Walking Your Dog When You Can't Walk Him Yourself
Dogs need exercise.
That’s a simple fact of canine life.
The amount varies from one breed to another with some breeds needing a ton more than others. But no matter the breed, a daily walk is good for both you and your pet.
A recent study found that dog owners added an average of 3 miles and 22 minutes to their daily walk average. The health benefits are quite real.
But lacing up your shoes, putting a leash on your dog, and pounding the pavement consistently can be tough, especially if you have a packed schedule or suffer from health issues. Sometimes life just gets in the way.
A dog walker can be a great remedy.
To simply have someone come by your place on a scheduled basis to help your pet get the exercise he needs can be a time- and life-saving benefit.
But if you don’t already happen to have someone handy (like a friendly neighbor or coercible teenager), finding the right dog walker can be challenging.
Perhaps I have some tips that can help. Let’s start from the beginning:
There are many benefits to having someone walk your dog for you. You’ll have the peace of mind of knowing your pet won’t be cooped up inside all day with tons of pent up energy (that can too easily turn destructive), for one, and the health benefits can help extend your dog’s life.
But dog walkers can offer a variety of services that can be adjusted to meet you and your dog’s own unique needs. Here are some things to consider before starting your search:
- How many walks per day will you need? For how long?
- Do your pets have any medical needs your dog walker will need to know about?
- Are your dog’s medical vaccinations up to date? Do you have those records available? They’ll likely be requested by anyone you hire.
- How does your pet react when another dog is nearby?
- What happens if the dog walker has an unexpected emergency? Will your pet be okay until you return, or do you need to find a service that will offer a backup walker?
- Is there a safe, easily accessible walking path near your home or will the walker need to pick up your dog and travel elsewhere?
Answer the above and you’ll be in a better position to ask to have your needs met. That way you are more likely to get what you need and not just what somebody is offering.
Walk Your Dog
If you can, take your dog for a few walks on the path you will direct your dog walker to take. Pay attention to how your dog behaves on a leash. Note any issues you might want to bring up with the dog walker you hire. Those can include stray pets, construction zones, and areas that might have hazards like broken glass and dead wildlife.
But perhaps the best reason for doing some prep walks with your dog is so that you can make sure he’s well-trained on the leash. Your dog should walk behind you, not in front of you, and you should prepare to be patient as you teach your dog to stay with you rather than pulling ahead or straying off the path. If you invest a little time into training, you’ll likely find it pays off in being able to turn over a well-behaved pet to a dog walker.
Check out a podcast episode I did on leash walking.
Ask Someone You Trust
If you’re lucky enough to have a neighbor or relative nearby, you might already have access to someone who will walk your dog. You may know someone looking to make a little extra money. Think about any neighbors who have teenagers too, as they’re likely to be looking for a chance to make extra money.
Before you reach out to anyone though, carefully consider whether this is someone you’d trust to walk your dog. It needs to be someone who is responsible enough to show up as promised and, most importantly, it needs to be someone who will keep your pet safe from traffic and other pets. In the end, you may decide a licensed, bonded professional is more trustworthy than someone you know.
Get Referrals from Friends
There is no shortage of services willing to walk your dog for a fee, but you can’t always count on online reviews. Whether you go with a platform like Rover or Wag, or you opt for a licensed pet-sitting business, the best results come from recommendations.
Start with friends, relatives, and neighbors. A trusted coworker may also be a great resource. If you still can’t find anyone who can recommend a dog walker, ask in a local social media group. Look for multiple mentions of the same person or service. Avoid those responding to recommend themselves unless they’re highly recommended by other people.
Research Potential Providers
Whether you have recommendations or not, you should put time into researching the person you’ll be trusting in your home and with your beloved pet. Look through any certifications and qualifications and read every online review you can find.
When it comes to professional services, there are two major certification bodies for pet sitters and dog walkers: Pet Sitters International (PSI) and the National Association of Pet Sitters (NAPPS). Professionals must pass a test and pay a fairly high fee to get certified, so if someone has put that work in, you’re likely getting someone with a serious commitment.
That’s not to say that certification is required of someone watching your pet. This is a decision that’s up to you. Also, you should make sure the person actually possesses the certifications mentioned. Most professional pet sitters and dog walkers will advertise those certifications proudly on their websites, so you can start by looking there. You can also check with the organizations to make sure a walker you’re considering is certified. Of course, you can always ask the dog walker to provide evidence of these certifications.
Interview Multiple Options
Potential dog walkers will likely first want a phone call to ask some basic questions. That’s your chance to gather some information, too. Make a list of questions to ask the dog walker. Here are a few to get you started:
- How long has the dog walker been walking dogs? What is the size of his or her current client list? Will your dog be combined with other dogs on the same walk?
- How long is each walk?
- Is the dog walker licensed and insured? Can that be verified?
- If the dog walker works for a service, is the person you’re speaking to the only person who will be walking your dog?
- What is the protocol if, for some reason, your dog walker won’t be able to show up at the designated time?
