15 Questions to Ask Prospective Dog Walkers
(originally published by Sharon Annete McCuddy - Yahoo Contributor Network)
Once you have a list of potential dog walkers, and you know what your expectations and budgetary allowance for this expenditure is, then it is time to begin calling dog walkers and asking questions.
In some cases, it may be easiest to ask a few of the questions from the list that you feel is most important to you, thereby giving you a general feeling about the potential dog walker. Then ask if you can email the rest of the questions, eliminating any questions that are not applicable for your situation.
The list of possible questions can be daunting, but there is a reason for each and every question. Once you have gathered the responses from the potential dog walkers, it will be time to narrow the field down to just a few dog walkers for interviews. In reality, however, you are not the real interviewer at that point, your dog is.
There may be significant legal and tax issues down the road if you hire an independent dog walker who does not have a business license - and may not be reporting the income on their taxes. However, if the dog walker is an independent person that you are hiring, you may technically be responsible for reporting to the IRS any payments you make to the dog walker as your "employee".
If you use employees and/or sub-contractors, are they also bonded and/or insured? Insurance can be very important, but only you can decide how important that your dog walker have insurance for your situation. If something happens when your dog is out with the walker, their insurance provides you with an extra layer of financial protection. If the walker accidentally breaks something of value, you may be able to claim it under the dog walker's policy. Decide whether a potential dog walker not having insurance is a deal-breaker for you; if it is not a deal-breaker, then you might use it as a tiebreaker if you are unable to decide between two possible dog walkers. In addition, request to see a copy of the policy, so that you know what the limitations of the coverage is, as well as the expiration date. Make a note of the expiration date, as you should ask to see the documentation of a policy renewal when that time comes around. As a note, bonding and insurance are two different types of coverage. Bonding protects against theft by the pet sitter. Commercial liability insurance protects against accidents and negligence.
Remember, you are entrusting your dog - who places his trust in you - to this person. Everyone has to gain experience somehow, but be very cautious of walkers with little to no experience. Ask about the range of experiences; if the potential dog walker has only had small dogs as clients, think twice about assigning your 150 pound Mastiff; similarly, if your dog has issues - particularly aggression issues (such as to other dogs, bikers, skateboarders, etc.), you would be wise to ensure that your dog walker has prior experience handling dogs with similar issues.
Request at least four references - two of current clients, and two for past clients. At least one of those references ideally will be for having dog walked a dog of the same breed yours is, and if your dog has special issues, another reference should be from a client who had a dog with similar issues.
Some dog walkers have taken basic first aid for pets, or other dog-related courses. Ask for verification of any training the potential dog walker has taken. If your dog might require medication, either ongoing or on an occasional basis, ask the dog walker if that is an extra service they are comfortable with, and what the charge might be.
What do you do with the other dogs when you are picking up or dropping off my dog? What happens if my dog does not get along with the other dogs, or if there is a behavior issue with one of the dogs that you currently walk? Do you separate dogs by energy level, size, age, and/or physical abilities? Are the other dogs in the group altered (neutered/spayed)? Many dog walkers will maximize time and profit by walking several dogs simultaneously. If it is important that your dog's walk be without other dogs, make sure this is clear to your potential dog walker. If it is acceptable for your dog to be walked with other dogs, it is important to know how the dog walker will handle pickup and drop-off of your dog, while having other dogs to be supervised. Some dog walkers have an "assistant" or dog walker "in-training", who briefly supervises the other dogs while a dog is being picked up or dropped off back to his home or kennel. Some dog walkers prefer to have the assistant handle the pick-up and drop-off process, so that the more experienced person is always handling the majority of the dogs, while the less experienced person obtains small amounts of experience, one dog at a time. In some areas, dog walkers might tie the dogs to a post in sight of a door attendant, go in and collect the next dog for the walk, and then come out again. This practice can be risky however, as the dogs are not supervised if a tussle breaks out between them. If the door attendant is distracted, one or more of the dogs can be stolen with relative ease. Regardless, find out how transfers are handled if multiple dogs are walked together, and make sure you are comfortable with the procedure.
