What do you like about your dog walker?
February 13, 2012 3:38 PM   Subscribe

After working for other businesses for awhile, I'm ready to start out on my own as an independent dog walker. I'd like to know: What do you NOT like in your dog walker? What do you LOVE about your dog walker?

I have a year of almost daily dog-hiking experience and about 2 years of casual on and off around-the-neighborhood dog walking for friends/friends of friends experience. I moved last year and about to start walking dogs again, but I'm working independently with the general public and advertising in paper and online for the first time.

I'm meeting with my first client this week and am suddenly a little antsy about doing this all on my own, without being part of a service. I'm totally confident in my dog handling skills, and reasonably organized, but am curious about what clients think about their dog walkers and what I can do (and avoid) to make sure they feel comfortable with me.

Some facts about me and my concerns that I've thought of:

-I'm a 24 year old female and sometimes accidentally use a weird high-pitched bubbly voice in professional situations that makes me come off as young and unassertive. No matter how organized I am, I still tend to stumble over my words on the phone and in person.

-I don't have my own equipment right now.

-There are other services in my area that feature fully trained walkers with certifications. I have no formal training and am up front about this---I also charge about 75% of what they do. I am planning on getting Pet CPR/First Aid certified.

In short:

What makes a good dog walker for you? What would turn you off of a dog walker during a consultation/first meeting?

I'd like to point out that at this time I'm consciously not treating this like a full time business. It will probably remain pretty casual.
posted by supernaturelle to Work & Money (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For me it entirely boils down to "genuinely loves the shit out of my dog". Everything else is pretty secondary.

Note-leaving/texting is very nice solely because it indicates the dogwalker is taking their job seriously -- it's not a huge deal for me, I'm not that worried about every scratch my dog gets or who he barked at. Just nice to know that his caretaker is worried about that when they're with him, I guess.

Boy, I sound like a psycho dog parent....
posted by wrok at 3:42 PM on February 13, 2012

One of the things my mother loves about her dog walker is that she actually rides her bike while attached to the dog, which effectively exhausts him. Mostly she just wanted someone who was flexible, reliable, and interacted well with the dog when they met for the first time.
posted by jeather at 3:47 PM on February 13, 2012

My mom's dog walker also leaves the notes ("Had a good walk today, took two nice poops, and didn't chase any squirrels!") and she really likes that. She also likes that the dog walker is willing to work around my mom's schedule, which changes week to week.

The only thing my mom doesn't like is that the walker likes to run with the dog, which is good, but my mom can't do that and the dog kind of expects that level of activity on every walk. I'm not sure how they eventually worked that out.

But what my mom likes the most about the walker is that she seems like a responsible person, worthy of trusting with a key to the house.
posted by gjc at 3:54 PM on February 13, 2012

I'll tell you what annoys me about the other people I come across walking dogs.

They are not in control of the animal in question. Sure, it's cute for a second when a wiggly Maltese is darting back and forth across the sidewalk. Except that that wiggly thing is in my way and a danger. You'd think this would be more true as dogs get bigger, but I've seen an oblivious person trip over an uncontrolled tiny dog. Ugh.

For bigger dogs, I'm annoyed when they jump and/or bark at the dog I'm walking. But I just cross the street as soon as I get a whiff of 'not in charge' off an approaching dog walker. This control is important because it can prevent dog fights, which you know you can't afford starting out.

The dog I walk the most is a pretty recognizable one, and I know that some people have complimented me to his owner, and asked if I'd walk their dogs.

I don't take clients whose dogs I can't control. So. I'm, test walk the dog and talk to owners about heir feelings regarding your preferred training etc. because you need to be the boss of the dog you're walking.

I send text pics of the dogs eating dinner of playing or whatever with a note about anything unusual or funny. I'm also sometimes an overnight dog sitter (yeah cable!), so I also clean up after myself and wash sheets, ymmv.

One of the dogs I babysit sometimes is diabetic, and gets insulin 2x/day. Are you comfortable with that? If so, make potential clients aware of that.
posted by bilabial at 4:01 PM on February 13, 2012

I knew we had found our dog walker/dog sitter (do you dog sit? That's a bonus feature for us) when she left a note saying "Jack is such a clown!" -- that told us that she really *got* our dog, who is huge and kinda scary looking but really a giant marshmallow. So when she used a word that we use to describe him, we knew we found the right person.

She also had a fairly extensive form to fill out about daily routines, feedings, medications, etc. That made her appear more businesslike than some of our more casual dog walkers.

