Choosing a Dog Walker

Everyone knows walking is good for both you and your dog, but if you have responsibilities that don't allow you to come home during the day to walk your dog yourself, you may need a dog walker.

Happy Dog Walker
Too busy or too many dogs? You might need to find a reliable dog walker.

Alternatively, you may want to hire out the dog walking chore if you have mobility issues or if you have more dog than you can safely handle on your own.

There's no licensing organization for dog walkers, so you will need to do a bit of homework to find someone who is reliable, trustworthy, safe, and a good match for your dog.

Word of Mouth

Most of us dog people know other dog people. Do any of your friends or acquaintances have a paid dog walker? If so, ask what their experience has been with the person. Word of mouth is absolutely the best advertising for any business and most people in the service business go to great lengths to attract referrals from their current clients. Many will even offer a discount to current customers who bring in new customers, so it may be in your friend's best interest to refer you.

But don't take a friend’s advice as gospel until you consider a few things. Do they have the same size dog as yours? The walker may be great with Chihuahuas, but your Malamute may give him or her a run for the money. Even if your dog is the same size, how does your dog's personality match that of your friend's dog? If their high-energy Poodle gets along well with the walker, your couch potato Poodle may not find him or her quite as appealing.

How do your needs match up with your contact's needs? If they are thrilled to have a dog walker who shows up once every day, your need for three daily visits on three random days each week might mean that their walker is not appropriate for you.

How do your income levels compare? Some people hire a dog walker as a status symbol, and the dog walker knows it and charges accordingly. If you're hiring out of need rather than out of a desire for prestige, you may want to consider someone who's more in your price range.

Professional referrals

If none of your friends use a dog walker, you might ask your vet, your groomer, or other professionals who deal with your dog on a regular basis if they know anyone who is available as a dog walker. They may be able to refer you to someone who walks dogs professionally, or even to another dog lover who is struggling financially. Because these professionals know both you and your dog fairly well, they can help you sort out some of the questions presented above.

Advertising

Keep an eye on community bulletin boards at grocery stores, Laundromats, and pet stores. You may find someone who lives in your neighborhood who is looking to make a little extra money by walking dogs.

You may also find prospective dog walkers on CraigsList or in forums or chat rooms on pet-related sites. If there are none advertised, you might consider putting up a help wanted ad on one of these sites. Make sure to follow the regular Internet safety rules like making sure the first meeting takes place in public, away from your home. Also, make sure someone knows who you are meeting, where, and when you expect to be home. Have a safety plan in place that gives you an exit strategy from the meeting place and includes contact with a friend at a specified time after the meeting. Above all, if it feels like something is just not right, leave immediately. Trust your gut.

Dog walker in action
How do you find the right dog walker? Here are some important questions you should ask.

Meeting and Interviewing a Prospective Dog Walker

If you take your dog with you to the meeting, it will serve two purposes. First, your dog can be a pretty good judge of character, and if your dog shies away from the prospective dog walker, you can bet it's in your best interest to leave the meeting. Secondly, you can let your dog and the prospective walker get acquainted and see how the person interacts with your pet. Does she rush or force the dog to play right away or does he allow the dog to set the pace?

How does the prospective walker react if your dog needs some discipline? Make sure the person's style matches your own. There's no excuse for anyone to use physical discipline, so you'll want to make sure the walker doesn't jump straight to smacking the dog's nose if he or she tries to table surf a snack.

Ask lots of questions. After all, you are hiring someone to take care of a family member, so you have a right to know what you're getting. Some possible details you'll want to clarify:

  1. How much time does the walker spend with your dog at each visit?
  2. How many visits are generally made each day?
  3. What is the cost? Will you be billed per minute? Per mile walked? Per number of visits? Per day? Are there price breaks if you have more than one dog?
  4. How often is payment expected? Will you be able to pay on payday for two weeks worth of walks or do you have to leave money with the dog's leash every day? Are you expected to pre-pay or is payment after the services are rendered acceptable?
  5. How many dogs are walked at one time? Will your dog be one of many or will he or she receive personal, one-on-one service?
  6. How much experience does the prospective dog walker have? What types of dogs (size, personality, energy level, etc) has he or she worked with?
  7. Are any other services available? For instance, if your dog has a routine vet appointment, is the walker willing to do the transportation so you don't have to miss work? Will the walker take a little time to play with the dog or simply snap on the leash and start walking?
  8. Where does the walker take your dog? Is there a nearby park or is the dog loaded into the person's car and taken somewhere? If a vehicle is involved, what safety procedures are followed? Are dogs seat-belted or crated in the vehicle when it's in motion?
  9. How does the walker deal with the poop that always seems to occur when your dog walks?
  10. Is water provided during the walks?
  11. How far is the dog walked?
  12. Is the walker bonded and insured? Remember that you will likely be giving this person a key to your home. Are you comfortable enough with them to do this?
  13. What would the person do if your dog ran away while in his or her care?
  14. Is a contract required? Is there a minimum fee that must be paid, regardless of whether or not you use the person on a particular week (for example, if you are on vacation)?

Once you feel comfortable with the person, you may want to hire him or her on a contingency or short-term basis before you sign any long term contract. And it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a friend discreetly follow the dog walker on the first couple of walks, just to make sure you're getting what you paid for. If you can't find a friend who can do this, buy a hat and some sunglasses and tail them yourself, if you can get your dog not to give you away!

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