- Holly Leake
What Should You Look For in a Dog Walker, Sitter and Trainer?
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
What should you look for in a dog walker, sitter and trainer? Do they need to have experience or qualifications? If you are asking these questions, then you obviously really care about your dog/pet and want to give them the best care possible and hopefully this blog post will help you to do that. Many dog owners have asked these very same questions and there are so many businesses to choose from nowadays, it can be difficult to know what to go for. In fact, dog walking and pet sitting was the most popular small business in the UK in 2017! So, what should you look for?
Well, there are many factors to consider when choosing someone to care for your pets, the first of which is insurance. Every pet business should have pet business insurance with a recognised insurance provider and this should cover a number of services such as dog walking, pet sitting and dog training, as well as many situations including but not limited to, loss of keys, accidental injury, damage to property and even accidental death. Although this may not seem very relevant to some, these situations do occur to even the best in the business. If your dog was harmed in any way whilst in the care of your dog walker/sitter and they didn't have insurance, you would have no ground to stand on if you felt this person was at fault and you would have to claim on your own insurance. So, it is well worth hiring a dog professional with insurance and they must ensure they renew this annually to remain covered. This leads to the second important factor, First Aid Training.
I can’t emphasise enough how important First Aid Training is if you work with animals. Some may not believe this is necessary because how likely is it that your dog is going to be hit by a car or be involved in some sort of another emergency? Well First Aid training isn’t just about addressing wounds and performing CPR, as some First Aid Training providers also provide education in canine diseases, pharmacology, administering medications, parasite treatment, use of vaccines and recognising symptoms. This kind of education is invaluable when working with animals, especially for clients with senior or sick dogs. If you have a dog/pet that suffers with ill health, whether it be short-term or long term, it is vital you hire a professional that can adequately
monitor your dog’s/pet’s health and recognise any changes or subtle symptoms that would likely go unrecognised to the untrained eye. This helps to give you peace of mind while your dog/pet is someone else’s care.
Unfortunately, pet care services aren’t regulated in some instances and are rarely policed. For instance, it is quite common practice for some commercial dog walkers to walk more dogs than is legally permitted by their council, since this allows them to earn more per hour. Walking a big group of dogs can really put an individual dog’s welfare at risk as their health and behaviour cannot be observed as well as it could if there were fewer dogs in the group. It is also common for large groups of dogs to get into fights or squabbles that again may be subtle to the untrained eye, and this can result in the development of fear and reactivity towards other dogs. The Newcastle-under-Lyme council stipulates that only 4 dogs should be walked at any one time, thus its recommended that you check your councils’ rules of dog walking, as this varies county to county. If you find that your dog walker is walking more dogs than the legal amount permitted, this is breaking the law and they can be fined, so it’s vital to address this if this is the case.
In October 2018, new pet service legislation was introduced regarding dog day care and the boarding of dogs and other animals. Anyone that is being paid to have dogs at their property in the day or overnight is legally required to have a Boarding Licence from the local council. This License involves a visit from the council and a veterinarian to assess the property and ensure it is safe and suitable premises. The license is renewed on a year to year basis to ensure a high quality of care is provided continually. After the visit, the pet sitter is issued a star rating and this is awarded based on quality and safety of the property as well as the amount of qualifications that person holds. Anyone boarding animals without a license can face up to 6 months in prison as well as a large fine. Thus, if you choose a pet sitter/boarder who cares for the pets on their own property, you must determine if they have an up to date licence to be able to provide this service.
Today, many dogs are fearful and reactive and whether it be due to strict breeding standards, a difficult history, a bad experience or something else, it can be very difficult for owners to deal with. Reactivity and fear can develop or worsen, if your fearful dog is walked in large groups. It is often believed that exposing your dog to such situations will help them to become more accustomed to what they fear, however, this is actually very detrimental to your dog’s emotional and behavioural welfare. In fact, overly exposing a dog to what they fear, such as walking with other dogs, is a very controversial training method called “flooding” or "immersion therapy” and it is rarely used by canine professionals nowadays due to the subtle damage it causes to the dog’s ability to cope. Using flooding to get your dog accustomed to something they fear, places the dog in a situation where they are above threshold, or their ability to cope, but because they cannot escape the situation and are overwhelmed, they can emotionally shut down. This is called “learned helplessness” and to the untrained eye it is often mistaken as calmness and good behaviour. This is why some dog owners are confused by their dog’s behaviour because they can appear as if they are behaving perfectly in a big group of dogs on the beach or in the park but then they are growling, barking and lunging when walking on their own. If this is the case, then your dog is more than likely uncomfortable being so close to dogs and needs one to one walks with a professional dog walker and trainer that can use systemic desensitisation. Due to the continuous influx of new research and information regarding dog training and canine behaviour, training methods are ever changing. Therefore, it is recommended that you choose someone that is working to keep up to date and is willing to change their methods and ethos to harmonise their training with the current scientific research. Doing so, will ensure only positive and modern training methods will be utilised with your dog and that you will receive the best quality of care.
I became interested in canine behaviour in early 2017 when I started walking a reactive dog one to one. In an effort to find strategies to help him cope with other dogs, I became fascinated with canine behaviour and health and have been studying ever since. After officially starting my small business Paw Chores in 2017, I began studying as much as possible. I became Level 2 Pet First Trained with ProTraining in 2018 (this includes cats, dogs and smaller pets), I acquired a Level 3 Complete Canine Care Diploma (Distinction) and Canine First Aid Certificate (Distinction) (requiring a year of study of essay writing regarding canine health issues, injuries, emergency care, parasite treatment and vaccines) with the British Canine College. I have acquired a Raw Nutrition Specialist Certificate with Dogs Naturally University, a Certificate in Canine Fear and many smaller certificates in Canine Reactivity with Canine Principles. I am now currently studying Canine Behaviour Level 5 (equivalent), Canine Coaching Level 4 (equivalent) and Canine Nutrition with Canine Principles. I also attend regular webinars regarding canine behaviour and health to stay up to date with any scientific research. So, I keep myself very busy and still have tones of other courses I want to complete (to my husband’s annoyance) to continue providing a high quality of care and training to my clients.
Fear and Reactivity in dogs, is my passion and I’m aiming to specialise in this area of canine behaviour, as many of my canine clients are dog reactive. I love working one to one, even though it doesn’t earn as well and I am really lucky that I have been able to work with a large variety of breeds, ages and behavioural needs. I feel that each dog is an individual and as such, I aim to determine their preferences, their personality and their learning pace, to ensure I adequately meet their personal needs. This is why my most popular service is one to one dog walking and training, to help those that can’t cope with other dogs at this time. I am also very passionate about canine health and first aid and have plenty of experience caring for sick/senior dogs and administering emergency care as well as providing advice on nutrition and health. As you can probably tell by now, I am dog crazy and I love my job! If you are looking for a qualified and experienced dog walker/sitter/trainer, that works with you and your dog one to one, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Please also see my service page for more information and check out my testimonials to see how others have benefited from my services. I look forward to hearing from you!