(due to illness, personal emergency, or vacation)Some dog walkers are part of large operations. It is common for an outfit, knowing of a planned vacation of one of their employees, to send an "on-rotation" employee to accompany the dog walker on his or her rounds the week prior to their vacation, so that they know the routine. Other operations may routinely rotate dog walkers. A small operation - or one-person operation - may not have a backup plan at all, and you might find yourself without a dog walker at times. Determine if an occasional absence is acceptable to you; you may decide to have a primary dog walker, and a back-up dog walker. Alternatively, you might choose two individual dog walkers, but request their services on alternating weeks. Then when you know one will be away for a vacation, you might ask the other dog walker to provide services that week. The benefit there is you and your dog are already familiar with the "backup" dog walker. Some dog walkers have a loose-knit "association" or are friends with other dog walkers who they might routinely refer each other's clients to during planned absences; ask. Plan to hold the back-up walker to the same standards as your primary dog walker.
Ensure that the dog walker knows of any requirements you have regarding the setting of where the dog is walked. If you do not want your dog going to a dog park, or only want your dog walked in parks requiring dogs to remain on leash, ensure that it very clearly understood.
What are your rates for all of the services you offer? Most dog walkers follow the pooper-scooper laws in the areas they service, but it does not hurt to ask and be sure of this. Some take the bagged deposits and dispose of them elsewhere, others will ask to know where you normally put bagged deposits. Some dog walkers will ensure that the water bowl (and food bowl, if you ask) is appropriately filled. Your dog walker may or may not be willing to give medications upon request to your dog. You may want your dog walker to brush out your dog's coat, particularly if your darling managed to roll around in something. Other dog walkers might bring in the mail, or take the empty trashcans from the curb if it happens to be trash day. Some will include such services at no extra cost; others may charge a nominal fee. Many professional dog walkers leave a brief note at the end of the walk for you to find upon your return home, letting you know how the walk went, and use that as a vehicle to draw any issues to your attention. If you are interested in such extra services, ask.
It is not bad to have a contract specifying the terms of the dog walking agreement, as well as the terms for canceling the dog walker's services in case an issue arises. Ideally, the contract will be worded and written to enforce clarity between your expectations and requirements, and the services that the walker offers, so that all involved are protected. It may include an emergency consent form/veterinary release form so that if an emergency occurs, the walker can quickly get your dog to a veterinarian for treatment. If so, it should specify what veterinarians you prefer, any veterinarians you might exclude, and your emergency contact information to reach you.
Your dog walker should follow your lead regarding giving your dog treats. You might indicate that you prefer no treats for your dog, or only a certain amount of treats, or you might designate a "treat jar" for the dog walker to select treats from to give to the dog as a reward for a good walk. If your dog is resource aggressive with other animals, you may want to indicate that no treats can be given to any dog at all when your dog is present.
How the prospective dog walker answers this question can give you good insight as to how they respond in an emergency. Your dog walker should be someone who will not panic or make poor choices in such situations.
Do you use positive reinforcements? Do you use negative conditioning, and if so, how? No matter how well trained your dog is, very few dogs behave perfectly all the time and in every situation. You should be aware of how the dog walker might correct your dog, and ensure it fits in with your philosophies on training. Consider asking a few hypothetical situations, such as what the walker would do if your dog were to growl at someone, or if your dog were to slip off the collar and refuse to sit or return to the walker.
Money is one answer of course; most people work because they need money, not because they love to work. Beyond that simple answer, what you should be looking for is a dog walker who genuinely loves dogs. If you do not feel the person truly loves dogs, you may want to cross them off your list.
If I decide to utilize your services, would you agree to an initial short-term trial period of two to four weeks in length? Obviously, the answer should be "yes". Be frank; if you plan to meet with three prospective dog walkers, let each prospective dog walker know this, so that they are not expecting you to commit to contracting with them immediately at the meeting. Ask if there is a charge for the initial meeting and trial walk; it is common to charge for this, so be prepared. If a prospective walker refuses to meet and conduct a test or trial walk, take that walker off your list. The meeting and trial walk is really the final selection criteria, and a very important one. You should be looking very carefully at the interaction between your dog and the walker; if anything feels wrong, either ask the dog walker about it, or take them off your list. This is the time when your dog essentially has a voice in who you are hiring, so please pay close attention to the body language that you see. Keep in mind that the dog walker is also "interviewing" you and your dog as well, and they should be asking questions to ensure that they understand your expectations, and anything special about your dog in particular. Be cautious about promising to hire a prospective dog walker until you and your dog have interviewed two or three individuals; this allows you to have a point of reference to compare them against each other.
Bayonne Animal Hospital
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Bayonne, NJ 07002
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Jersey City Animal Hospital
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Newport Animal Hospital
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Secaucus Animal Hospital
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