That stroll through the park or jog around the block does wonders for your dog. Regular walking helps with weight control, heart health, digestion, and bone/joint mobility. But the benefits are more than physical: exercise helps curb destructive, hyperactive, and attention-seeking behaviours. But what if you don’t have time to give your dog the walks she needs? What if you’re at work all day – and she’s home, chewing your favourite pair of shoes? A dog walker can be just the solution you – and she – needs.
Help Wanted: Must Be Great with Dogs
Anyone can hang out a shingle, calling themselves “professional dog walkers.” But, just because there are no formal certifications, doesn’t mean just anyone can – or should – walk your pet. Start by asking your veterinarian for recommendations. Vets, and their staffs, spend all day around pets. They often have connections and intel that can help you find good candidates. Also, ask friends, family, and neighbors if they know of anyone, and check in at the dog park.
When you have a list of potential dog walkers, start narrowing it down. How?
- Ask for references. If they have experience in dog walking (which is a plus), call a few of the references and check them out. How did they treat the pets? Did they provide ample exercise? Do they love animals?
- Call the potential dog walker and ask some questions. While a walker may not be a professional trainer, it is still important that they understand dogs and use methods with which you agree. Questions to ask: What is their experience? How do they handle leash-pulling? How do they handle meeting other dogs on the walk? What would they do if your dog bites or tugs at the leash? How would they respond to an emergency situation? Will they walk your dog alone or in a group? How long are walks? Where will you take my dog?
- Arrange a meeting. By now, you’ve probably trimmed your list. If you like the answers you heard over the phone, meet in person. It is essential that your dog feels safe and comfortable with the walker. Schedule a time when you can all meet. Keep in mind that your dog may be shy around a stranger, but look for how the person responds to your dog. Are they calm? Assertive? Comfortable? Do they pay attention to your dog’s cues (e.g. body language) and respond accordingly?
- Go for a test walk. Ask the potential walker to go on a test walk with you. (A good test: if they don’t want to, you can check that person right off the list!). What can you tell from a walk? Well, observe whether the walker keeps a good pace for your pet? Do they walk at the clip they want, or do they respond to the physical needs of the dog? If your dog displays undesirable behaviour, like pulling, what does the walker do? Does your pet look content? If you give direction, correction, or input, how does the walker respond? Do they integrate your feedback – or just keep doing what they’re doing?
What you don’t want to see? Yanking the leash, pulling your dog, or issuing sharp commands. You need a walker who lets your dog enjoy the walk and go at her own pace.
When you put in the time to research and choose the best candidate, a dog walker can bring you incredible peace of mind: you know that your pet will be adequately exercised while you’re at work or away, you know she will be in great hands, and you know your favourite shoes stand a better chance of survival. Good luck!