What to look for in a dog walker

What to look for in a dog walker

So you’ve decided you want to get a dog walker and are starting the hunt for the perfect match. If you live in or near a city, then you’re probably spoiled for choice! The dog walking and training industry underwent a boom after the pandemic, as people sought alternatives to a 9-5, office based lifestyle. As a result, there are now more dog walkers and daycares than ever, and the concentration of dog businesses in towns and cities (where the majority of lockdown-acquired dogs also live) is particularly high. In Newcastle upon Tyne alone, a quick Google search yields hundreds of dog walkers that operate across the city, all with varying levels of experience and services on offer.

So great news for dog owners who want a wide range of choice in their dog walker. However, with lots of choice also comes lots of confusion, and if you’ve never used a dog walker before, you might not know where to start. In which case, read below for our handy guide to things to look out for in your new dog walker…

What does your dog need from their dog walker? 

The first, and most important question to consider, is what your dog needs from their dog walker. No two dogs are the same, and before making an appointment with your new dog walker, it’s important for you to carefully consider the kinds of environments, and situations, that your dog thrives in. 

Some dogs have separation anxiety, which means they need to be in the company of another human throughout the day, in which case you might want to look for a dog walker that gives you this option. Others might not have SA, but are highly energetic, and so need a service that is going to provide them with lots of opportunity for running around and enrichment in the company of other dogs.

Some dogs, however, might not enjoy the company of other dogs so much, or might have mobility problems that make it difficult for them to run around in a pack of dogs. In which case, you’ll probably want someone that specialises in ‘solo’ or custom dog walking, where the length and nature of the walks can be built around your dog as an individual.

Think carefully about your dog’s needs, and be honest about this with your prospective dog walker, in order to ensure that you can find the right match for your dog. At Jess Fox & Hound, all new clients are required to fill out a behavioural assessment form, and undergo a ‘meet and greet’ with their dogs before going out for a walk, as part of the ‘getting to know’ them process. We will never accept dogs just for the sake of new business; for us, your dog should enjoy being walked by our team, and if we don’t feel this is likely to be the case, we will always let you know and recommend a trusted alternative walker who we do think will meet their needs. Which brings me onto my next point…

What should I expect from my dog walker? 

Once you’ve assessed your dog’s needs, and thought about what kind of walks might be suitable for them, your next step will probably be to start contacting different dog walkers for quotes, or to discuss options for walking further. At this point, you may well have a shortlist of 2-3 walkers that you are making enquiries with, and deciding between them can be tricky, especially as dog walking is a largely unregulated profession.

Below are a list of questions and considerations that you might want to think about when shortlisting your chosen dog walker. This is by no means exhaustive, and should be adapted depending on your needs and locality, but should provide you with a place to start.

  • Is your dog walker licensed for their activities? 

This varies a bit from local authority to local authority, however in Newcastle upon Tyne at least, any dog walker that has a dog in its care for more than 3 hours in a day is required to have a licence for their activities. If asked, a dog walker should be able to provide you with their licence number, or a copy of their licence certificate. If they can’t, then contact your local authority directly to see if they are registered with them. If they’re not, you may want to consider looking elsewhere, for a licensed dog walker instead.

  • Are they insured? 

Much as we try to protect against it, accidents do happen when dogs are walked together, and in the worst case scenario, you want to know that your dog will be covered for any damage they might cause to themselves, or another dog or member of the public. Dog walking insurance is a legal requirement for dog walkers, and your dog walker should be able to tell you who they’re insured with and provide a certificate of insurance, if asked.

  • How many dogs does your dog walker take out at once? 

This is an important question, as it relates to both licensing conditions, and the issue of insurance.

Dog walking insurance generally only covers dog walkers to walk up to 6 dogs in public at any one time. If your dog walker cheerfully demonstrates that they take out 7, 8, 9, or even 10 dogs at a time, then you should be aware that those dogs may not be covered by any insurance, or licensed for, in the event of an accident.

