You work way more than 40 hours a week. And when you’re done at the office, sometimes you just want to hang out in town and meet your friends for drinks or dinner.
But your dog is waiting for you at home.
She’s been inside all day. And she’s so bored, you’ve already lost a couch cushion or two.
It’s time to find a dog walker.
But You’ve Heard the Stories
Your neighbor hired a dog walker who took his money but never came to walk the dogs. Your sister-in-law mentioned the dog walker they tried quit before the first day was over, claiming their senior Canine Good Citizen cocker spaniel was aggressive. A coworker shared the frustrating story of how a dog walker they hired kept losing the house key. And every once in a while, a news story floats around on TV about abusive pet professionals.
How do you even find a good dog walker?
It does take some work on your part.
Find Your Potential Dog Walkers
A quick Google or Facebook search will bring up dog walkers in your area. You may even find some listings in the newspaper.
But ask for recommendations from people you know first. Or post a request for recommendations in local Facebook groups to gather some names.
Now, Evaluate Them
Here’s an easy way to thin your list: check to make sure each company you’re considering is bonded and insured. With the remaining names, consider these points:
Do They Have Certifications and Memberships?
Note any certifications the walkers have or the associations they belong to. You probably won’t know what those certifications or associations mean. But if someone is willing to make the effort to pay the organization membership fees or undergo the training for a certification, they’re more likely to be the type of people who will make an effort with your pet.
Does the Business Have Testimonials and Reviews?
Read testimonials – both the testimonials on their site and any Facebook, Google, or Yelp reviews.
Few businesses have perfect 5-star reviews. But if you find less-than-stellar reviews, pay particular attention to the business’s response. Does the response read as combative, or do they make a real try at providing excellent customer service?
(That being said, if a business doesn’t have online reviews, it doesn’t mean they’re not good. They might just not have much of an online presence.)
Is it a Real Business or a Side Hobby?
If you want to hire a high school student who’s just looking for a little bit of spending money, that’s great. But if you prefer to work with a professional, then be sure they behave as professionals:
- Is there a contract or terms and policies?
- How is billing handled?
- If the business has multiple walkers on staff, are you able to contact the owner or manager directly if any issues arise?
- Does the company have a process for managing keys so they always have access to your home when needed and your keys aren’t floating around town somewhere?
Are They Experienced with Your Dog’s Needs?
If you have animals with issues, such as behavioral problems or health concerns, check that the walker is willing to take them on.
Many companies refuse to work with aggressive dogs. They don’t want to risk injury to their walkers or might even be forbidden by their insurance provider to handle dogs known to be aggressive.
Other dog walkers may not feel comfortable caring for dogs at risk for seizures or giving mid-day medications.
And some dog walkers may not be able to handle the special needs of puppies. Puppies need to be walked more often and you need for the dog walker to match the training you’re doing when you’re home. That’s why we developed our Puppy Program.
Communication is Key
When getting recommendations from your friends and family, or reading online reviews, pay special attention to how well the walkers communicate.
Do the walkers let you know about any oddities they see while working with your pet, such as an accident in the house when they know your dog is housebroken or an unusually lethargic attitude in a dog who normally wants to run everywhere? How much detail do they leave?
Think about the last-minute changes that often come up in your life. Maybe on the days that you have to work late, you’d like to have the walker run by for one more afternoon walk. Or, if you’re home sick, you need to let the walker know not to come at all. Ask how easy it is to communicate with the dog walker if something comes up.
The same goes for last-minute changes on the dog walker’s side. Do they let you know if your primary walker is out and the substitute walker will be seeing your dog? What if weather is interrupting the schedule? How do they inform you?
Schedule an Initial Visit
Most professional dog walkers will want to schedule an initial visit with you. That’s a good sign!
The initial visit gets scheduled before your contract with the company even begins. Hopefully you’ll get to meet everyone involved: the owner of the company (if not your dog walker) and your primary walker. Some companies (like us!) will have secondary walkers available as backup and you can request they come to the meeting, too.
This initial visit will give your dog a chance to check out the walkers, and the walkers a chance to learn where you store your dog’s leash, poop bags, favorite toys – everything they’ll need to exercise your pet. They should want to learn all of your pet’s [and your :)] quirks and ask questions about your pet’s routines.
During the visit, ask yourself, “Does the walker seem comfortable with my dog?” Sometimes it just isn’t a good fit. The company should be willing to discuss changes with you if you just aren’t sure the current walker is going to work out.
Maintaining the Relationship
Once you’ve found that great dog walker, remember that communication goes both ways.
Your dog walker can be the first line of defense for problems. Let’s say your dog is on new medications. Your dog walker can let you know if there’s anything unusual that goes on during the walk (maybe your dog was unusually itchy), giving you valuable information that tells you if you need to get your veterinarian involved.
So if something changes in your dog’s life, be sure to let your dog walker know. Give as much notice as possible if you want to cancel a walk (or your contract) or if you’d like add a walk.
Long Days? Not a Problem Anymore
Now you can knock out that project by staying late at the office or enjoy dinner with your friends without guilt. Because your dog is home napping after his long walk and play session with your new dog walker.