Basics of dog walking
Going for a walk with your dog seems like a simple task, but in many respects, it's because your pooch is familiar with you and your habits and ideally sees you as a pack leader.
If you're considering hiring a dog walker, start by setting up a meeting so your dog can become familiar with the new person. In some cases, your dog will become defensive, trying to guard you or your home from the "intruder."
Or, your pooch may run and hide. Either way, your prospective walker should be able to coax your dog out with some time and attention, and do so in a way that isn't traumatizing or aggressive.
Find a dog walker that demonstrates an innate understanding of dog behavior — for example, a good dog walker won't approach your dog directly, but will allow the animal to come to her. Similarly, she'll make allowances for breed behavior in their interactions. A greyhound may react differently than a bulldog, and your dog walker should know how to handle both.
Hiring the best dog walker
Before hiring a dog walker, go on a trial walk with your dog and the walker, and give the walker a chance to handle the leash. If your dog is obedient when leashed, this shouldn't be a problem. If your dog is willful, watch how the walker handles the issue.
Ideally, the walker should get your dog to walk without pulling, and he or she should do so without displaying any frustration or aggression.
Also, be clear about what equipment you want the dog walker to use — whether you use a flat collar, for example, or a metal pinch collar — and ask about other dogs that may be walked at the same time.
Most dog walkers take out a "pack" on a regular basis, and it's important to ask about the size of the pack and where they'll be going. Most major cities have several off-leash areas, which are typically favorites for dog walkers, since these allow the dogs to run free and burn off excess energy.
If you're not comfortable with your dog being off the leash, say so. The walker should be willing to accommodate your needs by keeping your pet tethered.
Also, make sure to ask whether your potential walker is insured and bonded — while this is not a requirement for companies or individuals, it does offer a measure of protection in the event your dog is injured or lost.
Costs of hiring a dog walker
Expect to pay based on the frequency of dog walks each week, as well as how long the walk lasts during each outing. If you have more than one dog, ask the walker whether they provide discounts for additional dogs.
Research dog walking costs for other companies (or individuals) in the area, and ask pertinent questions.
• How long have they been walking dogs?
• Have they ever lost a dog or had one injured during a walk?
Also, make sure to ask for references before handing over your pet's leash to any walker, whether they have 20 years of experience or just a few months.
In addition, consider that employees of the business need access to your home — or, at the very least, your yard — to pick up and return your dog. This means you'll need to provide them with keys to your house or gate and also emergency contact numbers in case something happens to your dog.
Ask whether they offer any services beyond simple walking. These may include running or rollerblading with the animal or playing fetch, tug-of-war or other games.
Many companies offer more specialized services such as grooming, feeding or dog training. For dog trainers, make sure the firm or individual has formal training, and ask questions about their training style — some use pinch collars, some prefer clicker training, and some use reward-based methods. All are potentially beneficial as long as you're comfortable with the method used.
Avoid a bad dog walker
Your goal when trying to find a dog walker is to help your dog get needed exercise and to lower your stress by taking a task off your plate. But not all dog walkers are created equal.
If the dog walker or company you contact makes you feel uncomfortable, or isn't able to give you concrete answers about when walks will happen, where the dogs will be going or how allowances will be made for your pet, it's best to take a pass.
If you spend more time worrying about your dog than worrying about the walk you don't have time for, the cost of a walker simply isn't worth it.
Good dog walking services are prompt, courteous and show a genuine love of animals.