- Is the dog walker certified in veterinary first aid?
- Will your housekey and any access codes to your home be kept in a secure location?
- What is their cancellation policy?
- Do they use a contract? If so, can you see it in advance of making a decision?
Ask for References…and Check Them
Businesses check references when they’re hiring an employee. You should apply a similar approach to any person you’re trusting with your pets. Whether you’re opting for a friend of a friend or a professional you found through a service, feel free to ask for references. In addition to reading online reviews, this can be a great way to learn exactly what you can expect.
Once you have at least two references, call each one and ask several questions that you’ve prepared in advance. Have the questions in front of you and be prepared to take notes.
- What kind of dogs do you have?
- How long have you used this particular dog walker?
- Are you happy with the service?
- Have they ever missed an appointment? How was that handled?
- How do they communicate with you if they notice issues or concerns with your pet?
- Do they communicate with you after each visit?
- Have you ever had a negative experience with this dog walker?
- Have you used other dog-walking or dog-sitting services? If so, how does this one compare?
Keep in mind that dog walkers will often give you a list of customers they’re fairly sure will say positive things about them. So this shouldn’t be your only means of vetting dog walkers. It’s just part of the entire research process.
Make an Introduction
Once you have your favorites narrowed to a few, schedule a meet-and-greet, which will likely be at your house so the walker can meet your pet. Even Rover and Wag sitters will provide this since they’re also looking to ensure it’s the right fit.
As important as it was to ask those initial questions and check references, your and your dog’s instincts are everything during this part of the process. You can’t replace real connection or lack thereof.
Pay close attention to the interaction between the dog walker and your beloved pet. Do they seem attentive and warm toward your dog, or are they indifferent to your pet? Are they easily annoyed by actions like your pet barking or jumping on them?
Most importantly, look at how your dog warms to each dog walker he meets. Does your dog seem drawn to the dog walker? Signs that a dog likes someone are tail-wagging, submission, and eye contact with the new person in your home. But you know your dog better than anyone. If you sense he takes to one dog walker more than the others, that should be an important factor in your decision.
Dog Walking While Traveling
If you’re hiring a dog walker to give your pet a break while you’re at work, you’ll be home every night to check on things. But what happens when you leave town for days at a time? You may wonder if you should stick with the same routine.
First, there’s the question of who’s watching your pet while you’re away. Some dog walkers offer pet-sitting services, so you’ll have the benefit of someone you already trust. But if someone’s staying with your pet at night, you may find it best to keep up your regular dog-walking routine, particularly if your pet sitter is away at work during the day just as you would be.
If you’re having a pet sitter come to your house, check to see if dog walking is provided as a service, as well. Some sitters will not only change your dog’s food and water, but they’ll also take them for a walk to work off some of that pent-up energy that comes from being inside all day.
Leaving Your Dog with Someone
There’s no place like home. Dogs certainly feel that way. But sometimes it works better if the dog stays at a secondary location. This usually comes into play if you’re going out of town, but some people take their dogs to pet daycare or to stay with a friend or relative on a daily basis.
I always recommend to my clients that you test out an overnight stay before you actually need it.
Some dogs simply don’t do well in other environments. If you do decide to give it a try, request that the person watching your dog let you know if there are issues. You may find that you’re better off keeping your dog at home and having dog sitters and walkers come to him than having him stay elsewhere.
Stock Up on Supplies
Some dog walkers carry all the basics with them but check beforehand to determine what items you’ll need to supply. Your dog walker will need poop bags, for instance, and you’ll need to make sure you have a leash that is dog walker approved. A poop bag dispenser that attaches to your pet’s leash may be a big relief to your dog walker.
I just so happen to know of a great dog walking leash system, but I may be biased.
One handy thing to keep with the other items you leave out for the dog walker is a first aid kit. Also make sure the dog walker knows how to replenish your pet’s water bowl, where the treats are, and where cold water is for the dog walker to drink after a long walk.
Caring for Your Dog Walker
A reliable, trustworthy dog walker is worth treasuring. Finding somebody who you trust with your best buddy is not a small thing.
Treat your dog walker well, showing appreciation by tipping well and providing bonuses or gift cards during the holidays. Show an interest in your dog walker’s life and celebrate milestones like birthdays, marriages, pregnancies, and graduations.
But one of the best things you can do for a professional dog walker is show appreciation by referring others. Leave positive reviews everywhere you can, from the service-specific platform you used for hiring the dog walker to sites like Yelp to community pages. Offer to give your dog walker a testimonial or serve as a reference to give the same answers you wanted when you were looking for the right person.
Do not treat them like a secret you are afraid to share or you may lose them when they must move on to make ends meet.
Is this list too extensive? I don’t think there is such a thing. Finding somebody who will care for your dog when you can’t is an important decision. One that can’t be taken lightly. A dog walker is responsible for the health and well-being of your pooch. They make life easier for pet parents by being care givers when called upon. I think it makes sense to be as careful and thorough as possible when it comes to such an important job.