We're not all bad, I promise!
“A dog walker doesn’t need experience - my dog is super friendly and dead easy to walk”.
Group dog walking is not as simple as you might think. Groups need to be carefully selected so that all dogs are comfortable and can enjoy them.
For example, occasionally, certain dogs can find group walks too stimulating, which can result in a variety of behavioural problems you may not be used to seeing. Some dogs might dislike specific breeds or may be frightened of bigger, boisterous dogs and therefore become unhappy in a group that doesn’t suit them.
Unfortunately, this means that sometimes, a good dog walker will recommend your dog is walked alone, or in a smaller group, either temporarily whilst they receive some more training or permanently for the wellbeing of the dog. Though relatively uncommon, when this happens it is always done for the benefit of the dogs before anything else. Having the experience and skills to understand how group dynamics work and spotting the signs of it not working, quickly, are really important to ensure things don’t go wrong and that all the dogs are kept safe.
We may seem strict at times with our recall requirements for off lead walking, but we have serious reasons for it. A dog with patchy recall may be acceptable when the owner is in charge but as a dog walker it’s a very different ball game. We need all our dogs to be on their best behaviour when we’re out in public spaces or we run the risk of upsetting people and gaining a bad reputation, as well as damaging the reputation of the job as a whole. Not to mention the danger we’re putting your dog in if we allow them to jump on or injure a member of the public.
Don’t get me wrong, I know I sound like the fun police here. I’m fully aware that dogs most definitely are not robots and I don’t expect them to be. They will make mistakes now and again and say a cheeky hello before being allowed, but generally we like our dogs to be easily recalled and controlled in order to protect both the dogs and our reputation. We walk where it’s quiet when we can, but you do come across other people wherever you go. Please don’t be alarmed, the dogs on our walks STILL HAVE FUN!
Finally, just because a business is new doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid them. Simply ask them about their experience with animals, if they have done any training around dog behaviour and the size of their walking groups. When we started up in 2016, we gradually walked groups of 2, 3 and then 4. I’d been walking dogs for at least a year when I started walking 6 dogs together and, even now, I much prefer 5 to a group.
“Why would a dog walker need qualifications?”
So, technically you don’t need any qualifications to become a dog walker, there are currently no regulations, just guidelines. But in my opinion, it helps.
Courses and/or reading up on dog behaviour, as mentioned above, helps us to spot the subtle signs that a dog is uncomfortable, or even displaying behaviours which may make another dog uncomfortable. Being able to spot this quickly, can stop it escalating and developing into a dangerous situation. Dog fights or dog aggression very rarely comes “out of nowhere” and if your dog walker is experienced enough to see it coming, it’s less likely to occur.
As well as dog behaviour, courses in pet first aid are vital in giving your dog walker the skills to deal with any minor injuries that might occur whilst out and about and know what to do in an emergency or in spotting any contagious illnesses such as kennel cough on sight before putting other dogs at risk.
“I just want someone to walk my dog when I’m not here, why do I have to fill out forms and meet them first?”
A good dog walker will require information and want to meet you before taking your dog anywhere.
At Jurassic Bark we provide you with an agreement which protects us both as well as a Pet Information Sheet, where all info regarding your dog, likes and dislikes, behaviours, allergies and veterinary information is recorded. Whilst it might seem a lengthy, unnecessary process initially, it keeps your dog safe, allowing us both to ask questions.
Our Pet Info Sheet allows us to spot something which may cause issues on a group walk that you might not have even considered. If we do, we can be mindful of this whilst your dog settles in. It also gives us a chance to meet your dog and get to know them (and you!) before we collect them, sometimes from an empty house, which would understandably be frightening if a stranger tried to handle them and bundle them into a van.
“Professional dog walkers are so expensive. I’d rather just have someone do it cheap, I don’t mind if they’re not insured.”
Every dog walker should be insured. Insurance is absolutely essential, especially for public liability. Even if your dog is friendly, a small knock to a person by a big dog whilst playing could easily cause injury which may develop into a large claim. If your dog walker isn’t insured, it could cause them serious problems. When meeting your new dog walker for the first time you should always ask for proof of insurance and they should be more than happy to provide it.
In terms of expense, it’s important to consider the hard work that goes into a group walk. It can take us 2-3 hours in total to collect, walk (properly, for an hour) and then drop off your pooches clean and towel-dried. There is travel time, labour (washing and towel drying 6 cockapoos on a very wet day is hard on the back and arms!) and boring business overheads to consider. Take into account all the diary planning, regular, thorough vehicle cleaning and out of hours contact time, it’s not actually that expensive for a service that’s top quality. But yes, we love it, we usually love being outside, and we love your pets, and that’s exactly why we do it!
“Dog walkers don’t pick up their poo. They can’t do because I never see them carrying poo bags.”
In fact, it’s usually dog walkers who are particularly meticulous about picking up poo. We get upset when we see owners of dogs leaving it behind and I often find myself picking it up for other people for fear of being blamed. As for not carrying it around with us, to keep our hands free for holding leads etc, (trade secret alert!) we’re actually usually carrying all our poo bags inside another bag.
"My dog can run over to a dog walking group, because they're obviously all used to other dogs."
Nine times out of ten, this is usually fine, however, as mentioned above, our groups are often carefully selected.
There are dogs who are perfectly safe and happy to walk with a group of dogs they know, but for example, may be on the lead due to a fear of unfamiliar dogs, or perhaps an injury. They can be easily controlled by us if this situation occurs, but it may cause them stress or further injury if they are jumped on. The majority of my dogs are comfortable in most situations, but don't presume because they are group walked that they all want to play, still please ask for permission.
“It’s simply not possible to control that many dogs at the same time.”
OK-OK! Hands held up high, I was guilty of having this opinion before I became a dog walker. But I admit (sharp intake of breath) I was wrong.
If your dog walker has experience, knowledge and skill, they will organise their groups in such a way that the dogs can all be controlled. They will likely have increased group sizes slowly to ensure they know the dogs well enough before walking them all together. We have to be in control at all times or we put the dogs themselves at risk and a good dog walker will reduce the size of the group or remove a dog if they do not feel they are in full control. Obviously there is always a margin for error when new dogs first join a group, but generally, dogs in a group can and should be controlled in public.
The general public (understandably) are less tolerant of dog walkers allowing their dogs to run over to them than they would be with a dog owner. Watch any good dog walker out on a walk and their dogs will usually plod along in a pack or play in small groups, and the ones that can’t be recalled easily will be put on a lead where it’s busy.
So there are just a few of the misconceptions I’ve heard over the years which I thought might put some minds at ease that generally, we know what we're doing! I promise, we're not all bad.
Hopefully it wasn’t too ranty…