I know that's an extremely subjective thing, but there you go.
posted by ambrosia at 4:02 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll tell you what annoys me about the other people I come across walking dogs.

They are not in control of the animal in question.

Seconding bilabial 9,000 times. Those retractable leashes? Hate them with a fury. Unless you have an elderly, really docile dog, you can't really control a dog properly with those things. I see someone using a retractable leash and I immediately think to myself "that person doesn't know what they are doing." That may sound harsh, but I don't get why some people seem to think that leash manners are optional. They aren't. Even if your dog only weighs 18 pounds.
posted by ambrosia at 4:08 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who is a dog walker. She has to take multiple trips out at all times of day, as Moxie doesn't get on with Dongo, or Millie can't walk as far as Fang. Some of the dogs are not socialized well with humans, either, so she tries to avoid those (she works for a dog walking agency). But she's fit, enjoys life, and gets to meet lots of interesting people ...
I'd trust her with my dogs as she has a dog herself, is a responsible, sociable person, and doesn't mind the dogs slobbering or jumping all over her. You want someone who is going to be nice to your dog, treating it like their own. You also want to know that your dog will not be walked with another dog that is going to be mean to them. You can always tell if a dog had a good time with someone - they are enthusiastic about meeting them and going out with them again.
posted by Susurration at 4:21 PM on February 13, 2012

I rarely employ a dogwalker, but I am lucky to know one I trust with my dogs. He knows how to keep my dogs safe and knows that is the prime directive, knows how to talk to them (and to me), and he's always on time. He asked for my vet's contact information, about quirks my dogs have, about things to watch out for on a walk in my neighborhood among other things. It only helps that he thinks (or makes them think) they are two of the best dogs on the planet, and they adore it when he shows up for a walk.
posted by vers at 5:04 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

And I meant to make this an aside in my previous post, but I am among those who hate Flexi-leads/retractable leashes with the fury of a thousand suns. They should be banned, straight out. There's nothing like being attacked by a pitbull who has broken off his leash to solidify the hatred. Therefore my emphasis on a walker keeping my dogs safe above.
posted by vers at 5:16 PM on February 13, 2012

I remember a couple of older threads about starting a dog-walking business, and one of the key components people ask is, "Are you bonded and insured?"

Because if you aren't, not many people are going to trust you to walk into their house and not steal everything in sight, or if you are walking their dog and lose control and the dog bites someone or is hit by a car and you are not insured or bonded for those things, then you are in deep poo.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:24 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition to the other things people have mentioned, flexibility!

This could make me the worst client ever, but I have a work schedule that is totally fine most of the time, but not always. (Little dude gets plenty of walks, don't worry.) I literally cannot tell when it's going to be a normal day or an extra long one, even that morning. Nor can I tell if I'm going to have to work the weekend before Friday afternoon.

I LOVE that I can text my dog walker once every other week—or even once a week for some time—at 3 pm and ask her to drop by. That's amazing. If I had to be super regimented and scheduled with her, I don't know what I would do.

Also, she has an online scheduling and billing system. It seems to be pretty off-the-shelf software, but it's so awesome that I can schedule ahead, know it's set, and pay my fees right there online. That could be a big draw to you, versus the "pro" dog walkers.
posted by functionequalsform at 5:24 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Like many of the above posters, my most important criteria (aside, of course, from "rapport with my dog"), are:

-- ability/willingness to control the dog
-- reliable/no no-shows
-- insured/licensed/etc.

Note that for these reasons, I'd be wary of a dog walker who was "consciously not treating this like a full time business" and wanted it to "remain pretty casual." So I may not be your target clientele.
posted by willbaude at 5:32 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like others have said, that you genuinely love my dog is of utmost importance.

Knowing pet first aid is important to me tbh, BUT if you clearly love dogs and have a very good knowledge of them and how to keep them safe I could probably trust you.

My dog is very well behaved but he is high energy and something that I have been working on him with is not jumping up on people when he's excited (which is all the time). When I am taking him on walks I try to also use them as training sessions to teach him how to walk nicely and not jump and I would be thrilled if you were willing to also try to work with him on this while on walks. I should also mention that even though he's a super friendly dog, I never let him get near other people unless they ask to pet him and then only after I've warned them that he's exciteable and may jump. He's only a small dog, but I know that jumping on people is unacceptable and I would probably assume that you would know that without saying.

