Don’t Hire Pet Care Blindly

It's easier than ever to find a pet sitter or dog walker, but that doesn't mean you should hire just anyone.

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whole dog journal editor nancy kerns

Have you heard the term “gig economy”? It refers to the fact that more than a third of workers today (36 percent) are employed in part-time, short-term, and/or freelance jobs. Believe it or not, the rise of workers in this gig economy has had a mostly positive effect on our dogs (and has presented them with one specific hazard – more about that in a moment).

How is the gig economy good for our dogs? Well, one reason is that more of us than ever are working from home, where we can be more responsive to our dogs’ needs for walks and outdoor breaks. Another is that there are more people than ever making at least some of their income by offering their services as respite workers for dog owners – you know, dog walkers and pet sitters. It has never been easier to find someone who can come to your home and feed a midday meal to your dog, take him outside to potty, administer medicine, or even transport him to an off-leash trail for a hike! There are even a number of tech companies (such as Rover.com, Care.com, and PetSitters.org) dedicated to helping dog owners connect with people who provide these services.

How might this be a bad thing? With more people than ever providing these valuable services, there are more unqualified people than ever doing these jobs. Some of the people who market themselves as experienced dog handlers may have experience only with small dogs or well-behaved dogs and may be completely unprepared for managing your dog-reactive Giant Schnauzer or for the quick, cat-killing move that an athletic hunting breed can make, even on leash! Some of these people are completely inexperienced, dangerously untrained, and ignorant of effective, dog-friendly handling techniques.

In the San Francisco Bay area, part-time pet sitters and dog walkers are now so numerous that they can be seen on literally every block. It’s there that I have witnessed dog walkers doing things that horrified me – such as talking on their cell phones while walking half a dozen shut-down-looking dogs, each equipped with a shock collar. I recently saw a “professional” dog walker park 100 feet from the gate to a dog park, open the back of her truck, allowing 10 or more dogs to jump out of the truck and run, loose, to the dog park gate (where they were greeted by a wound-up mob of other dogs; the ensuing fracas was broken up with yells and squirt bottles by several dog walkers). A dog trainer friend told me about a dog walker she ran into recently who, over her protests, picked up and threw a Chihuahua-mix who had initiated an (inappropriate but ultimately harmless) scuffle with her dog. “He has to learn!” the dog walker said angrily. I’d say that it’s the dog’s owner who needs to learn – how to screen his dog-care providers. My point? Please be discerning when hiring, ask for references, and pay attention to how your dog feels about the people you hire.

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