Life with dogs
Working with dogs is a lifelong ambition for many people, it can be for you too....
6 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR POTENTIAL DOG WALKER BEFORE YOU HIRE THEM (AND IT'S NOT THE PRICE)....
1. Does your dog walker have business insurance?
Nobody wants to think about bad things happening whilst your dog is out on a walk, but inevitably at some point this may happen. Insurance is never a great topic of conversation but you need to know that a) your dog walker is acting in a responsible way but also b) your dog walker is taking their business seriously and is willing to make the investment of the insurance premium. It shows they are a professional and not cutting corners. If they are willing to get the necessary documentation in place for this, they are likely to be more willing to have other things 'in order' also.
2. Does your dog walker hold a Canine First Aid Certificate?
Again this is not a great topic of conversation for your 'meet and greet' but like insurance it's one of those things that they will need to have boxed off. Why? Because again it shows that they are taking responsibility for their job, they are taking steps to ensure the safety of your dog, they are being extra cautious and getting trained in a scenario that may turn out to be life saving. They are being thorough and acting like a professional, rather than someone who just wants to earn a bit of cash doing a nice job. Make sure you check their certificate, some training courses aren't as good as you might think. One of the best Canine First Aid trainers would be Rachel Bean RVN as she is a registered veterinary nurse and the course uses real life dogs to practice on, this way the lesson is more real, interactive and intuitive than some others that are perhaps self taught/ online methods for example.
3. How will you keep my dog safe?
What you're looking for here is a reassurance that the dog walker has structure and policies in place to ensure your dog is well looked after. Things like:
The dog will travel individually in their car or van. Dogs may be OK out on a walk together, but inside the car or van it may be a different story. While your dog walker is driving a fight could start and if the dogs are hemmed in all together, this could lead to significant problems.
The dog will be strapped into the seat belt via a harness and a seat belt clip, or the dog will be secured inside a crate or caged area in a van for example.
The dog will not be let off lead until good recall/ relationship/ bond has been established.
The dog will be discouraged from approaching other dogs outside of their own social group (if it's a group walk).
The dog will be watched and the dog walker has a mobile phone policy (we've all seen the walkers who are staring at their phone oblivious to the dogs running off, pooing on the path etc). You want a dog walker that pays attention to your dog.
The dog walker can demonstrate dog experience (you can get this info from their website- YES THEY NEED A WEBSITE or are they even a professional?), you can ask them for a brief history of their experience with dogs.
4. How long will my dog ACTUALLY BE WALKING FOR?
This is so important as many dog walkers vary in their services and some make it very unclear as to what the 'hour' for example actually means. Look for clarity on this as you don't want your dog in the car for 25 mins and only walking for 35 mins to make up an hour. Ideally, your dog should be walking for THE FULL HOUR, which excludes travel time. Your dog will then be out of the house for a considerable amount of time which is great for your dog, as they will not only have the hour long exercise but also company, interaction and a change of scene to break up their day.
5. What will you DO on the dog walk?
This is also so important as it sorts out the wheat from the chaff of the dog walking world. Depending on what you're looking for, it's good to know what will happen during that hourly walk. If the answer is 'just walk' then perhaps your dog walker hasn't put too much effort into trying to create a great experience for your dog. A professional dog walker will want the dogs to have a great time and what they do in order to achieve that is important.
For example will they:
Let your dog run mad, play, play play with every other dog it sees? (Yep they will return tired but they will also be a nightmare to walk when it's your turn to do it).
Make it fun? How will they do that?
Take toys with them?
Cram a lot of dogs all into one big group?
Go to different places or the same location EVERY. SINGLE. TIME? (BORING)
6. Will you train my dog and if so what methods will you use?
I'm afraid this is a bit of a 'can of worms' question but you really need to know the answer. First thing first, most dog walkers are NOT trainers, some are a combination of both though so do check (A dog trainer will have a professional qualification in dog training from a veritable source). However, most GOOD dog walkers should be able to teach what I call 'canine life skills' which are skills that will help your dog cope with everyday life, not to be confused with obedience. These are things like:
Listening to their walker
Following simple instructions
Being able to come back (recall)
Having good manner eg. they don't barge other dogs, they don't jump up at people , they don't run off after every single dog they see to play etc.
These helpful life skills can be taught through the dog walker being consistent , giving praise and rewarding good behaviour (usually with treats).
Just double check with your walker if they understand 'positive reinforcement' and ensure that the way they encourage your dog to behave does not involve punishment or alpha dog methods. Unless specifically trained in these sectors, a dog walker would be most effective in forming a positive, rewarding bond with your dog that enables trust, a feeling of safety and friendship.
Get more clarification on positive reinforcement versus alpha dog training methods and ideology here.
So, I hope you found this useful. Dog walkers are great people and obviously as one myself, I think the profession is one to be proud of. However, it's an unregulated sector in an ever increasing market, so it's important to choose your dog walker carefully.
