When it comes to walking your dog, who should you choose? The Neighbours kid (or any ‘non-professional’)? Or a Professional dog walker?
Now, I used to be a dog walker, once upon a time. So, I never wrote this piece then because I felt too biased. As a professional trainer, I feel I’m now distanced enough to give you a good, rounded view.
With everyone returning to work and “Normal” after Covid, this is coming up a lot. As things go? This one is pretty important because your dog can’t tell you what’s happening, right?
There’s always a lack of transparency occurring when you trust someone with your dog or puppy.
These are the things you’re going to want to consider when figuring whose hands to trust your puppy in.
This one boils down to who is responsible if something goes wrong. Remember, there’s a lot here that could go wrong. I’m very much a worst case scenario person… so here it is.
- What if they jump up and injure an older person?
- What if they bite a dog?
- What if they bite the walker?
- What if they bite a child?
- What if they get injured whilst in this persons care?
- What if they damage someone elses belongings?
There’s a tonne of reasons, questions and things that you need to consider here. Even if you have the smallest, friendliest dog in the world.
Things go wrong.
Knowing who is responsible with an insured dog walker (please always make sure they have insurance!) is simple: the walker. With a teenager? This then becomes a grey area, especially if they’re deemed a minor.
Now, there’s a bit of a bias here, it goes with the name right? A professional dog walker should have all of these qualities. But that’s not necessarily going to be the case with a teenager or someone who doesn’t class this as their ‘profession’ because they’re not going to be held quite so accountable.
What About Bad Habits?
With someone with less knowledge, the chances of your puppy or dog picking up bad habits? Is pretty substantial. Whether it’s something simple like pulling on the leash, or something more difficult like reactivity.
These sorts of things can be timely, and expensive to put right, and will often need the help of a professional trainer to do.
Will They Show Up When They’re Supposed To?
From my previous clients, this was the big one. The kid oftentimes just … stopped showing up. They’re a kid, after all. Continued responsibility over long periods gets pretty dreary for them. Then, if you’re relying on them when you’re not there – how are you going to make sure your pup has been walked?
Will They Actually Walk Your Dog?
Another one that I was told was happening to clients who moved to me. But it’s one I’ve heard a lot amongst dog walkers too. Kids can be smart, they know the dog can’t tell you they’ve actually only walked away from the house, into a blind spot, and then they’ve just sat out there whilst the person plays on their phone… and walks them back at around the allotted time.
How would you check? How do you know? Other than a deterioration in behaviour and a potential new hole in your sofa.
Normally, a professional walker will either have an app that they can track their routes, or will show you pictures
Will They Feedback On Issues?
If your pup seems off, if they seem unwell, or they’re limping – will they tell you? A professional will, but will someone who isn’t a professional notice? Or care enough to tell you?
I know a good professional will notice. I’ve cancelled walks because a dog was off pace and form because I was concerned. It turned out it was a pretty big issue that the vet found early thanks to my observational skills.
Is that going to be the same with a non-professional?
Will They Clean Off Your Dog After A Mucky Walk?
As daft as it sounds? Knowing that you’re going to come home to a tidy home? Or as tidy as possible, is always a relief, right?
Do you know how many people claim to be “Great with dogs!” Who I wouldn’t trust with a hamster?
There are a lot of reasons that some people think they’re better with dogs than they are, that can be old school methods, or it can be that they don’t quite recognise how subtle dogs are and have had a relatively narrow field of work.
Still, here are some questions that you should consider when thinking about how much knowledge your potential puppy guardian would need.
Are They Prepared For If Someone Tries To Steal Your Dog?
For being threatened, for being intimidated? Or worse, if they’re injured? Someone who uses the routes regularly kind of knows the people to avoid, or who the regulars are, and they’ll have procedures in place for self-protection and the protection of your dog.
What About Proper Socialization & Introductions?
If they’re introducing your pup to other dogs, are they going to do it right?
You know how important socialization is, can you risk someone getting that wrong? A professional should be well equipped in handling this correctly, and deliberately and pair them with appropriate companions with consideration.
Do They Have Any Tricks For When Your Dog Refuses To Do A Thing? Like… Come Home?
If they’re allowed to let your dog off a leash – what do they do if they decide not to recall? Do they know some tricks? Some … key hacks to make sure they get your dog back? And let’s face it, an over confident youngster could easily find themselves out of their depth quite quickly. That is something that a more seasoned pro will be able to take on.
Do They Know Who To Contact If Your Dog Runs Away?
If they genuinely can’t get your dog back? What’s their approach going to be? Knowing what to do in these situations is pretty critical. A lot of dog walkers have contacts in their industry who they can rely on, who will help in emergencies.
Will They Put Your Dog At Risk?
Knowing the rules of the land are pretty fundamental for any dog parent – but does your non-professional know these? Or, will they let your dog off leash if there’s another dog around who’s wearing a bandana that says “NERVOUS”? And worse, let them approach?
The risks on a dog walk are really big, and putting those in the hands of a novice? Is just something I would avoid
What about heatstroke? Or cold weather? Will they walk in all weathers? Or will they blow you out and not show up?
A professional will walk all weathers except the ones that will do damage to your dog.
Let’s make no bones about this. You will be charged more for a professional.
Because they have bills to pay and this is how they’re paying them.
But in the long term? You’ll likely save money when you’re not dealing with poor behaviour, reactivity, leash pulling or other behavioural issues.
Caveat! There Are Always Good & Bad Apples…
Of course, there are professional dog walkers who give dog walkers a bad name, and there will be teenagers who are sound, reliable and totally trustworthy!
So please do read this and consider it carefully.
I know it’s so, so tough sometimes to know what to do, but you can only do what you think is right. Because then you just have to learn from it and move forwards.
That’s definitely the case with the professional vs non-professional argument.
As I said, there will always be deviations from this. There will be bad dog walkers, there will be great teenagers. You just have to do your best.
But you do, right? That’s why you’re here and reading about this!
If you need more help with your puppy, tailored to their age, why not consider signing up to my weekly puppy development emails, pupdates! They’re great, I’ve put a lot of effort into them and they’re the product I wish I had had when I was raising my puppy!
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Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.
Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!