What does the standard dog walking company consider a dog walk? What do most dog owners expect from a dog walk? For most of society and a majority of dog walking businesses out there, a dog walk means picking up your dog, bringing them to a dog park or taking them on a non-structured walk, letting them go to the bathroom (wherever they want) and returning them home. THAT'S IT. It's become the standard of what is acceptable and what the dog walking experience is..
Recently, I took time out of my busy training schedule to train two new walkers that we added to our structured dog walking program. After an extensive application and interview process, anybody we hire is required to go through a 2-week training program learning dog psychology, proper leash handling, how to walk multiple dogs, how to correct unwanted behaviors and what is expected when entering and exiting a clients home. During prime dog walking hours of 10m-3pm, I am usually working our current board and train dogs that are staying with us or I am doing in-home private consultations. While I often see "dog walkers" around the city of Hoboken just from living here and being out and about during training, I hadn't been out during these prime walking hours to really observe what was going on in my industry.
What I saw during these 2 weeks was pretty shocking. I was amazed to see how little so many of the "dog walkers" I saw knew about dog psychology and proper leash walking. What I saw included but was not limited to: allowing dogs to walk in front in the leader position, massive pulling on leash, marking or going to the bathroom wherever the dog wanted, barking or lunging at other dogs/people, entering dog park with major excitement, allowing high levels of intensity in the dog park which often lead to fights and worst of all many walkers who would just sit around and barely walk the dog.
While up in the Ship Yard area of Hoboken, I was working on leash techniques with one of our new walkers and we observed one of these "dog walkers" complete a so called "dog walk" and we couldn't believe what we saw. The girl left the building where the dog lived allowing the dog to pull her out the door where she proceeded to walk about 100 feet to a grass area. At that point she stood there, took a phone call for about 15 mins but then hung up as a fellow female walker from the same company came to talk to her for about 10 mins. She then spent a few minutes taking a picture of the dog she was "walking" and returned the dog pulling on leash and in front of her back to the building. The dog was in the same spot not moving for over 25 mins. We later saw on the company's Instagram the picture the girl took with a caption saying, "(dog name) enjoying a great walk on a beautiful day!" Talk about a scam. We're not in the business of throwing other companies under the bus but none the less it was very unfortunate to witness.
I see signs for dog walking companies all over the place that advertise how much love and affection your dog is going to receive, that they will be reliable, and how the dog will get great exercise. When I see these ads I always think to myself, well when are you giving love and affection? Are you petting my dog when she's excited therefore nurturing her excited state of mind or are you coddling her when she's nervous which only increases her insecurity? Do you really need to use reliability as a perk for your business? Meaning that when I book a dog walk with your company its a perk that you actually do the walk? What kind of exercise is my dog getting? Is he pulling you on a tense leash with high excitement and misbehaving or are you just transporting him to a dog park where he will act like a maniac for 20 minutes?
This may sound like a bit of a rant but what I care about most are the dogs and the relationships that owners have with their dogs. What I see in the dog walking world is an extreme lack of knowledge from the "professional dog walking companies." Am I being unreasonable when I say that I think it's crazy that people are starting companies and running companies with very little to no knowledge of dog behavior? What if this was caring for children? Would you allow someone to come into your home to take care of your kid who allowed them to do whatever they wanted and misbehave but always showed love for your child? Or would you hire somebody who had experience raising children, made rules for the children and also showed them love and affection at the correct times. It seems so rational when it comes to children but when it comes to our dogs we accept so much less.
Here are some important things to know when looking for a dog walker:
- Have the walkers received any training on dog psychology, dog training or dog walking?
- How long has the company been in business? (Companies pop up and disappear all the time)
- Does the company have extensive positive testimonials?
- Are they are registered business? (Ask for proof)
- Are you fully bonded and insured? (Ask for proof, many will say yes but not have it)
- Does the company have any videos of how my dog will be walked?
- What is the application and training process for dog walkers the company hires?
- Ask to meet the walker an evaluate how they will walk the dog.
- How is their following on facebook and instagram?
- Do they have a professional website?
- Is the owner of an employee of the company a certified dog behaviorist?
- How much notice do you need to give to schedule a walk?
- Does the company have online scheduling and billing options?
- Does the company have any perks such as events to bring your dog to?
- Ask what kind of structure the dogs receive on the walks or what type of mental exercise they receive?
Any reputable company with a clear understanding of dog psychology will be happy to answer any of these questions and should meet all the requirements listed.
What's most important to me are the dogs. Whether it's companies who are providing a poor dog walking experience or owners who don't do the research on what's best for their dog, in the end it's the dogs who suffer. I hope this article will create awareness with dog owners and motivate dog walking companies to raise their standards when it comes to how important dog behavior is when caring for a dog.
It's time we raise the standard of dog walking.