Things you should consider
Hiring a dog-walker is not unlike hiring a nanny or baby-sitter - you're entrusting a cherished member of your family to the care of someone new. If you're new to using dog-walking services, here are a few of the things that you should consider. Although we'll talk from a North Shore perspective (North and West Vancouver), most of these pointers will apply anywhere.
Are they licensed? In North Vancouver and West Vancouver dog walkers are required to have a Business Licence, Insurance, and a Dog Walking Permit. There are several dozen dog walking companies licensed on the North Shore, and a walker will need a separate licence to walk in either North or West Vancouver.
What training have they done? Most professional walkers have at a minimum Canine First Aid Training, and some dog handling or obedience training. A good walker will also view training and learning as an ongoing process, and will upgrade or refresh their skills on a regular basis.
Where do they walk? Some companies (like Four Legs Good!) hike on the mountain trails above North and West Vancouver. Other stay to the lower parks like Mosquito Creek or Inter-River Park. Ask about where walks will take place, the terrain your dog will be exploring, and what kinds of dogs and people are likely to be walking in the same place.
What activities happen on a walk? Is is just a walk or a hike? Will the walker play games, or do some sort of training during the hike? A daily walk or hike is not just physical exercise for your dog, it's also providing mental stimulation and social interaction.
On-leash or Off-leash? How much time will your dog be off-leash, and how much on-leash? The first walk, or perhaps two, will always be on-leash. If needed, can the walker keep your dog on leash?
Describe the group that your dog will walk with. It is likely that you already know which days you would like your dog to walk or hike, and whether you prefer a morning or afternoon schedule. Your walker should be able to tell you how many dogs will be in the group (the legal maximum is six), and tell you the names and breeds of the dogs that will be walking with your dog.
Will your dog walk with the same group each day or week? The most established walkers will have stable groups that change little from month to month. Ask how often new dogs are added. Also ask how the company decides which dogs walk together. Is it luck, or do they take into account the ages, personalities, and abilities of each dog when placing them together on a walk?
What kind of vehicle will your dog be travelling in? Walkers' vehicles range from compact passenger cars, to trucks and vans, to retired school buses. Ask how the vehicle is equipped, and what things the walker does to make it suitable for dogs.
Who will be walking my dog? Will it be the company owner, the person interviewing you? Or will it be an employee? If the latter, ask how employees are selected and hired, and what training they receive. Find out if the same employee will be walking your dog each time, and don't be shy about asking to meet the walker who will be caring for your pet.
What happens if the walker is sick or unavailable? Does the company have people who can fill in? How will you be notified?
What happens in an emergency? Every walker sooner or later has a dog who becomes sick, is injured or (rarely) is involved in a fight. Ask about the walker's First Aid training, and whether they carry a First Aid kit. Ask what happens if emergency vet treatment is needed. Will they bring the dog to your vet? The closest vet? Their regular vet? How will care decisions be made if you can't be contacted?
What other services do they offer? Boarding, house-sitting, nail-trimming, grooming, and other services are common, as is advice on everything from local vets to equipment to diet. If your walker can't answer your question, they should know who to ask.