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Focus Dog Walking and Pet Sitting Services

How to choose a dog walker

Sadly, dog walking and pet sitting is a fairly unregulated profession and if you have never used a dog walking service it's difficult to know what to look for.  

Everyone advertises as insured and DBS checked (make sure you do actually check these are up to date), but there are other basic requirements I would always advise my friends and family to look out for when employing for a dog walker. I've set these out below.

1. Membership of a Professional Organisation.

  • There is no legal requirement for dog walkers to join any over seeing organisations.
  • If your dog walker has voluntarily joined up to a professional organisation it means they are aware of professional dog walking codes of conduct.
  • Membership of a professional organisation should mean that you complete/receive all the necessary  information and forms that are necessary for the safety of your dog, your home/keys, your data etc.
  • It will mean that you have someone official to lodge a complaint with should the need arise.
  • Your dog walker will be able to stay up to date with any new legislation and skills.

2. Choose Someone with Experience:

  • A dog walker should gain long term experience of dog walking before offering their services professionally. Simply "owning dogs all my life" or "liking dogs" isn't enough to give someone the level of experience needed to ensure the safety, health and well-being of your dog(s). I own a pair of scissors and have used scissors since I was a child but that doesn't mean I'm ready to open up my own hairdressers! Everyone has to start somewhere but this should done prior to setting up a business by volunteering for rescue organisations. This will ensure they receive the correct guidance when working with dogs of different temperaments and sizes. Inexperienced dog walkers should initially be engaged for individual/single household walks of well-rounded dogs.
  • Puppy walks and group walks are best left to experienced dog walkers. It's a big responsibility to be in charge of socialising a puppy and helping to establish a well-rounded dog. Group walks are an entirely different dynamic and require skilful, active management. 
  • Choose a dog walker who has the right level of experience for the needs of your dog.

3. Choose someone with Knowledge:

  • A dog walker should have extensive knowledge of everything "dog". This should include knowledge of every breed in the Kennel Club Directory, for example; each breed's exercise requirements, each breed's health predispositions, grooming requirements, each breed's baseline temperament and characteristics. The new crossbreeds present a challenge but knowledge of parentage should help with this. Knowledge of these kind of things are vital for anyone engaged in puppy services. For example, mistakes from over-exercising puppies are of often not seen in the early years, instead they create problems for the dog as he/she ages. Your dog walker should be able to guide you. Your vet, of course, is always your first port of call.
  • A dog walker should also have knowledge of the signs and symptoms of major canine infectious diseases. I can recognise kennel cough in an instant (and it does have a few different guises). They should also have knowledge of the life cycle, signs and symptoms of parasites. I can spot a flea or tick from a mile away (slight exaggeration!) and I know how to deal with them. The importance of this knowledge should not be underestimated, it could help your dog receive life saving early treatment and prevent the spread of disease and parasites to other dogs (and yourself in some cases!).
  • Legal knowledge is also a requirement, to ensure the safety of your dog, the safety of those around them and the environment they are in. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 for example, sets out the five freedoms which must be upheld to promote the health and well-being of dog, thus preventing unnecessary suffering.
  • Basic behaviour knowledge, not all dogs are the same and some breeds are more prone to certain behaviours more than others. 
  • Canine first aid knowledge is also something that a dog walker should have. Your dog walker isn't a vet or a vetertinary nurse but they should have knowledge and a kit to try to assist your dog in an emergency or accident.  

4. Choose Someone you can Trust and Talk To:

  • It is vital that you can trust your dog walker to talk to you in an professional and open way. You should be able to rely on your dog walker to tell you the great news and the not so good news. Most of the time if you dog walker tells you the walk was fantastic it would have been. However, every now and again they need to tell you something else. If they are finding a certain aspect of your dog's behaviour challenging or a little bit odd, they should tell you. If there is something the owner should be aware of for health or safety reasons they should also tell you. For example, one conversation could be "she is eating other dog's poo" (it happens!), "he is barking at dogs on leads". "she got frightened by the sound of a firework" or "her poos were quite loose today" (yes, I do know each individual dogs typical poo and frequency!). If the behaviour is simple such as recall/sitting most dog walkers should be able to share the tips/tricks they are employing. If the behaviour is more complex they should be honest with you and advise you to seek more expert help from a behaviourist. Your dog walker should be able to work with you and your behaviourist.
  • You should be able to trust you dog walker to be competent to tell you when it is not advisable to walk your dog, i.e for certain breeds, the compromised and the elderly it is best not to walk the lunchtime walk in soaring temperatures.
  • Once in a blue moon a dog will bump into a tree when running, trip or snag themselves on a branch (snagging is more common with thin skinned breeds such as Whippets/Greyhounds), and this will result in an injury (a dog walker will feel truly dreadful on the odd occasion this happens). Again, you should be able to trust in your dog walker to give you a full account of any injury and seek treatment in your absence if necessary.
  • You should also make sure you can talk to your dog walker about anything important that has happened while the dog is in your care, this will help the dog walker uphold the health and well-being of your dog when you aren't there. Communication between the dog owner and dog walker should work both ways. I'm always grateful to be kept informed.

5. Interview more than one dog walker:

  • The Pet Industry Federation and the RSPCA came together to produce guidance for dog walkers due to the recent explosion of new dog walking businesses, I think would be useful for dog owners to read this before they interview potential dog walkers.  You can find the link here.
  • I always advise any potential client to interview other dog walkers, you should interview at least three, just in the same way you would get quotes from three different plumbers. Go with the person you feel most comfortable with looking after your dog.
  • Please make sure you ask your potential dog walker lots and lots of questions, I can't stress this enough, for example, "who else will my dog be walked with? (i.e how many)", "do you have a limit on the number of dogs?" will they be the same dogs each time?", "where will you walk him?", "do you meet up with other dog walkers? "how long will she be in your van for?" (this is important as it will inform you of how long your dog should be out of the house for), "how is my dog transported in your van?" "what do you do when you come across members of the public?", "what would you do if came across an aggressive dog?", "how long have you been in business for?", "what is your dog related background?".
  • The dog walker's answers should help you decide if they are the right dog walker for you.
  • It's always a good idea to have a "back-up" dog walker, just in case your dog walker is unavailable (i.e holiday).  We are quite a friendly bunch, I'm always happy to recommend other walkers if I have seen them and I have liked how they are with the dogs in their care.

You can contact me (Focus Dog Walking and Pet Sitting Services) for a free, no obligation consultation by pressing the button below. 

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