Dogs need daily exercise to stay mentally and physically healthy, and depending on the breed, some need more exercise than others. As responsible pet owners, we make a commitment to provide our dogs with the best care, but this can often be difficult for one reason or another.
Some dog owners may not be able to give their pup enough exercise due to frequent changes in their schedule, long work hours, or health limitations. If this is true for you, then you might want to consider hiring a dog walker.
While the thought of having some additional help sounds wonderful, it’s not a decision that should be made lightly. Who you choose is important because ultimately he is responsible for your dog during the time they’re together. And by relying on the services of a dog walker, you are essentially 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, Calif.
Anyone can advertise himself as a dog walker, but just because he claims to be dog-obsessed doesn’t automatically make him a good fit. “It’s easy for people to say they love animals,” says Bethany Stevens, owner of On the Move Pet Care in Rochester, N.Y. “But to be a professional dog walker, you have to have experience working with animals of all types, breeds, sizes, and personalities. It takes more than having grown up with a dog to know the various nuances that make a sitter exceptional.”
One of the first things any dog owner should do when looking for a professional is make sure the person is well versed and up-to-date on dog training and behavior. “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,” says Hartstein.
Before hiring a dog walker, take certain measures to ensure the person you choose is educated and reliable. Below are some tips to aid you in your search.
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.
What are your dog’s needs? Determine exactly what your dog needs from a walker. Ashley Jacobs, the CEO and founder of Sitting for a Cause, a pet sitting website, suggests asking yourself a few questions ahead of time, so you can sort through potential candidates faster and find one that best fits your dog’s needs as well as your own. Questions like: Does my dog require long walks or just a quick stroll around the block? How many days a week do I need assistance and for how long? What’s my monthly budget for a dog walker?
Ask the right questions. Once you find a few potential dog walkers, interview all of them and ask some important and specific questions, such as (but not limited to):
- 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?
In addition, Pet Sitters International offers a free interview checklist that includes important questions to ask when interviewing a potential dog walker.
Set up meet and greets. Once you weed out the dog walkers you are uncomfortable with, it’s time to arrange a meeting with the ones you like. It’s important to see how your dog interacts with them, as well. 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.
Share necessary information. Once you find the right person, make sure to provide him with all the necessary information needed when it comes to caring for your dog. Things such as:
- Your contact information, including phone numbers and email addresses.
- Veterinary information.
- If your dog takes any medication, make sure your walker is informed as to what it is for, and if there’s a chance he might have to administer it, leave 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.).
It may take a little time to find a dog walker that you and your dog feel comfortable with, and that’s OK; the goal is to make sure your dog is safe and happy in the hands of someone else.