What should you look for in a pet care service? (long post alert!)
Here at Mutty Professor we are passionate about providing top notch pet care and we like working alongside others who do also.
Any one can set up as a dog walker, and I (Roz) did over 7 years ago with no qualifications and very basic experience.
I made quite a few mistakes a long the way, thank fully nothing drastic, but I very quickly realised that there was an awful lot to learn about dog behaviour and keeping them safe and trouble free.
Hence, my journey to where I am now began with intensive studying! I didn’t start off with the intention of becoming a dog trainer, it just ended up headed in that direction and I got somewhat obsessed with dog behaviour.
Anyway, I digress a little. This industry is completely unregulated and I believe firmly that this industry is in dire need of regulating! While we wait for this to happen, you guys can help regulate it by knowing what to look out for.
I sadly see a lot of professional practise out and about that saddens me, because I believe the actions of the few professional pet carers who take liberties in their practise may well jeopardise our freedom to use public green space for our dogs. Don’t believe me? Well check out the dog parks in America! We really don’t want this to happen over here.
Here’s my check list of what you should look out for:
NUMBERS OF DOGS ON A GROUP/TOGETHER IN ONE SPACE
Here the focus should be on QUALITY of the group and not the QUANTITY of the group.
It is not uncommon to see some walkers walking 7 plus dogs or daycare/ boarding establishments with huge amounts of dogs together in one space.
I personally feel there is a lot wrong with this.
Groups of dogs sometimes simultaneously poo, and some dogs go off to poo in private. The more dogs you walk the harder it is to find every poo in these situations.
We personally adopt the karma approach. Miss one? Pick up the next one you see- EVEN IF IT’S COLD!! bleugh
The more dogs that walk together the more chance there is of a clash in personality. This doesn’t have to be out right aggression, but one or two dogs play style being totally inappropriate for another dog, which can cause fear related behaviours in some dogs and bully like behaviours in others.
With regards to daycare and boarding establishments, what is their dogs per person ratio? I personally think 6 per person is the max one can manage and observe efficiently.
What management strategies do they have available if one dog is terrified of another, or one dog bullies another, or if they are practising dangerous or inappropriate play for too long? Do they have means to safely separate the dogs in a way that decreases stress? Do they have facilities that enables dogs to have quiet time, personal space, avoidance or rest?
-What if something goes wrong?
What if a dog bolts, what if there’s a fight, what if a dog gets injured? How effectively can a pet carer cope if there are multiple dogs involved?
-More dogs to control
Recalling and keeping 4-5 (our ideal group number) under control is hard work enough. Can a pet carer keep larger groups under tight control? Recalling away from horses, on lead dogs, golfers, ramblers, picnics….and if not, can they get the group back under control quickly?
We aim to keep our groups well away from other walkers and their dogs. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s easier to avoid with smaller groups.
A much over looked part of pet care. Has anyone considered how all of these large groups of dogs get transported to their location of exercise?
Dogs that do not live together should absolutely not share crates in vans, if space becomes an issue then this can be a big problem.
We make sure dogs are transported comfortably to location (we also have adequate safety equipment in all cars ensuring dogs cannot climb from one compartment to another during travel).
Dogs that are space sensitive during transport either travel in their own compartment or are allocated onto solo walks if this is not possible due to group size or size of dogs on the walk.
Transport has the potential to be a high risk part of the job due to the confined nature of it. The more crowded a vehicle, the more chances things may go wrong.
Definitely check your pet carer is insured. We have a policy with Pet Business Insurance that covers all my walkers.
The main insurers for this industry only cover up to 6 dogs per person. Consider whether your pet carer may be operating without insurance due to breaking their terms.
WHAT IS YOUR PET CARERS ATTITUDE TO THE JOB? HOW VIGILENT ARE THEY?
I have seen some bizarrely laid back approaches to dog walking with regards to allowing dogs to rush around car parks off lead, rushing up to other park users whilst barking (and the walker not being bothered by this!), crossing large distances to greet other dogs or being allowed to approach and harass on lead reactive dogs. Mistakes absolutely happen, but what is the pet carers response to the incident unfolding?
A good way of assessing your pet carer’s attitude to their job is to go for a walk with them. Join them for an hour or two and see things first hand.
What you don’t want to hear is things like:
‘They can sort it out amongst themselves’
‘That’s how dogs play’ (as another dog pins another down for a duration)
‘Don’t worry they’ll move away if your dog reacts’ (approaching on lead dogs)
‘Oh he always does that’ (as dog jumps up at someone or chases a horse!)
