Pets

How to pick the right dog walker

Experts share recommendations to help you make the best decision for your pet.

Experts share recommendations to help you make the best decision for your pet

A woman with three dogs on leashes. She's crouching down to pet one of the dogs and they're all on the street on a sunny day.
(Credit: Getty Images)

As a dog owner, you know a walk is an adventure for your best friend. Walks offer your furry friend the opportunity for exercise and exploration — and in the midst of all that excitement, they also have the chance to relieve themselves. But what do you do when life becomes busier than usual, and you're suddenly struggling to find time to take your dog outside? 

For many pet owners, the answer is to hire a reliable dog walker, who provides your pet with the same positive experience you might and affords you some peace of mind. Here are a few tips to help you make the right decision if you're thinking about calling in a pro for your companion's W-A-L-Ks. 

Where to start

Before you launch an online search for dog walking services available in your area, Renée Beauchamp, founder and executive director of the Canadian Dog Walkers Association, has a different recommendation. "Talking to people in the dog park is a very good way to go," said Beauchamp. "Ask another dog owner if they know [anyone] in the area and who's good and why they're good."  

Another possibility, she advised, is to observe the dog walkers around your neighbourhood and assess whether or not they practice positive reinforcement. "They [shouldn't be] using harmful tools, such as prong collars and shock collars … or even choke chains."

According to Beauchamp, positive reinforcement means the dog walker is using treats and praise to encourage good behaviour from pets. For example, when a dog stops or waits after the appropriate cue, a treat is given, she explained. That's repeated until the dog stops pulling on the leash. 

You also want to see that the dog walker is using a front-hooking body harness, Beauchamp said. "That is the best way to control pulling … and it does not hurt the animal."

Beauchamp has concerns about online communities for pet owners. "The problem with online communities is that you will get a thousand answers from people who may not know what their walker is doing."

If you find yourself unable to get referrals, Ian Lynch, a Canadian Kennel Club member and blogger, suggests asking a dog walker for references and using those to learn how they operate and if people are satisfied with their service.

Choosing the right dog walker

Lynch says most dog walkers offer three services: group walks, solo walks and puppy visits that include playtime. He recommends asking each walker what the different kinds of walks entail, and how they would determine the best option for your dog. He suggests a solo walk for dogs with behavioural issues, older dogs and dogs recovering from illness or injury.

Lynch said a dog walker isn't the right candidate if they don't have many references or long-time clients — or if the prices seem too good to be true. The number of clients is another sign. "Responsible dog walkers only take on as many dogs as they can safely handle per day and offer them quality time that is unrushed," Lynch said.

Nicole Fenwick manages the AnimalKind program, which focuses on animal welfare accreditation and referrals for animal-related businesses, at the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Fenwick said dog walking is not a regulated industry, so it's crucial for pet owners to do their own research on candidates. Fenwick suggests asking if the walker has any professional qualifications, and some other important questions like: "How do they ensure the dogs have water? What is their plan if a dog gets lost … [or] injured on a walk and they have a group of dogs?" Also, how do they handle aggression among the dogs, or run-ins with dogs outside the group? And what about a plan for wildlife encounters?" 

If you're choosing a group walk for your best friend, Fenwick said it's important to ask about the vaccination status of all the dogs. Another key consideration is what's happening inside any vehicles used to transport dogs to parks or other areas. "How is the temperature controlled [inside the vehicle], especially in the summer?" she asked. How many dogs do they put in the vehicle at a time, and how do they restrain them? You want to avoid an overcrowded space, she said.

If you're going to be away, the walker will need a key to enter your home and pick up your dog, or to come inside to play with your puppy. Some companies may already perform background checks on employees, said Fenwick, but if your prospective walker doesn't provide that assurance, she recommends asking for references.

Both Fenwick and Lynch agree that a dog walker's social media accounts can reveal information about their character and practices. "I like to see daily posts and stories of dogs enjoying themselves on their walks," said Lynch. 

A positive experience for your pooch

Once you've selected a dog walker, the next step is to recognize the signs that your pet is enjoying their time outdoors. "Smart phones are a great way for dog walkers to show their clients how their dogs are doing," said Lynch. "Even if it isn't on social media. A quick photo and a text go a long way. You know your dog best — does he look happy in the photo or stressed?"

For dog owners with security cameras installed outside their homes, Lynch suggests watching how your dog reacts when the walker arrives. Your pet should seem upbeat as their new friend approaches. 

When your dog finally gets to see you, there's another sign your walker is doing their job, Lynch said. "If your dog walker comes during your work day, your dog will still be excited to see you when you return, but should settle quicker, as they have had physical and mental simulation during the day."


Jacqueline Martinz is a freelance writer in Toronto. She loves exploring the city and staying active with her dog, Oliver. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacqueline Martinz is a Toronto-based writer. Her writing is often focused on issues impacting education, politics, philanthropy and animal welfare. When she isn’t writing, Jacqueline loves exploring the city and staying active with her dog, Oliver. Connect with Jacqueline through her website, jacquelinemartinz.com.

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