Exceptions to this are when your dog walker is on private land, or when there are multiple handlers for groups of dogs with more than six. If this is the case, then there is no need to worry. If it isn’t, then you may want to find a dog walker that works with smaller packs of dogs to put your mind at ease.

Also remember that the smaller the pack, the more opportunity your walker has to engage with your dog, and assess and meet their needs, which brings us onto the next essential question…

  • Does your dog walker offer a behavioural assessment, and opportunity to meet your dog ahead of walking them? 

Licensing conditions for dog walking in Newcastle require all professional walkers to subject new dogs to some kind of behavioural assessment before they begin walking them. For some, this might be a fairly basic affair, and they might just ask to meet your dog briefly before taking them for a walk. Others will want to engage in a more in-depth discussion with you about you and your dog’s needs, and will ask questions about how they cope in different environments, or respond to different triggers, to make this assessment.

Remember, the more information your dog walker has about your dog, the better decisions they can make about how to protect your dog during their walks, and keep them happy and safe. If you feel your dog walker isn’t asking the right questions, or seems uninterested in hearing about your dog’s behaviours, then you may want to think long and hard before engaging their services.

Remember you need to be confident that your dog is in the right hands. At Jess Fox & Hound, clients are required to fill out a full online behavioural assessment form and engage in a meet & greet with Jess before being walked in a pack, as part of our getting to know your dog.

  • How might your dog walker respond in an emergency?

One of the pitfalls of dog walking being an unregulated industry is that dog walkers aren’t required to have any particular qualifications or training to walk dogs. In most cases, that is fine, as dog walking is very much a ‘learn on the job’ profession, and the best dog walkers are not those with letters to their name, but are ones that have an intuitive, experience based understanding of the dogs they work with.

One thing that it probably is important for your dog walker to have, however, is some kind of emergency Canine First Aid. Walkers with this training will be better placed to assess any injuries or illnesses your dog might sustain whilst out on a walk with them, and respond quickly in these scenarios. Ask your walker about their canine first aid training if you have any concerns. All staff at Jess Fox & Hound undergo rigorous Canine First Aid and CPR training through the accredited Dog First Aid Company,so you can rest assured that they will be ready to respond to any emergency.

  • What are dogs transported into for their walks? 

This is a question that lots of people don’t  think to ask, but it’s an important one to consider! Just as important as what your dog does on a walk, is how they get there, so you should always ask to look inside a dog walker’s vehicle, so that you can be sure they are going to be transported in a safe, and calming environment to their walks. Dogs should always be transported in a secure fashion to their walk destination (ideally in professionally developed, reinforced crates), so if you don’t see evidence of this, you may want to reconsider your choice of walker. You should also ask how many dogs are transported at any one time in the vehicle, so that you can be sure your dog is going to have plenty of space for themselves, whilst going to and fro on their adventures.

  • How will you be updated about your dog’s walks? 

This one is really more of a ‘personal preference’ than an essential requirement for dog owners, but it’s always worth asking your dog walker how they will update you about your dog’s walks each day. Some dog walkers choose not to send any updates during the walk itself, but will leave you notes at the end of the walk about your dog’s activities, whilst others may send photos and videos throughout. Still others ‘live stream’ their walks, so you can watch what your dog is up to on social media like Facebook and Instagram.

It’s really up to you how much information you want about your dog’s walks during the day, but you should try and find this out from your dog walker, so that you know that they are going to be able to offer the level of communication that you want from them. The key thing you want to know is that, if anything happens during the walk that might impact your dog, that your walker will be able to let you know about it.

At Jess Fox & Hound, each and every dog in our care has their own personalised Whatsapp chat, and owners are sent photos and videos during the walk itself.We also ‘live stream’ some of our walks on Instagram and Facebook, as well as producing Instagram Reels and Tik Toks for the social media conscious amongst you!

  • Recommendations 

Finally, the best possible way of working out whether a dog walker is right for you is to talk to some of their existing clients. Other dog owners are always the first to let you know when they’ve had a good experience with a dog walker, so if in doubt, ask other owners at your local park who they use, or what their experiences have been of your chosen company, to be sure that you get a 360 understanding of the person who is going to walk your dog.