• Dogwalking is an unlicensed profession.
There are no standards except your own. What are your standards?
• You are giving your house key to a stranger.
Have you checked their references carefully? Are they insured for liability? Are they bonded for theft?
You are entrusting your dog’s well-being to someone on faith. Do they know how to handle the special challenges of urban dog walking? Will they be attentive to your dog’s interests and to changes in his behavior? Will they show up on time?
• Different dogs have different requirements.
Their breed, their age and their socialization experience should be taken into account. It’s common sense, but sometimes you have to stop and think about it. A toy dog can be hurt in the company of large dogs, no matter how happy the little guy is to be there. Breeds with the so-called pushed-in faces — like boston terriers, boxers, bulldogs — cannot tolerate heat or too much exercise without risk of dangerous overheating. A greyhound needs a short sprint a day – at 40 miles an hour – but care must be taken that other dogs aren’t provoked into stopping him with their teeth. Lap dogs and seniors want to smell the roses. Think about who will be taking your dog out and what the conditions will be.
• Walking a dog in an urban environment has special hazards, such as sidewalk traffic, street traffic and extreme weather compounded by city living. Please take a look at our companion article “Walking Your Dog In New York City” for more detail.
• Weigh the importance of a walker who thinks pre-emptively and acts accordingly.
Such a walker not only steers your dog clear, but is able after-the-fact to link a certain behavior with a subsequent effect.
• You want your walker to have eyes out for the child who may want to run up to your dog, spooking him, or the inattentive owner whose dog is making ready to lunge at yours. You want her ears to be attuned to the roar of skateboarders or the whirr of bicycles on the sidewalk, particularly if your dog is a chaser or a herder. And then you want her to know how to react quickly.
• In bad weather, you want your walker to size up the wind threat before bringing your dog into a dog run with heavy branches flailing overhead and to know how your dog may react in the build-up to a thunderstorm. You want your walker to be mindful of standing too near utility boxes lest the electrical lines are not securely grounded. Or be on guard against dogs drinking standing water in puddles.
• Pack walks, group walks or solo walks – which is better? Pack walks generally walk up to a dozen dogs together. Group walks usually involve two to five dogs. Here’s where budget kicks in and safety concerns mount. Experts agree dogs need socialization to be well-adjusted. If your means are limited and you have an active dog, a 2-hour-long pack walk might be just the thing for your dog. But be aware: a pack walker cannot guarantee the individual safety of nor attention to all the dogs as well as a group or solo walker can. As for solo walks, they may be just the ticket for your recent rescue dog, a senior canine or a dog who is in training, but our concern with many of them is that dogs don’t have opportunities to socialize.
• The pros and cons of engaging a company or an individual. Some companies are great and some are . . . not. Likewise, individuals. Assuming solid experience and professionalism, what matters is: will the same person be walking my dog from day to day? will there be back-up when the person is away? will the walker show up on time and walk the contracted amount of time? is the walker insured for liability? is the walker bonded? will the walker be responsive to my concerns? Will the charges be clear and accurate? Will payment methods be easy? Will you be bound by a contract? Does my dog love his walker?
Generally speaking, a company’s strengths are in providing oversight, back-up, insurance/bonding and accountability when things go wrong. An individual, by definition, will guarantee your dog the same walker every day and she is likely be very responsive to any issues you bring up. Ideally, you want the best of both.