For the past few months I’ve been working with a local dog walking company. It’s been a rather interesting experience. My initial motivation was simply that I had never hired or worked for a dog walking company and yet at the shelter we constantly told people to use them when they worked the usual 60-80 workweeks that are so common in the District. This seemed as good a chance as any to learn and the best way to learn would be to work.
It’s definitely enlightened me and changed how I speak about dog walking. I adore the dogs I’ve gotten to know and have some clients who are truly wonderful human beings. Recently, when advising a friend about how to find a good walker for her new dog, I realized I had some basic advice beyond “ask your local humane society” and “look for good reviews online.” If you’d like some of that advice, read on!
Three Questions to Ask When Choosing a Company
1. Ask about any training walkers receive, and how walkers respond to “problem” behaviors. One friend was appalled to come home early from work one day and find her walker alpha rolling her 6 month old lab mix. When she asked the walker why she felt it necessary to roll the dog and hold her down with her foot, the walker said “she was jumping and mouthing.” Needless to say, my friend immediately requested a new walker. She had assumed any responsible professional knew not to alpha roll and so hadn’t asked about it. Now, she not only asks about positive reinforcement, but then tries to see if the company has any exceptions. She asks how walkers are taught to handle dogs who jump or mouth. Then, assuming the company has referenced an appropriate response (such as crossing arms, turning, and calmly waiting for the dog to settle), she asks about client-requested negative methods such as shock or prong collars. Her theory is that a company might lie on the first aspect to sound good, but likely will give an honest answer on the second. If the company doesn’t politely say they’d tell any such owner a firm no, she thanks them for their time and talks with another company. You don’t want all your hard work training your dog to respond to your positive-based training to go to waste because your walker was impatient and ill-informed.
2. Ask how much walkers are paid. It can be very different from what you’re paying the company. Another friend had no idea how much management made off of each walk. Not that it’s a bad thing for management to make money, but she said she was happier to know better. Along the same lines, ask if walkers receive any other compensations–bonuses, days off, etc. Some companies give walkers bonuses based on unsolicited feedback, others don’t give any. Some companies have a strict limit on unpaid days off, while others believe that so long as the clients don’t complain and the substitute walkers are available, walkers can take time off. Again, no one way is inherently better than the others, but it’s not information most clients receive unless they ask about it. All my friends who use walkers feel strongly that they wish they’d asked more about this aspect up front.
3. Ask about how substitutes are decided. If your walker is ill or seeing family (it is a part time job for most after all), who will be caring for your dog? Does the company make an effort to use the same substitute or are substitute walkers scheduled at random without an effort at consistency. Will the company notify you in advanced of scheduled substitutions?
Five Tips Once You Have A Walker
1. Notify your walker if there are changes. Whether it’s a big change like a visiting dog who also needs to get walked or something smaller like your dog no longer wearing a harness, it’s helpful for your walker to know when things are different rather than have to make guesses.
2. Be respectful and responsive. I realize that we’re “the help” but please, if we announce ourselves and say hello when we enter your home, it is considered polite to say hello back if you’re around so you don’t scare the crap out of us later. Also, if you’re around, you’ll probably get to hear me praise your dog and tell you all the wonderful things she does that are too long to write in the daily notes. It’s to your benefit!
3. In the same vein, I love when clients ask about their dog’s behavior. I genuinely care about all my canine clients and it’s great to get to talk about possible behavior issues with clients so I know whether these are issues just when the dog is with me, or if the same issues crop up with their family.
4. Please don’t be a total slob. I don’t think your home should be picture perfect, but I like to be able to access your sink so I can refill your dog’s water bowl. If it’s disgusting, smelly, and utterly full of a week’s worth of dishes, I’m not the happiest camper. Same thing for leaving visibly dirty underwear next to your dog’s crate in the living room–yup, that actually happened with a male client. I know walkers aren’t company, but you’d hate if your boss left their dirty underwear around your office, right? Either that or you have a very unusual expectation of your work environment!
5. Be prepared. If there’s supposed to be a rainstorm, please leave a towel in the location you’ve previously stated you’ll leave a towel. I once had to dry a dog off with papertowels because the owners did not leave a towel in the dog’s spot and I refused to let the poor dog shiver all day in an air conditioned house. The expression on that pup’s face as I went through half a roll of paper towels was a priceless study in confusion. Some companies have strict policies that walkers aren’t allowed to open closets to search for towels, it sucks, but if your company is one, it’s on you to make sure your dog has what he needs. The same holds for if your dog needs treats to not lunge at other dogs, a particular harness to keep him calm, or even a leash. Most companies schedule the walks so tightly that if a walker has to take time to search for harnesses, muzzles, or leashes, the time has to come out of your dog’s walk. No one wants your pup to miss out on his full walk time!
Any questions you’ve always wanted to ask your walker?