You notice that I have left out the question that dog walkers get asked ALL THE TIME:
How much do you charge?
This is an important question of course, but it shouldn't be the FIRST thing that you need to know as a dog owner. The safety of your dog, the quality of service and the competence of the dog walker should come higher in your priorities than the price alone. Once you've got the answer to these important question, then you can ask the price if you don't already know it.
In conjunction with these questions it's important to use your gut feeling when you meet your potential dog walker, ask or look up references and if in doubt, ask to join them out on a walk one day. If you do all this, your dog will be soon having a great time and the worry of leaving them alone will be alleviated.
Click the links for more information about our dog walking adventure services and my Dog Walker Academy if you would like to learn more about working with dogs yourself.
Are you a dog walker worried about standing out from the overwhelming competition? Here's 5 ways to overcome it.....
1. Show case your reasons for doing what you do
Telling potential clients why you do what you do will help them find an affinity with you. This is particularly useful in the dog sector as our furry friends mean a lot to us. Clients need to be able to trust you and like you, the way to do this is to share your reasons, motivations and values. This will draw those who can resonate with your values and motivation towards you and they will be more inclined to trust you with their beloved dog. Competitors who don't convey their reasons and motivations will experience less affinity and trust and relating to them may be more difficult. It doesn't need to be anything too fancy, just a page on your website about where your motivation comes from is enough.
2. Find a corner of the dog walking market to call your own
This may sound like a plan to reduce the amount of clients wanting your services, but in fact narrowing down your breadth of services and concentrating on one specific market will actually improve your chances of getting noticed, and in turn getting clients. Being specific and offering a more bespoke service will attract 'your type of people' to you. Concentrating on a particular type of service e.g. puppies only or rescue dogs only will mean people in your area will associate that with you, whereas trying to please ALL the people, ALL the time will dilute your magnetism. Finding a niche that suits your own personality and offers a solution to demand in your area is the easiest and quickest way to get well known for that thing, for example the vegan restaurant in your town is very specific and attracts vegan diners (rather than vegan diners having to ask what food is vegan on the general menu in a non exclusive restaurant).
3. Let your pricing structure set the scene
Once you've found your specific bit of the market or nailed your niche, you can then charge more money. Being priced differently distinguishes you from all the other dog walkers in your area who all charge the same or the 'going rate'. Having a more exclusive service or niche, naturally means people will expect to pay more. If all dog walkers were priced the same, how would customers choose between you all? Every sector has tiers, you can choose where in those tiers your services lie. You may find that you want to be the budget brand dog walker in your town (I wouldn't recommend that....but that's a title for another blog post) and that would set you apart, but being in the middle is a very grey, confusing place to be. Ideally if you niche down and corner your market, you will naturally be expected to be near the top of the pricing tier which ultimately means less stress for you and a more profitable business.
4. Don't just do the dog walking, show your skills
Dog walking in the United Kingdom particularly is viewed as a bit of hobby job and with that comes a belief that we are not particularly skilled people and we have decided to work with animals because we aren't much good at the 'other stuff'. In reality this couldn't be further from the truth. I know some super intelligent people who have jacked in their corporate jobs to set up a dog walking business as a lifestyle choice.......but they still have ALL THE GOOD SKILLS. The key is to still use all those good skills. What do I mean by this? Well I mean be a dog walker AND a business person, be a dog walker AND an entertainer, be a dog walker AND a writer, be a dog walker AND a speaker, be a dog walker AND a marketeer. Its amazing how much praise I get when people realise that I'm a #1 author, that I've a good degree and a background in education. USE YOUR SKILLS and people will be in awe of your brilliance and gravitate towards you. These super skills make you unique too.
5. Blow your own trumpet
This goes against all your natural instincts as a person who naturally enjoys the company of dogs (we are not particularly people, people) but as a business owner you have to share your wins and sparkle your glitter. If you get good feedback from a customer....share it, if you get a lovely text message from a client....share it (ask permission first of course), if you do use your other good skills (as mentioned in point 4), share your stuff. I like writing and I shared my book to my clients and they bought the book (even though they weren't thinking of setting up a dog walking business), because they thought it was interesting. If you're a good photographer....share it. If you're learning new skills.....tell people. It's not just about the dog walking, its about YOU as a person and that is so important nowadays in a world of media overwhelm to share your personality and your development. You have to shout about yourself as nobody else will do it for you. YOU are your best advert, tell people your skills, your wins, your positive results and your aspirations. All this information is actually helping your potential customers decide whether to become a customer or not. You need to sell yourself and point out your attributes as these are unique to you and in turn set you apart from the competition in your town.
To delve more deeply into how to stand out from the never ending competition, check out my brilliant six module course 'How To Attract Clients In To Your Dog Based Business Despite The Overwhelming Competition'.