What to Ask Your Future Dog Walker

You may work one or more jobs, putting in very long days at the office. You come home tired, wanting to relax and are greeted by a dog bouncing off the walls, the energy she's been reserving all day in your absence waiting to be released through mental and physical exercise.

You want to sit, she wants to run, walk, and play. Is there a happy medium? Dogs need mental exercise in the form of training, puzzle toys, and play (with humans and other dogs) and also physical exercise in the form of walks and runs. If you cannot provide a dog with adequate stimulation, her boredom may result in any number of unwanted behaviors - jumping, nipping, digging, chewing up your furniture and house, boredom barking, etc.

If your schedule prohibits you from providing for these basic needs, it is time to hire a professional who can provide those services. Dog daycare and dog walkers can be two great ways to give your dog additional exercise and stimulation. Like in any profession, there are very talented professionals and there are not-so-great companies. Shoddily-run daycares or inexperienced dog walkers and day care employees can create as many behavior problems as lack of exercise can cause, so be very choosy in deciding who you will trust with your dog. Picking the right dog walker is every bit as important as selecting a trustworthy babysitter for your human child - take it seriously.

Evaluating A Prospective Dog Walker

Come well-prepared with a list of questions (ask all that follow and any additional questions you may have):

What credentials does the individual have? Daycare employees and dog walkers should have some knowledge of behavior, training, and dog body language. Is the person a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers? Do they have any certifications? The best certification on the market for dog trainers is the Dog Walking Academy run by www.dogtec.org.

Ask for veterinary references, references from other canine professionals in the area (trainers, veterinarians, etc.), and references from clients.

What are the businesses rates? Hours? How long has the company been in business? How many dogs do they take at a time? Has a dog ever been injured at or lost by their business? Do they adhere to all local leash laws and clean up after dogs on walks?

What training techniques or tools do they employ? How do they handle unwanted behaviors, like lunging, jumping, or pulling on the leash? Will they follow up with any training techniques and requests you set forth?

Are they fully insured or bonded? All dog professionals should carry liability insurance specifically for pet care businesses, and any professionals entering the home in your absence should also be bonded. Be firm on this requirement.

If your dog is aggressive or reactive on walks, what experience do they have working with these dogs? How would they deal with a reactive or aggressive dog being approached by a strange human or loose dog?

If the answers to these questions are all satisfactory, it is time to observe them in action. You should always view the professional "in action."

No Exceptions

Regardless of whether you're seeking to employ a dog walker or dog daycare, they should have no objections to you observing them during a work session. Ask to visit or follow along on walks. If they refuse this request, look elsewhere for a professional - your dog walker or daycare provider shouldn't have anything to hide. Again, no exceptions.

Follow your gut. If you get a bad feeling about a potential dog walker or daycare, keep looking.

Buyer Beware, Unregulated Industry!

At this time, there are no requirements for dog walkers, daycare professionals, or trainers. Anyone, without any experience or knowledge of dogs, can start taking clients as a dog professional. There are many uninsured, uncredentialed, unknowledgeable individuals in all of these fields looking to make a quick buck from dog owners, masquerading as canine experts.

It's somewhat frightening that one would need a license to cut hair or apply acrylic nails, but no state-mandated licensing program exists for those who are responsible for our best friends. Not all the dog walkers or daycares in the phone book will have insurance, be established as an actual business through the local government, or have the knowledge to keep your dog free from illness or injury, physical or behavioral.

Some cities have started guidelines for dog walkers in response to unscrupulous business owners. San Francisco is one such city, and has posted eight suggested guidelines for dog walkers online at www.sfgov.org. Call your local town or city hall to see if your city has such guidelines. If not, consider passing along San Francisco's guidelines and suggest something similar be implemented in your town. Keep the S.F. guidelines in mind when evaluating your dog's new dog walker!

Photo: NinaZed