While you're on holiday or at work, you don't want to be worrying about your dog. You need to find the best possible care for your pet while you can't be there – here's our guide to finding someone great to look after your dog.
Finding a dog walker is easy. Check any online free ad site or pet directory and there will be plenty there, or ask your friends and family. A visit to your vet or local pet shop as well should mean you now have a list of dog walkers who cover your area.
How do you tell the great from the mediocre? How can you make sure the person you find will work day in, day out, no matter what the weather and really care for your dog the way you do?
Here are our top ten things to look out for that should make your life easier and your dog's life more fulfilling.
Do they love dogs? Will they kneel in the mud to check a sore paw? Will they not mind too much if their leg is mistaken for a lamppost? Great dog walkers do the job because they enjoy spending time with dogs and can't help falling in love with each of them.
Dog walkers are there to make your life easier, to help you take care of your best friend, so you need someone who will work hard to make it happen for you. Need to change something? Dog not well and you want an update, a bandage rewrapped or medication given? You want to hear 'yes' and know it's taken care of. If they really can't help this time, you need to know that too.
Your walker should know how many dogs they can safely handle, both walking and in a vehicle. Is your key kept safe and your house locked up securely each time? For multiple pickups the van should be secured each and every time it is left.
There is no national regulation for dog walkers but a great dog walker will be insured, as well as registered as a proper business or self-employment. If they take dogs in overnight and charge a fee they need a boarding licence. If they tell you they don't, check with the licensing department of your local council, and if their insurance company covers them without a licence. Do they have references? Can you call up another client to see how they get on? Do other local professionals recommend them?
A great dog walker will have great local knowledge. They'll know all the great places to walk your dog and what bylaws or dog control orders may be in force (and obey them), and will hold a Canine First Aid certificate. If your breed of dog is new to them, they'll want to read up on it to do the best for your dog. Have they done any training in dog care or behaviour?
Everybody has to start somewhere, but have they ever owned a dog? A great dog walker will start small and build up as they gain experience. If their own dog never listens to them how will they manage your dog? A great dog walker will live with great dogs.
You are only human and might sometimes forget to book or cancel on time. Sometimes you need someone to talk to about your dog, or have what you might fear is a silly question. A great dog walker won't mind if you text at 10pm because you’re worried about your dog and don't know who else to turn to.
Are they concentrating on and committed to the dogs in their care, or doing something else such as chatting on the phone? Is this something they do for a living, or are they waiting for something better to come along? A great dog walker will see their work as a career.
Are they offering a deal that seems too good to be true? They may be cutting corners or trying to undercut other walkers. A dog walker who is too cheap may walk lots of dogs at once, cut walks short, or give up unexpectedly when something better comes their way. Equally if they are charging a great deal more than other local dog walkers, do they really offer a superior service, or are they more interested in the money?
Do they turn up when they say they will, and walk for as long as you expect? Do they give plenty of notice of time off? Does their vehicle break down on a regular basis? A great dog walker will maintain their vehicle well, and not use it as an excuse for a day off.
Every dog walker will have their own style, and only you can decide what is most important to you and your dog. These are the things I've found most useful to my customers over the years, so go now and find your great dog walker!
Is daycare or even home boarding right for your dog? How to find a well-run provider for your pooch while you are on holiday or need more than one daily walk for your dog.
Any facility offering boarding by law needs a licence. Daycare is possibly a grey area, as the law does not keep up with modern trends for dog care. However, any council should grant a licence if requested (there were no home boarding licences in Brentwood before I got mine), and if you have the choice of a licenced daycare or not licenced, choose the one with the licence. The premises will have been inspected by a vet, dog warden, or other local authority representative, and the business owners advised on how many dogs they can safely provide care for, as well as how many dogs per person. They should also be insured - which should state the number of dogs the insured can have per person. Be wary of insurance companies who don't limit numbers. Both of the certificates should be available for you to view.