Other than that, be aware of the specific risks of walking dogs such as a dog pulling on the leash and slipping out of his collar (which is why my dog always gets walked in a harness) or that leashes can BREAK with an especially strong pull. I've had two leashes break - one was a leather leash which was pretty old and the stitching came undone on one of the loops, causing it to unhook. The other was a flexi-lead that had gotten weak at the point near the collar from my puppy repeatedly trying to take it in his mouth when we were walking. One day he pulled his leash to chase another dog and it snapped, causing him to run in front of a car and come within inches of being hit. So just be aware of these kinds of things and make sure you're using sturdy leashes and collars.

This post is making me sound like a crazy dog mom so I'll stop here but good luck to you!
posted by triggerfinger at 6:02 PM on February 13, 2012

Best answer: Things that made me trust my dog walker.

- She had a questionaire that I filled out with things like: What does your dog do when they see other dogs? What does your dog do when they see a squirrel? What does your dog do when they see other people? It made me feel like she had really thought about all the things that happen when she walks a dog.

- Immediately wanted to know things like: What is his come or stay command? Does he obey them? It made me feel like she respected that my dog is different than other dogs she walks and that she was a professional since she knew not all dogs are taught the same commands. My dog's stay command is "wait".

Things that made me love my dog walker.

- She immediately came in the house and got on the floor to interact with my dog. She was more focused on him than on me, which is exactly how I want someone who is going to be responsible for my dog to act.

- She always leaves a note. I like this because I always have this fear that something is going to happen and she isn't going to show up or something, or that I accidentally left him home on a day I was supposed to take him to daycare. The notes are very reassuring.

- She texts immediately if something doesn't feel right.

- She does stuff like fill his food or water bowl if she sees them empty or low. Then I feel like a bad mom of course but I'm glad he is taken care of.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:12 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have a hired dog walker, but I used to be one (a walker that is, not a dog) and I walk my own personal dog in an area with many professional dog walkers, and have definite opinions on which walkers I like and would recommend to friends and which I'd avoid.

The dog walkers I like:
- Are in control of their dogs. What is the maximum number of dogs you'll take out? Where will you take the dogs? Will you let them off leash?
- Are considerate of others and the neighborhood. Pick up after their dogs. Round up their dogs when a strange dog walks by.
- Have safe vehicles and never leave dogs unattended in the car. What kind of transport do you have?
- Genuinely like dogs! People can tell...

Dog walkers I would not recommend:
- Can't control their dogs. Too many dogs. Let dogs off leash that don't respond when called. Unsafe, and also weakens the dog's training since he learns he doesn't have to come when called.
- Are distracted or not prepared for problems. One walker actually would take her newborn baby on walks snuggled to her chest in a little sling. Sweet and all but I kept thinking, if her dogs got in a fight, she would be completely useless.

Basically, the ones I would recommend seem to take it seriously despite many people perceiving it as kind of a casual, fun job. I wouldn't worry too much about your age or your voice - one of my favorite walkers is a very young woman with a youthful, bubbly voice, who obviously really loves dogs and has great control over her group.
posted by asynchronous at 7:56 PM on February 13, 2012

I have a dog walker I use occasionally. I love my dog, I spoil her to death, but I am not a Dog Mommy. My dog walker is one of those dog people who will some day be a Dog Mommy who thinks everyone else is too. I know my dog is adorable, I know she does sweet things, but I don't need gushing texts and emails every time she gets walked, talking about how she's "such a baby", etc etc. So even if you are one of those dog people who will refer to your future dog as your child and dress it up and whatever, read your clients and see whether or not they're that kind of person before you treat them like one.

Also: I first met my dogwalker when I needed a last-minute emergency dogsitter and I found her. She had my dog for two nights and I came home to notes about how I should be leaving the TV on to entertain my dog when I'm gone and leaving shirts that smell like me and also I should really consider hiring a dogwalker (you don't say!). I do not need to be guilted into treating my dog any particular way. I've had my dog for a couple of years. I know my dog better than someone who's spent two nights with her. We have a routine. I don't need someone telling me my routine is wrong.
posted by olinerd at 1:55 AM on February 14, 2012

I hop that this doesn't get too close to questioning the question, but :

I'd like to point out that at this time I'm consciously not treating this like a full time business.

Even if you're consciously not treating it as a full-time business, you need to have the appearance that you're treating it like a business. Hence the stuff that other folks have mentioned above:

mention your insurance
get the client to fill out a form with likes/dislikes etc.

Once you have this stuff in place, then it's time to close the deal by getting down on the floor with the dog and and showing how well you interact with them :-)

/not a client, but my wife is a dog-walker and I am closely involved in the business.
posted by primer_dimer at 5:43 AM on February 14, 2012

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