A dog is for life – not just evenings and weekends.
Every dog owner needs help at some point with house sitting or walking their dog. It is sensible to accustom every dog to being away from its owner, either being looked after in its own home or elsewhere, as even the most home-loving of owners may suffer an emergency and need their dog to be attended to. Rather than panic and take the first offer in a crisis, it is well to establish trust with a dog walker/sitter in advance as worrying about your dog will only add to the stress of an emergency.
However, owners who know that they will spend the majority of their time away from their dog should re-consider ownership. If you will be at work all day, it is not acceptable to leave your dog with “doggy day care” day in and day out, throw a bit of food down in the evenings and expect your dog to curl up on the sofa as you collapse in front of the television after a hard day at work. Like as not, this type of owner then expects the, probably unfit, dog to go for a massive hike or get dragged behind a bicycle when the weather is fine at the weekend. Alas, this is the reality for many urban dogs whose owners no doubt think that they are having a great time “socialising” with their fellows during the day and are happy to sit under a cafe table for hours at the weekend.
Even owners who do not work or who work from home can end up actually paying very little attention to their dog as they are busy at a laptop or with offspring. Maybe they go for a walk in the middle of the day, but how much of that is spent interacting with the dog and how much on a mobile telephone or minding children?
There are also holidays or business trips to consider. Many owners will take their dog with them and the advent of the Pet Passport scheme has led to many dogs being taken abroad. However, again, there are times when it is not possible to travel with a dog and a pet sitter or kennels need to be considered. This, from a post on my local website, is not a viable option:
It caused a storm of protest on the forum and one or two people offered to house sit. No one received a reply so the fate of the dogs did not become known.
The experience and quality of dog wakers and day care services varies enormously. As with most aspects of professional dog care, it is unregulated. Legislation such as The Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963 may only be enacted in the event of a complaint. Abuses happen. A dog walker near me “kennels” dogs overnight in a car, no water, no ventilation and not always in the same road as her house. Lack of action from the dog warden prompted one local resident to add the sign that you see in the image to the left. No doubt the owners were oblivious.
There is a National Association of Pet Sitters that offers some regulation of its members and advice to owners.
Even dog walkers who go to the expense of training may not be experienced with a variety of breeds, ages and temperaments and of course, anyone can set up a training course and charge for it, good or bad. There are several agencies who will offer dog walkers who are apparently “vetted”. Here is an example from just one site of the requirements for its dog walkers “Love and passion for animals, strong sense of responsibility while looking after pets, applicants must be over 16 and resident in the UK”. Nothing about actual skills or knowledge. Presumably, the freelancers would be covered by the agency’s insurance, but not necessarily.
Similarly, this “advice” from an existing dog walker to potential recruits “…dog walking especially … appeals to so many people, because a) the start up costs are very low, b) requires little knowledge and training and c) enables people to be their own boss and say goodbye to all those bosses that they’ve worked under before!”
Use this chap or anyone else that takes this advice and you may well be saying goodbye to your dog.
There are also web sites advising how to make “easy money” by dog walking. Is it really “easy” to have the responsibility of looking after someone else’s dog, deal with a large variety of temperaments and breeds, untrained dogs that pull, have no manners and no recall?
Consider whether you want your dog to be bundled up in a van and driven around while lots of other dogs are picked up, subjected to the noise of a van full of excited dogs and then allowed to run amok in an ever-changing “pack”. What may seem like “fun” to a lot of dog walkers and owners is in reality very stressful for most dogs and certainly does not help with training.
Many local authorities are rightly restricting the number of dogs that can be walked at any one time. My local authority limits it to 4 – that’s a cardinal compass point each for them to head to at speed as soon as they are let off the lead! Of course dog walkers also meet other dog wakers resulting in large numbers of dogs racing round off lead which can and does cause problems. Such restrictions may also mean that unscrupulous walkers will curtail walks in order to earn the same amount of money.
So that’s the bad stuff. How do you find a good walker?
Do not take everything on trust. I was walking my dog with one other when I stopped to admire a fox terrier. The owner and I got chatting and within hours I had her door keys! As it happened, I was able to do some behavioural work with her charming dog to undo some of the damage done to the dog by her previous walker and I was very sad when they both returned to Spain. This, however, is not a sensible way to engage a dog walker!
Ask for feedback from other owners.
Conduct a face to face interview and be prepared to ask complex questions. Set a scenario and ask how the walker would cope: for instance if your dog were attacked or otherwise injured or ran off or jumped up at someone who then made a formal complaint.
You should expect that the walker has knowledge and experience of your breed and its specific requirements.
You should expect that the walker has adequate, up to date insurance (ask to see proof and double check with the insurer). Ask if they have ever had to make a claim and under what circumstances.
You should expect that the walker has a basic knowledge of the law regarding dogs – ask questions.
You may want to check that they have some canine first aid knowledge and ability.
You should expect that they will examine your dog for cuts, abrasions, ticks etc after every walk and be able to recognise if your dog were unwell.
If it is going to be a regular walk, ask the walker what they would do in the event that they could not walk your dog for any reason, possibly at short notice
Do not expect your dog walker/pet sitter to include other services such as watering plants or undertaking elaborate security rituals such as opening and closing curtains, turning lights and radios on and off etc. Some may agree to do some or all of these things for an additional fee but do not be offended if they refuse.
Obtain testimonials and follow them up. Ask if anyone else knows or has used the walker and obtain independent feedback.
Once you have engaged a walker:
Establish a trial period and re-interview the walker at the end
Provide the walker with your contact details, the dog warden and any local park rangers, your vet and an out of hours vet if applicable and those of any one else who may be called in an emergency, including for instance the walker losing your keys or becoming ill etc as well as incidents involving your dog
Provide the walker with a letter of authority to take your dog to the vet in the event of an incident and make sure that you both understand the circumstances under which you expect to be contacted and kept informed (if your dog has a minor scrap that does not result in injury, do you want to be told by the dog walker rather than hear it second hand, for instance?)
Garner feedback from other people who saw the walker out with your dog during the trial period – did they seem confident, did the dog seem content, were there any occassions when they looked out of control, how was your dog’s recall etc etc
This may seem like an enormous amount of effort and, at the end of the day, you will require a certain amount of mutual trust, but remember, both you and the dog walker could be held legally liable for any complaint or problem (it is not necessary for your dog to have caused actual harm) and you will be handing over the security of your home and belongings.