Check out the staff. Are they young people who consider their job to simply watch the dogs in their care, or experienced staff (with possibly young staff being trained) who engage and play with them, and give them some basic training to keep their minds active? Are there activities and toys, 'quiet' areas where dogs can go to be alone if they want to, and are the dogs encouraged to take naps? Adult dogs need around 16 hours of sleep a day - if they are playing for 8 hours a day at daycare, they will be exhausted when they come home. It is nice when dogs are tired and want to sleep when you've had a long day at work, but it's also nice to be able to play with and walk your own dog from time to time!
Not every dog enjoys being part of a pack for extended periods of time. Are assessments done on each dog that is accepted into the group? The biggest problem I saw in my home boarding and home daycare work was resource guarding - dogs who don't want to share toys or even treats and will guard them from other dogs. Any sign of guarding is a 'fail' because food is everywhere (we all have to eat lunch) and if we have to remove all toys that's just going to be miserable for everyone, dogs and carers alike. With the right training it's usually possible to reintegrate dogs back into daycare if they are not immediately suited.
Other issues are bullying, where dogs are allowed to 'play rough'. Dogs naturally would only play 'rough' with their litter mates, who would all be the same size and age, or older siblings who would be gentle and educating the younger dogs. We are unnaturally putting dogs into 'fake' packs with dogs of different ages and sizes, and small dogs can learn they have to bite bigger dogs to prevent getting hurt during play while bigger dogs learn small dogs are bad news. In some cases dogs, especially young and immature dogs, learn to love playing with other dogs so much you can no longer take them for a walk off the lead without them running off to play with other dogs in the park - whether or not the other dogs or their owners want them to! Usually any problems occur with the dog is with the owner, not when the dog is with the daycare.
A well run daycare/home boarding will provide games and activities that are organised and supervised by the staff. Dogs would be playing alongside each other, and giving lots of attention to the staff, rather than using each other as toys to bite, chew, jump on and chase.
What is their emergency policy? Dogs can get pulled muscles from a lot of activity if they aren't used to it, which can make them tired and in pain - which can make them grumpier than usual. Watch out for any mention of wording or comments such as 'small wounds are a natural part of dog play and we take no responsibility'. Wounds are not a natural part of play, as dogs should be very careful not to wound each other if they are properly socialised. Accidents do happen, but should not be considered an everyday occurrance.
Ideally you would be allowed to attend a daycare centre without your dog to quietly observe, in the same way you should be able to check out any dog training classes you want to attend. This may be considered 'disruptive' to the dogs, but think - is there a genuine reason you can't attend, or is there something they don't want you to see?
Maybe they upload lots of photos which you can check instead. What are the dogs doing? Sitting around looking bored? Playing with each other, or interacting with people? What do the premises look like? Clean? It's hard to keep dirt and mud completely clear when you are looking after groups of dogs, but clean bedding should be provided, walls and surfaces washed down daily. Drinking water should be clean and changed frequently through the day, as germs can spread through saliva. There should be at least half as many water bowls as dogs to avoid them running out in hot weather - some dogs won't drink from bowls with other dogs' saliva floating in it, or from nearly empty bowls. Some prefer metal bowls, outside, some only drink from indoor bowls.
You should expect a consultation alone with your dog while the daycare staff assess your dog. Registration forms and a service agreement/terms and conditions that clearly state the daycare's responsibilities (as well as your own) should be given prior to your first 'trial' period. There should be someone trained in canine first aid on the premises, and enough staff to cover if one dog does need to be taken to see a vet - this would usually be one staff member per 6 dogs, or less. Copies of insurance certificates and any licences should be displayed on the premises.
There should also be an 'isolation' area in case a dog is taken ill - as dog walkers we do find occasionally dogs pick up stomach bugs and this can be spread among dogs if they are allowed to mix. Even if this is a crate or pen in a quiet corner, or a smaller fenced off area so that the dog can't spread infection until the owner is available to collect them.
There should also be a genuine love of dogs in all the staff - some people may see it as 'just a job' rather than a vocation, and in some cases this is unavoidable, but the main caring staff should all be working with dogs because they love them.