This is part of a mini-series to help you find the best fit dog professional for you and your dog.
First off, the terrifying truth about the pet care industry... it isn't regulated! That means there is no legal requirement for your dog walker or trainer to have any qualifications, experience, or even insurance to operate their business; anyone can set themselves up as a walker or trainer with absolutely no experience or expertise; it is totally on you to do your due-diligence! Make sure you're looking for a professional that has it all and to double-check that the information they provide is accurate and up to date.
Daycares and Groomers are regulated. They will be licensed and managed by their Local Authority / Council. Regulation is still fairly new so many businesses are still flying under the radar; more on that in another blog.
Dog Walking isn’t for the faint of heart so finding a walker with experience and enthusiasm is a must! They’re out in all weathers, deal with more poo than you’ll see in a lifetime, and manage some insane situations. Honestly!
Search engine and social media reviews, references, and word of mouth recommendations are an excellent starting point for sourcing a good walker. You might even want to head to the park at the time you want your dog walked and look for the professionals there. You can watch first hand how they interact with the dogs in their care.
If you’re looking for a long-term commitment from your walker then be sure to look for someone who is established and makes their living from dog walking as opposed to someone that’s doing it as a side-hustle or to fill a gap.
What to Expect
Once you’ve found a walker you like, make an appointment to meet them. They should come to your home to meet you and your dog before agreeing to take you on as a client. This is a great way for you and your dog to get a feel for this new person and see how they interact with your dog. This may be the only time you ever see them so spend time getting to know them. They should bring with them copies of their Terms & Conditions, Permission Forms, Insurance and Licences (where applicable).
This is your opportunity to ask all of your questions, so don’t be shy!
An added bonus of the Meet & Greet would be going for a short walk together and seeing for yourself how they and your dog interact.
Forms / Insurance / DBS / Qualifications / Memberships
Your walker should have a comprehensive set of Terms and Conditions which will answer most of your questions above. Make sure you read them! I know it’s a boring task, but it’s really important. Do you want to give your walker off-lead permission, a set of keys to your home, authority to administer prescribed medications; there’s a form for that! They should have Public Liability Insurance of £1 million or more which will be renewed annually. Check the terms of who covers what for accidents/incidents while in their care.
⭐️ Check that your dog is covered by your own pet insurance to go out with a Dog Walker or attend Daycare, not all policies cover this so be sure to check!
DBS Checks, Governing Body Memberships, and Qualifications are all extras that show a certain level of commitment to their business and dogs wellbeing. However, be mindful of not being blindsided by qualifications, (remember that this industry is unregulated), some of those qualifications really hold no value at all. A Canine First Aid Certificate acquired through a 15 min online course purchased on Groupon isn’t going to hold the same value as an in-person day training course with a certified canine-first-aid provider. Ask for clarification and get the evidence to back it up.
Walks & Locations
Where will your dog be taken for walks and what do they look like? Every walker will have their own style of walk. Some go to enclosed spaces and spend all their time in there, while others will walk the whole time or adventure. Does your walker use toys (tennis balls etc) on walks and how does that (if at all) change the dynamics of the group?
Things like this are really personal to each walker. I only took high-energy working breed dogs so my walks were always tailored to their energy and interests whilst simultaneously ensuring they could decompress well after a walk.
How does your dog walker transport your dog? Whether a van or car, it is only fit for purpose if it has been fitted with appropriate caging, guards, and/or seatbelts.
Don't forget insurance! The vehicle insurance has to be registered as business use and recorded as transporting animals. Ask to see this. If they're in an accident whilst travelling and your dog needs veterinary treatment, is that covered by vehicle or business insurance?
If your walker uses public transport, bicycles, and/or walking; is your dog comfortable with those modes and walking along roads etc?
Treats / Tools / Training
Does your walker take food/treats out on walks and how is that used? Do they provide the treats or do you? Will they meet any dietary restrictions if applicable?
Do they provide their own leads or other equipment? What does that look like? Will they replace like for like if they use your equipment and it gets damaged in their care?
Do they support any particular types of training methods or control? If so, will they subscribe to your methods if they are different? This seems like an obvious one, but I once bumped into a professional dog walker who was using a water spray on dogs in her care as a punishment tool without the permission or consultation of the owner. Another was struggling with the dog pulling on lead and started using a slip-lead without consultation. In both instances, I pointed out that without agreement they were in breach of contract and running a risk of breaking trust with their client. On the flip-side, I was once asked to put an anti-bark collar onto a dog when I dropped them home from their walk. It goes against my terms to administer or support such tools so I declined.
Be vocal about what you will and won’t accept! For me, all of those things would have been a deal breaker.
Local Authority Restrictions & Interventions
In most parts of the UK, it is unlikely your Dog Walker will need a local authority licence to operate, however some London Boroughs such as Bromley, and Camden issue annual licences which have a strict criteria to meet.
There’s also local by-law restrictions to consider; such as, how many dogs can be walked at any given time by one person. Lewisham Borough (where I live) allows a maximum of four dogs, on or off lead. Southwark (neighbouring borough) has a maximum of six, three on-lead, three off-lead.
The Local Authority by-laws will override any other stipulations such as insurance or licence stipulations. For example, my insurance permits me to walk a maximum of six dogs at any one time; though if I were to exceed four in Lewisham my insurance would be immediately void.
Dog Walking is a business like any other, treat it as such and hold everyone to account.
I've been in the industry long enough to have seen some absolute horror stories, the most recent being a 'dog walker' that abandoned a dog during a walk having let it off-lead (without permission) and it ran away. The dog was hit by a car, thankfully superficial wounds only, and there wasn't any recourse for the walker in question because they weren't insured or a member of any governing body. The owner found out the hard way, I don't want you to find out that way too.
A good walker will give you so much more than an hour of their time each walk. Find the right one and you'll be forever thankful you did.
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