Indy Walkers (the pros and cons of hiring an independent dog walker)

It may seem like walking your dog or checking in on your cat is easy. After all, you do it every day, right? Why pay $15-24 per day to have a company walk your dog when the teen next door can do it after school for $10, or an independent dog walker charges $13?

In this tough economy, it’s smart to shop around and get the best value for what you buy. But the adage about “getting what you pay for” rings especially true when you are screening for your pet’s caretaker. Think about it: so much is at stake when you hire a dog walker or cat sitter. You are exposing your home, mail and belongings to a stranger – one who knows your address and complete identity. Your beloved pet is in the care of this person, who may seem perfectly cordial when you talk to them but who can turn out to be indifferent, negligent, or worse toward your pet when they are alone. As a company that has interviewed 100+ prospective dog walkers in the past few years, take it from us: everyone’s a “dog lover” in this economy, but few are actually cut out for the rigor, discipline and duty of care that our walkers must exercise to succeed with us.

A dog walker is a lot like a nanny; s/he arrives every day on schedule to look after your dog. But instead of watching over a gurgling baby, the walker is responsible for an animal that can get into a bloody fight with other dogs, break free and run off, or get into all kinds of ruinous mischief involving furniture. In the unfortunate event of a dog fight, emergency trip to the vet, or even just some lost house keys – an unlicensed student without liability insurance can offer you only sympathy … if they stick around.

Here are a few points to consider when evaluating a dog walker (from The

  • Dog walking is an unregulated profession
  • There are no professional standards except your own
  • You are giving your keys to a stranger
  • You’re asking someone to navigate an urban environment full of hazards with your most prized possession

You want your walker to have eyes out for the child who may want to run up to your dog, spooking him, or the inattentive owner whose dog is making ready to lunge at yours. You want her ears to be attuned to the roar of skateboarders or the whirr of bicycles on the sidewalk, particularly if your dog is a chaser or a herder. And then you want her to know how to react quickly.

In bad weather, you want your walker to size up the wind threat before bringing your dog into a dog run with heavy branches flailing overhead and to know how your dog may react in the build-up to a thunderstorm. You want your walker to be mindful of standing too near utility boxes lest the electrical lines are not securely grounded. Or be on guard against dogs drinking standing water in puddles.

The best PRO to hiring an indy walker is – a good one will become a reliable part of your family, for better or worse. They will be able to accommodate your last-minute requests and usually won’t mind going the extra mile – because you’re like family. However, like a family member, they may not hold themselves accountable to your standards of professionalism. Your best bet? Find a company who combines an “indy” business model ( relationship-centered primary walker, dogs walked solo or in pairs) with the acountability, insurance and professionalism of a company.


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