Most of us lead busy lives these days, which means we don’t always have time to walk our dogs as often as we should. Hiring a dog walker to give your pooch the regular exercise he needs to stay healthy and happy is a great solution.
When seeking a dog walker, you want to make sure you find a responsible individual who has his best interests at heart. You want someone who understands the essence of being a dog walker – to love and care for your four-legged friend, have some fun and exercise, and bring him home safe. Here are some qualities to consider when hiring someone.
Awareness and focus
A good dog walker is always focused on the dogs in her care, constantly alert to body language and canine dynamics, looking ahead for potential trouble, and aware of surrounding and incoming people, dogs and the environment. Potentially harmful items on the ground, an aggressive dog approaching, or a play interaction that is becoming a bit tense…these are the kinds of situations a walker should be on the alert for and ready to adjust to, by changing direction or moving away as needed.
Knowledge of dog behaviour
This may seem obvious, but a good dog walker has a working understanding of dog behaviour, canine body language and dog-dog and dog-human interactions. This understanding is gained through observation, education and experience with many different dogs of varying ages, breeds and temperaments. Some people make the mistake of assuming all dogs will behave the same way their own dogs do, and this is simply not the case.
Caring for your pet does not necessarily mean your dog walker fusses and gushes over your pooch every time she sees him (though it may!). It does mean she cares about you and your pet wholeheartedly, and wants the best for both of you. It means she’ll go the extra mile to do what is needed to keep your dog healthy, happy and safe. Those who love what they do have a sense of responsibility – and usually make great dog walkers! Caring alone is not enough, however, and needs to be accompanied by many other qualities and skills.
Integrity and good communication skills
Much of the work dog walkers do is unseen. A dog walker enters your home when you are away, and takes your dog for walks when you are not around. She must have a high level of integrity, delivering her services safely and as agreed upon, communicating to you any changes in schedule or a dog’s behaviour, or diffi culties encountered along the way. A successful relationship is based on trust, and in large part, the trust between you and your dog walker is based on open and clear communication.
Good observation skills
The better your dog walker knows your dog, the safer and more enjoyable their walks will be. Through careful observation and daily interaction, your walker will learn what your dog likes and dislikes, his habits and tendencies, and will notice any physical or behavioural changes that may be early indicators of discomfort or illness.
Energetic and fun!
Need we say more?
Gentleness, clarity and consistency
Managing a group of dogs requires establishing clear guidelines and expectations for behaviour, and implementing them consistently. It does not require force, but rather a gentle and compassionate approach, combined with a communication tool, such as positive reinforcement training, to effectively create the desired behaviours.
Courtesy and politeness in public
As a dog walker cares for your dog, she represents you. It is important that she is able to interact with your neighbours, service people and the public in a kind and conscientious manner.
Good judgment and problem-solving skills
This is a rather intangible quality, but when hiring a dog walker, it may be one of the most important attributes to look for. Can this person observe a situation, assess any areas of potential difficulty, and make appropriate decisions to avoid any problems? Does she have what might be called “a good head” on her shoulders?
To think and act appropriately in emergencies
Thankfully, emergencies don’t happen often, but if one does occur it is important that your dog walker is able to think and act in an effective manner. This is a skill that can be learned and improved upon through education such as pet first aid training, and through foresight and planning about what to do if something unforeseen does happen.
Curiosity and an interest in learning
Dog walkers who enjoy what they do are interested in learning new skills, engaging in continuing education opportunities and educating the public about dogs and their profession. It is possible to teach old dogs new tricks, and that includes dog walkers!
Attention to detail
Skilled dog walkers are good multi-taskers. Not only do they keep track of schedules and understand basic safety protocols about things like open doors and pet-safe temperatures in cars, but they must be able to keep track of their charges’ individual needs. Things they might need to consider include which dogs have food allergies, who’s afraid of thunder, how best to manage group and park dynamics, secure handling of keys and contact information – and much more. Something as simple as a dropped or inappropriately hooked leash, or the unsafe opening of a vehicle door, can mean the difference between a pleasant walk and an accident.
Cindy Carol is a member of the Toronto Dog Walkers Association and owner of For Dog's Sake, serving certain neighbourhoods in Toronto's west end. She's an experienced dog walker and trainer, a volunteer and foster home for Australian Shepherd Rescue, and a member of the High Park K9 Committee.