Dog owners should not adopt a carefree attitude when it comes to choosing dog walkers and instead diligently check out their credentials and ask many questions before hiring, experts say.
“I certainly wouldn’t hire anyone off of Kijiji,” says Aviva Chepurny, who has been walking dogs in Toronto since 1990. “There’s a lot of individuals out there who just want to make an extra buck. And there’s a lot of people out there who are looking for the cheapest solution. You have to find the balance between price and experience and the actual knowledge base of the person you are entrusting to care for, by all intents and purposes, your child.”
The issue of hiring a reliable dog walker has come to the forefront following news that six dogs died in the back of a B.C. dog walker’s truck from heat stroke.
“Anybody can just start walking dogs. Put up a flyer. Tell people anything they want," said Dianne Eibner, past president of the Professional Dog Walkers Association International and author of The Face in the Window – a guide to professional dog walking.
While dog walking is a lightly or non-regulated industry, Toronto, for example, requires individuals to obtain a licence to walk four or more dogs, with six dogs being the maximum number that can be walked at a time.
"There’s no way someone can control a group of 10, 12 dogs," Chepurny said. "It’s fine when everything is fine, but for that one time that something goes wrong that person cannot control a pack that size."
Should be insured
Experts agree that pet owners should hire someone who is insured, bonded and has taken a course in pet first aid, a handy set of skills for dealing with common dog injuries like cut paws or overheating. As well, dog walkers should have gone through a basic dog training course.
Like most services, research is important, and owners should check for references from other clients and veterinarians to see if they either know of are can recommend the walker.
Make sure the dog walker's vehicle is clean, has air-conditioning and good ventilation. Their gear, like leashes, should be in good shape. And even the footwear worn by the dog walker can be a red flag.
"When I see dog walkers walking about in sandals, that should be a flag," Chepurny said. "If you have six dogs, you should be wearing thick hiking boots to manoeuvre well in a park and ravine setting. You can't do that in sandals."
Some new dog walkers may find themselves in over their head, and not be prepared for some of the challenges they might face.
"I heard about a new dog walker who thought it was going to be easy, got all tangled in the leashes, fell and broke her ankle. It’s not that simple," Chepurny said.
Chepurny said owners should be prepared to ask the dog walker a list of questions including:
- What parks do you go to, what route do you take, is it an off leash park? Enclosed? Not enclosed?
- How do you separate the dogs in the vehicle?
- How do you choose the dogs for your groups? Geriatric, puppies, etc
- How long are you in the park for? How long are the dogs in the vehicle for?
- What do you do on very hot or very cold days?
"See how they respond. You should get a clear idea as to their knowledge/experience base," Chepurny said.
On her website, prodogwalker.com, Eibner writes that owners should also ask dog walkers how they handle a dog's bad or aggressive behaviour and what they do if a dog gets loose or injured.
Owners should also take note on how the dog responds to the dog walker and if their pet’s behaviour has changed at all since the walks.
A good dog walker should also ask the owner questions about their pet, and if it has any aggressive tendencies, is possessive of toys, food, etc, and if they have ever bitten anyone or been bitten by another dog.
“Last, go with your gut instinct," Eibner writes. "If you don’t like the walker, move on and call another. If your dog does not react positively to the walker, again move on and call another. You should get a good feeling about leaving your dog in this person's care and your dog should enjoy their company."