How to choose your dog walker or doggy daycare
Here's a little bit of fun to get you started:
You love your dog and naturally want the best for him or her. So what on earth do you do when you need to go out for a couple of hours or away for a few days?
Over recent years the dog-care industry has boomed. More and more people are setting up their own dog walking and/or daycare businesses. With so much choice, how do you decide which of those businesses you can really trust with your four-legged, furry family member?
This short guide will take you through 6 key factors to consider when looking for a dog-care provider to ensure sure that you find a local business that is safe and reliable, and promises that your dog will have a positively paw-some (apologies) time.
1. Where do I start?
That’s a good question. A Google search is often the go-to solution for most things these days; but not all local businesses have a website, and those that do don’t often have a great Google ranking.
My advice is to take local recommendations from those in the know, including other dog owners. And if you live in East Sheen, which I’m assuming you do, then these are two great sources (in addition to the listings on this website):
The Vets on White Hart Lane is my local vet of choice. I trust them with my dog Winnie’s life. Hell, I’d trust them with my own life. Nursing Assistant, Marion, is your gal in this instance. She has collated a list of walkers and day-care providers that customers have recommended. Pop in and ask to take a look at Marion’s list.
East Sheen Pets Company are also a fountain of knowledge. The staff here bend over backwards to help you find what you’re looking for. They have a lovely noticeboard for local adverts. But don’t just take the ads at face value, ask the staff to point out the providers that they would recommend, they are very honest.
2. Like me, know me, trust me, try me – and then let’s see!
Firstly, you need to like the person that will be taking care of your dog and, more importantly, your dog needs to like and trust them too. And it’s not just about liking…it’s making sure that there is a strong relationship based on trust and understanding. Crikey, I sound like a relationship counsellor. But in all seriousness, the person taking care of your dog must, must, must take the time to understand the much-loved quirks of your dog, what he loves and is motivated by, what he’s nervous of, commands he responds to, any potential issues, e.g. is he a Fenton mega deer chaser, can he swim, what are his energy levels like, where in the house should he be left when he’s dropped back home, does he have any health conditions…?
The ideal scenario would be that you and the service-provider meet for a cup of tea at your dog’s home and have a friendly chat and ask/discuss all of the above questions. Better still – and if things are going well – they should ask to take your dog for a trial walk with other like-minded dogs in their existing pack that have similar temperaments and energy levels. Most dog walkers – sorry, most good dog walkers – will offer a trial walk for free. This is as much for your peace of mind, as for theirs. Carefully introducing a new dog into the pack is an important step and corners shouldn’t be cut in ensuring that the chemistry is there for all involved.
3. What about the other dogs in the pack…..will they like my dog?
Some dogs just don’t get on, much in the same way as we humans don’t adore absolutely everyone else. For this reason, the trial walk mentioned above (or indeed a short trial stay at the daycare HQ) is a really important step to ensure that your dog can be safely introduced to the pack, and – importantly – to make sure your dog has a GREAT time. You are paying good money for this service, so you want to know that your dog is enjoying himself.
Be mindful to ask about the type of dogs that your dog will be interacting with. For example a bouncy, one year old Labrador is unlikely to be a good match with a twelve year old Miniature Dachshund. They are clearly years apart, but they are also badly matched in terms of their play style, their exercise requirements, and quite possibly in temperament, too. Our happy-chappy Labrador is likely to get very bored and frustrated with our old, sedentary Dachshund; and our poor little Dachshund is likely to get rather irritated by our lively Lab who won’t let him sleep in peace… this can only end in tears. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but it is much safer to ensure that dogs in the same group are well matched in as many ways as possible.
4. What will your dog be doing in their care?
Picture this: your dog is booked in for an hour’s walk in Richmond Park. Your dog walker walks your dog 20 yards into the park from the East Sheen gate, and then bumps into a friend they haven’t seen since before Christmas. They have a good long natter while your dog sniffs around, eats some deer poo, sniffs around some more. Before long, 50 minutes have passed, your dog has made it 20 yards into the park, and your dog walker has had a good catch up with their pal. I’ve seen it happen…I’ve walked my dog for an hour, covered 6k, and come back to see a pack of dogs in the same place I saw them when I headed out, having the occasional ball thrown from a ball flicker to keep them busy.
