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Whether your dog is an active pup who requires a few miles of jogging each day or a couch potato, exercise and mental stimulation are important for all dogs.

So, what happens if you work long hours, have an erratic schedule, or are physically unable to give your dog the required exercise? As a responsible pet owner, you might want to consider hiring a dog walker. Like hiring a babysitter, choosing the right dog walker is serious business; he is responsible for your dog’s well-being and safety during the time they spend together. Also, you’re basically opening up your home to a stranger. “Trust and safety are the two most important factors when it comes to choosing the right dog walker,” says Russell Hartstein, a certified dog trainer and behaviorist based in Los Angeles, California.

How To Prepare for Hiring a Dog Walker

  • Be clear on what the requirements are. A love of animals doesn’t qualify someone as a good dog walker. As Bethany Stevens, owner of On the Move Pet Care in Rochester, N.Y., says, “…to be a professional dog walker, you have to have experience working with animals of all types, breeds, sizes, and personalities…” You’ll want someone well-versed on dog behavior. According to Russell Hartstein, “Dog behavior is how dogs communicate and express things like love, fear, and stress, and if a dog handler does not understand the unique and subtle signs, the dog and anyone around him could be in danger.”
  • Know your dog and what she needs. Some dogs like to sniff (and pee on) virtually every blade of grass. Others see a squirrel and are off and running. Some are polite on the leash, while others may get aggressive. Your elderly Dachshund may stroll a block or two and be ready for a nap, while your neighbor’s Border Collie needs a good run. Before you can choose the best dog walker, you should understand your dog’s behavior.
  • Decide how often you need the dog walker’s services. Every day, twice a day? Only when you have to work late? Your potential dog walker needs to know when his services are required.
  • Determine your budget. How much you’re willing to spend may determine who’s available to you. You might want to do some research to see the price range in your area.

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How To Choose the Right Dog Walker

Tap into your network

A great place to start is through recommendations. Talk to friends and other dog owners to see if they can suggest someone. There are also websites that can assist in helping you find a dog walker in your area. Sites such as Sitting for a Cause, Rover, Wag, and Pet Sitters International are good resources to check out.

Ask the right questions at interviews

Once you find a few potential dog walkers, interview all of them and ask some important and specific questions. The most important questions is, “What do you like most about what you do as a walker?” This typically leads to answers to the most frequent questions we hear asked. Not all dog walkers are as human-social as they are dog-social, so abbreviated answers may simply be their personality and not representative of their performance. On the flip side, you need to be comfortable – so be sure to share your expectations upfront.

Other questions you’ll want to ask:

  • Where will you walk my dog?
  • Do you walk multiple dogs together or one at a time?
  • How long will you spend with my dog on each walk?
  • Are you experienced with dogs similar to mine?
  • How long have you been a dog walker? (If they’re with a dog-walking service, inquire as to how long they’ve been working for the company.)
  • Are you licensed, bonded, and insured?
  • Can you provide client references?
  • Have you participated in any pet-care training, such as pet first aid?
  • What’s your cancellation policy, and what happens if you are sick and unable to come on a scheduled day?

Set up meet and greets

Once you settle on a few potential dog walkers, it’s time for them to meet your dog; It’s important to see how the two interact. Candy Pilar Godoy, a New York City blogger who runs the site, Boogie the Pug, says a great way to make sure you’ve found a good dog walker is to observe how your dog reacts to the person when they first meet. “Is your dog happy/excited or does he cower?” says Godoy. As humans, we can learn a lot from a dog’s signals. You may even want to take a test walk all together so you can get a sense of whether dog and human are well-matched.

You’ve Selected a Dog Walker. Now What?

Congratulations! You think you’ve made a match. Make sure you’ve provided all the information the dog walker will need. In fact, write it all down and leave it for him to refer to. Include the necessities:

  • Your contact information, including phone numbers and email addresses.
  • Veterinary information.
  • Information and instructions about medication: indicate what the medication is for, and if there’s a chance he might have to administer it, exact instructions on how to do so.
  • Feeding instructions in the event he will be the one to give your dog a meal.
  • Alarm code and instructions. Some alarm companies have remote access via a smartphone. If yours offers this feature, take advantage of it — that way you won’t have to share your code.
  • Location of supplies (leashes, treats, cleaners, pee pads, etc.).

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

It’s not unreasonable to ask the dog walker for a brief daily update. This could be left on a small whiteboard, post-it notes, or even a short text message. Some places uses apps like PetCheck to make the process easy.

Be aware of any warning signs that things aren’t going well. If something doesn’t feel right, ask. For instance, if you know your dog usually exhibits certain behaviors on a walk, ask the walker if he’s noticed that. His answer will give you insight into whether he’s really attuned to your dog and knowledgeable about canine behavior…or not.

As with a baby sitter or someone who watches your house when you’re away, it may take a while (and some effort) to find the perfect dog walker for your dog and that’s okay. You want your dog to be safe and happy in someone else’s care. A great dog walker is the next best thing to you being there.
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