniques.
If you take the time to find the right walker for you and your dog, you can go to work, or about your day, knowing that your dog will be as well looked after as they deserve - true peace of mind!
At ForPaws, we take our dog walking service very seriously, we have a variety of options to suit every customer. Walks are managed by Corrine, a qualified trainer and behaviourist, who puts the needs of the dogs in her care first and aims to ensure her clients can go about their day, confident in the knowledge their pet will get the care they want and need. Find out more about our services here.