My intention here certainly isn’t to make you distrust dog walkers. I was a dog walker before I began training, and took GREAT pride in what I did. It makes me extremely frustrated to see such walkers give others a bad name. It is a profession, it’s skilled, and there are plenty of brilliant ones (see my local recommendations below). But the purpose of this section is to make sure that you make a point of asking what your dog will be doing?
+ Where will they be walked?
+ Will they be exposed to different routes each day?
+ What will their routine be back at HQ (if in day care)?
+ Will they be doing any training?
+ Are they given any time to settle and sleep?
+ How many other dogs will be there?
+ How long will they spend in the car?
5. How do I choose between a one man band and a bigger set-up?
People often ask me if they should use a ‘one man band’ business or a larger dog-care service with multiple employees. I wish I could say that one is more reliable than the other. In my experience, there is an equal risk with both that your dog might spend 30 minutes every afternoon wearing a sombrero and busking for change outside Waitrose (thank the Lord for neighbourhood Watch). But seriously, I will generalise with a simile we will all understand:
Independent dog walkers are like shopping at a small, locally owned shop: highly personal relationships, flexible service, but with individual quirks and varying availability.
Dog-care companies are more like shopping at a large superstore: increased convenience, more accountability, but with more rules and less personalised service.
You just have to pick which feels best for you. And remember: there is little to no oversight in dog walking – that is to say the ‘bosses’ rarely see their ‘employees’ in action, and dogs are notoriously unreliable in delivering feedback. So ultimately, the person who is walking your dog – whether or not they are self-employed or working for a service – is alone with your dog almost all of the time, so take the time to get to know them yourself. If you do opt for a larger dog-care service, I would encourage you to insist on personally meeting each person that may be assigned your dog and do go through the whole meet and greet/cup of tea/trial walk with each person.
6. Are they licensed?
Quite shockingly, anybody can call themselves a professional dog walker, or doggy daycare provider… even somebody who has very little experience with dogs. Despite the growing industry, there is still no dedicated regulator for dog walkers or day/night care providers. But don’t panic! There are ways to identify the diamonds in the rough. Those that are proud of their service are going the extra mile to prove it to you by aligning themselves with various independent quality assurers….
Royal Parks Licence – Dog walkers intending to use Richmond Park are required to go through a pretty thorough process in order to obtain a licence to walk in the park. As a licensee they must adhere to the parks ‘law’, which is reassuring!
APDW membership – The Association for Professional Dog Walkers (APDW) is a national organisation and has a significant presence in the Richmond Borough. Acquiring membership is no walk in the park (excuse the pun), requiring references from vets, as well as a written application. So if your dog walker is listed as a member here, that’s a good sign!
Doggy day/night care:
Council issued licence – In the Richmond Borough, any establishment offering dog boarding (daycare or overnight care) is required to go through a rigorous application and inspection process. So, if you are considering a day/night care provider, ask after their Richmond Council issued boarding licence. And be nosey! Ask to see where your dog will be staying while in their care! There should be absolutely no push-back here.
Have a chat with those you are considering to care for your dog, as the above licences and affiliations should provide you with some comfort that the person/business you are considering are professional and responsible.
Personally speaking… my recommendations:
Ok, so you’re still with me. Or maybe you’ve just skipped to this bit. Not so good, but I’ll let you off. Here is my pick of Dog Walkers and Daycare providers in our area:
- The Happy Hounds Club: Call Dorota for walks and daycare. East Sheen resident, one woman band.
- Baby Blues Pet Care: Call Martina for walks and daycare. East Sheen resident, one woman band. Further info here
- Dog Town, Call Adam for grooming and daycare. Small business with a team of employees. Further info here
- Walkies & Waggie Tails, Call Paula, small business with a team of employees,
Of course there are hundreds of extra questions you might want to ask: how will my dog be transported, what qualifications do you have, have you ever lost a dog, do you know dog first aid, what’s your middle name? But I hope that these six areas of focus give you food for thought and a basis to work from. If you have any questions about this blog, or any other puppy/dog training queries, please get in touch. I like a chat.
I am a very lucky dog owner in that I live in the WONDERFUL East Sheen Village, which is a very dog-friendly community. With this in mind I am excited to say that I have become a guest blogger on the East Sheen Village website, blogging about all things DOGS! You can follow my blogging/internal monologue at www.eastsheenvillage.co.uk. It's a great place to keep up to date with all things SW14 by following them on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.