What about in the event of an injury?
Injuries sadly happen (but should be a rarity), but pet carers should be able to explain with detail what happened- especially with any cuts and grazes.
Some lameness can have a delayed onset or be masked until adrenalin wears off, so in some instances it may be that an injury develops post walk. But pet carers should be able to explain whether something happened that caused an injury.
This is most important with regards to dog-dog issues, as if a dog causes another dog harm (a bite) then it is highly likely that the offending dog needs to be removed from intense social situations such as daycare, boarding or walking. If your pet carer can’t even tell you which dog caused a bite injury to yours- something is very seriously wrong!
Another good way to assess your pet carer is to ask them what CPD (continued professional development) they have done recently and also whether they all have up to date first aid training. A passionate pet carer should always be learning and fine tuning their skill!
What methods do they use?
If your carer practises training it should be kind, positive reinforcement based and force free. They should set dogs up to succeed by managing them to prevent undesired behaviours being practised, and deal with problems calmly and gently.
If your carer justifies behaviour using dominance or pecking order then it may be worth using someone who is more up to date in their practise.
Puppies are easily over stimulated, and they go through sensitive periods where the world can seem more scary than it was the previous week.
On top of that, we follow the 5 minutes per month of age exercise guideline (see www.puppyculture.co.uk for the science on why).
Puppies also need loads of rest! Like, LOADS! 18-20 hours a day ideally so their brains can process all that new environmental information and the body can allocate energy into growing!
Due to this reason we do not group walk dogs less than 6 months old, and we are always ready to pluck youngsters off group walks and put onto solos as and when their hormones or confidence levels dictate.
Adolescents can bully younger dogs and as such, all dogs under 2 years of age require constant monitoring and communication between me and walkers to ensure no one is being a bully or being bullied.
Socialisation is about quality, not quantity. It is not a race, and things can go very wrong if pups are immersed in situations they find over whelming.
It is easier to instill fear than it is to teach a dog not to be fearful.
BEING ABLE TO TURN AWAY WORK?
Pet carers should know their place when it comes to behaviour problems. If you have a pet carer who thinks they can resolve your dog’s reactivity or highly anxious behaviour by putting it in intensive social situations then remove your dog out of that situation asap. This is not how qualified trainers would deal with the problem.
I have seen dogs develop fears from being teamed up with known bully/reactive dogs and I have seen dogs become more nervous for being put in too intense situations than they can cope.
A good pet carer will have the ability to recognise when a dog is unsuitable for social situations, admit the situation isn’t appropriate for a dog and either accommodate appropriate care or refer to someone who can.
It takes a lot of confidence to say ‘no’ and doing so often shows you they genuinely have dog care at mind (and not money)
WHERE DO THEY GO?
What does the service actually involve?
How long are the dogs in the car for?
How long are they walked for?
Are they walked in small, busy, public parks and if so, how big are the groups?
(I personally think small, busy public parks are not suitable for groups of more than 3 well behaved dogs).
If the walker does not drive dogs around, what do they do with your dog as they go to collect another from a house? (Take it inside the dogs home or tie it up? Both are not without risk).
I fully expect my new clients to grill us on our service, and we do intro walks with clients for group walks so we can see how their dog behaves in that context.
Don’t be afraid to ask your chosen pet carer lots of questions about their practice and if you’re not sure about something, don’t feel bound to use that service.
No business or person is perfect. As a company we have certainly evolved and tweaked our service over the years to make it the best that we can. We are forever reviewing practise and protocol and admit that we make mistakes and are not perfect.
Sometimes our walkers loose control over a dog and sometimes two dogs on our groups don’t get on. (even though it takes me 5 hours each weekend to do the rota trying to ensure all groups are compatible!)
However, incidents should be be uncommon and the way they are handled should be done so efficiently.
It’s almost impossible to avoiding making mistakes, but admitting you have made one and considering what you could do differently is a very important part of the learning process.
We are very lucky in this country to be able to walk small groups of dogs in public green spaces, and if we are not careful, we will loose this privilege.
With the huge increase in professional dog walkers there is a big risk for this to sway in the wrong direction. Professionals have a duty to others to practise their profession sensibly and fairly.
Biggups to all other companies who full fill the above criteria and work hard to keep standards high!