Since I started caring for dogs about twelve years ago, the dog walking business has boomed. In the last five years especially, everywhere you look you see dog walkers with multiple dogs—sometimes 15 dogs or more at a time—in the neighborhoods and on the hiking trails. So how do you know if a group walk is right for your dog? And with all the choices in walkers how do you find a good one?
Is a pack walk right for your dog?
We know that dogs are social creatures. However, this doesn't mean all dogs should be walking with a large group. While some dogs are confident, easygoing, social, and walk well on a leash, others have anxiety, are shy, or have leash reactivity. Not to mention some dogs are too old to keep up and others can be too young to walk very far without damaging their growth plates! Your dog may not be ready for a group walk for any of these reasons, and some dogs may never be ready for a group walk—and that's okay. A mindful dog walker will evaluate your dog to see if he or she needs individualized training for proper leash skills and/or further work on behavior to get the dog ready for the group setting. I have definitely taken on dogs in the past that weren't the right fit for a group walk. I soon realized that it wasn't only stressful for me and the new dog, but also stressful for the dogs already in the group. A one-on-one walk or a walk with a neighbor dog and their owner is just enough socialization for some dogs. A lot of people will suggest that if your dog comes home tired, the walk must be doing the dog good, but I'm sure there are times that you've come home from work exhausted without feeling particularly satisfied or happy. Just because your dog comes home tired from the group outing, doesn't necessarily mean the dog had a good day.
So how do I find a trustworthy dog walker?
This is a hard one. Dog walking, like dog training is an *unregulated industry. That means anyone (even people who have never cared for dogs before) can call themselves a professional dog walker, dog trainer, or even a dog expert. And like with any unregulated industry there are some really great, experienced walkers who make the health and care of the dog a top priority, no matter how many dogs they are walking at one time. And of course there are also some not-so-great dog walkers , who walk far too many dogs for their skill level and may use prong collars and harsher tactics to control the dogs. Aside from getting a referral from a friend who has had a wonderful experience with their walker, here are some suggestions on how to find the right fit for you.
Don't be afraid to ask questions:
How long have you been walking dogs professionally?
Are the dogs on leash or off?
How many dogs do you walk at one time?
Do you have any assistants?
How long is the actual walk vs the time spent driving around in the van?
Where are you taking the dogs?
What would you do in an emergency?
Are you licensed and insured?
Can you send pictures or video during the outing?
What kind of collar do you use?
*Dog Biz Academy has recently started a certification program for dog walkers, which educates them in dog behavior, emergency preparation, and everything in between. This is an awesome step towards getting some regulation in the industry.