It's come to this: Many dog owners are being duped.
A responsible dog owner tries to do right by employing a walking service for their pooch. Sadly, what some don't realize is the service they're hiring isn't all sunshine and rainbows. What you hope for is a group of dogs frolicking in the park, playing chase, resting in the shade of a tree, fetching, wrestling, etc... . Sure, it can be that way. It should be that way. And in many cases, it is that way. But more often than not, it isn't. I could regale you for hours about the crappy dogs walkers I see day-after-day, but that's a different story for a different day.
With this post I want to help unsuspecting owners realize that dog walking has it's duds, just like every other profession. So how do you do your due diligence when hiring a dog walker? Here is a start:
1. Ask the other dog owners in your dog park who they use. Ask if they are happy with the service. I'm amazed at how many people are using a service they have "weird feelings" about.
2. Read your potential dog walker's website thoroughly to see if it feels like a good match.
3. Ask for references and CHECK them.
4. Potential dog walkers should want to set up a meeting in your home to meet you and your dog. During this time make sure your dog and the walker seem comfortable together. Listen to your gut.
5. If you’re considering a service that has employees, ask the owner of the company to bring the employee who will be responsible for your dog’s care to the first meeting. Also insist that you always be informed when staff changes occur. Make sure you will be allowed to contact your walker directly, instead of only having a manager's contact info.
6. Be sure your potential walker has a Dog Walker License form the City of Toronto. This means not only that they are bonded and insured, but also that they must adhere to city by-laws. (Dog walkers who do not use city green space however, are not obliged to have a license. These are dog walkers who use city sidewalks rather than parks.) I'm concerned about dog walkers who don't use public spaces (i.e.: rented hidden, private lockups). I personally feel your dog walker should be comfortable with, and encourage public scrutiny. I also know for a fact that dogs become bored when they visit the same place every single day.
7. Be clear about what type of service you are receiving. If your dog is not supposed to go off-leash, don’t leave this information out. If you want leash-free time in the park, make sure your new walker uses safe, legal off-leash parks.
8. Disclose any and all behaviour issues and personality quirks your pooch may have. When you meet with the potential walker, they should have plenty of questions in this area. If they don't, then likely they don't know much about dogs. Moving forward, stay in touch with him/her regarding any new issues, and positive changes also.
9. You want someone who is certified in PET first aid.
10. Can’t stress it enough: listen to your gut.
11. Especially if you have a puppy, ask your walker if he/she is going to work with your dog on some training basics. If they intend to work with your dog, ask them what training methods they believe in. If the answer doesn't involve the word "positive" (see my post), and instead uses words like "alpha, dominance, Cesar, etc... " then don't hand over your key.
More on this subject from a local dog trainer.