Increasingly, companies like Wag!, Rover and others have developed apps that make it possible for dog owners to be connected to dog walkers and schedule walks directly from their phone. These apps (commonly referred to as “Uber for dog walkers”) are easy and convenient for dog parents, but are they good for dogs? How can dog owners be sure about the quality of care their dogs are receiving in their absence?
I first became familiar with these apps through their lost dog signs and postings, which I see frequently in Brooklyn, New York. In a one month period this year, Wag! walkers lost three dogs, and there have been others lost since. In my old neighborhood, a walker from the app lost a skittish rescue dog by dropping the leash; the dog was lost for over a week and was eventually hit by a car and died.
I have three dogs ranging in size from 10 pounds to 100 pounds, and the middle dog is a spooky and reactive former street dog. I am extremely picky about who gets access to my dogs and the dog professionals who I hire to care for them – with good reason. A traumatic experience with a bad dog walker could potentially undo years of behavioral training and confidence building.
Are Dog Walking Apps Safe?
The way that dog walking apps work is that the company hires walkers, and then matches that walker with you/your dog, meaning that the walker showing up to give your dog a mid-day walk is likely someone your dog has never met before. “When you use a dog walking app service, you are inviting a stranger into your home who you have not vetted. You are handing your four-legged family member, with all his or her unique quirks, to a well-intentioned dog lover who most likely does not have the requisite education and training to keep your dog safe by understanding body language, recognizing early warning signs, knowing how to avoid incident, and what to do should something go wrong. This puts your dog at greater risk, and also your own liability,” explains Veronica Boutelle of Dog Biz Dog Walking Academy, which trains and supports positive reinforcement-based dog professionals in running ethical dog care businesses. She strongly discourages the use of dog walking companies that utilize this practice of hiring unprofessional dog walkers.
Should You Avoid Hiring Dog Care From an App?
Ultimately the choice is yours for who you hire to watch your dog. Megan Stanley, CPDT-KSA, CBCC-KA, owner of Dogma Training & Pet Services, Inc., and chair for the Board of Directors of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, encourages dog parents to avoid them.
“I do not recommend this at all, especially where they have not met the dog. There is not time for an adequate introduction to ensure that your dog is comfortable with this person or the time to ensure the person handles and interacts with your dog appropriately. Just as you would never hire someone to be in your house without knowing them or even dream of doing this for someone who would work with your children, you should not do this for your dog. Many of these companies say they have a strict screening process, but these are still lacking. There is very minimal training, if any at all, and most just do a basic background check which does not ensure they will handle your dog safely. The risks to your dog are too high,” Stanley says.
Pack Walks: Avoid These Above All
Many apps and other dog walking companies, especially in large cities, utilize “pack walks”, where multiple dogs from different homes are walked together. “It may look impressive to see a dog walker with 10, 15, or 20 dogs. But the reality is that such practices are unsafe for you and your dog, and most likely stressful for your dog as well. Responsible professional dog walkers keep groups small to ensure individual attention and safety for all dogs in their care,” explains Veronica Boutelle.
How To Properly Screen Dog Walkers
Unfortunately, dog walking is an unregulated profession and is seen by some dog owners and would-be walkers as “unskilled labor”, when in fact walking someone’s dog(s) well and safely requires a lot of training and experience working with dogs that must extend beyond simply liking dogs, or having grown up with dogs. These are “qualifications” I’ve heard acquaintances give when saying that they were thinking of being dog walkers because it is an easy way to make money on the side.
Working with dogs is not easy work – it requires training and experience with dogs of varieties of sizes and temperaments. Things can go wrong on a walk in an instant for any number of reasons: your dog is approached by an off-leash dog, your dog is triggered by environmental factors, your dog is child-reactive, etc.
Stanley suggests, “It is important that you ask any dog care professional about their qualifications and experience. They should have formal training. Many people work with dogs with no experience and just consider themselves dog lovers. This is not adequate, especially for dog walkers, as they need to understand canine communication and basic training. These are critical to keep a dog safe and ensure they are not doing anything that would cause the dog’s behavior to worsen.”
First and foremost, if you need to hire a dog walker, keep in mind that the dog walker you hire will be responsible for the care of your dog out in the world when you aren’t there to monitor them.
Boutelle brings up the important reminder that, “The law holds all of us accountable for the actions of our dogs, even when we’re not present— just as the law holds us all accountable for the actions of our underaged children. In other words, you take on a liability risk sending your dog out into the world with a dog walker. Mitigating that risk is as simple as hiring a professional dog walker, one who has taken the initiative to seek out a high level of education and training about dog behavior, training, and management. One who does this as their dedicated professional career. One who forms long-term and accountable relationships to a small group of clients and their dogs.”
Interview Questions for Dog Walkers
Megan Stanley suggests the following questions are good to ask a potential walker or dog walking company you are considering to care for your dog:
– What training tools do you use for walking? Leashes, etc?
– How do you teach a dog to walk on a loose leash?
– How do reward good behavior?
– How do you respond to any inappropriate behavior from the dog?
– Are you bonded and insured?
– Do you perform background checks on all your dog walkers?
– Do you have a plan for emergencies?
– How do you communicate with us?
– Where will you walk my dog?
– How many dogs do you walk at once?
– How do you assess/introduce the dogs?
– What if a dog is unfriendly with other dogs or people?
– Will my dog be on or off-leash?
– What are the pick-up/drop-off procedures?
– Do you offer trial walks?
– Will anyone else walk my dog except the originally assigned walker?
Find more questions to ask and factors to consider right here.
Are There Any Safe Dog Walking Options?
Needing a walker is a fact of life for many working professionals with dogs. It is too unreasonable to expect our dogs to sit alone in the house all day, with no potty or social breaks. If your situation requires hired pet care, the most important thing you can do is put in the time to find a trained, professional walker that you and your dogs can build an ongoing trust and relationship with.
As Boutelle explains, “On the positive side, the emergence of these apps demonstrates the growth in demand for dog walkers. As more and more dogs are considered central members of their families, more dog lovers are seeking to provide a higher daily quality of life for their dogs, including physical exercise, mental stimulation, and companionship. That’s a wonderful thing to see. The next step is to provide dedicated dog lovers with the knowledge they need to make the best, most informed and safest choices about their dogs’ care providers, including their dog walkers.”
Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author and Certified Trick Dog Instructor. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with her partner, a senior Chihuahua mix, a rescued Shepherd mix, Newfoundland puppy, two bossy cats, and a semi-feral kitten.
I investigated hiring a house/petsitter through Rover and was totally turned off by what I found. Ridiculously high prices due to the sitter only getting a cut of the proceeds and the quality of the sitters suspect. I was looking to hire someone to stay in my home with my 2 older dogs and a cat and the only one willing to take it on had intended to bring her OWN dog along, too! She said she had no where to leave her own pet. So these are mostly younger people, in their 20s, looking to make a buck with no experience worth a crap with dealing with other peoples’ dogs or home or emergencies in general. I would avoid all of these like the plague. If you need a walker, post for one yourself and interview each applicant thoroughly, including a background check (about $30 and you can get them online). For house/pet sitters, I would pay for a membership with TrustedHousesitters.com where the folks not only sit your home and pets for free but are mostly retired, sensible couples with many references available.
I live in NYC in a large apartment building and dog walkers walking packs of dogs are the norm.I have a skittish spaniel and I would never let him walk with a pack nor would I ever use the apps like Wag.I also have seen the lost dog flyers from dogs that were walked by Wag. A neighbor used the app she had a very sweet little tractable cavalier king charles . I often saw the dog with different walkers all with different degrees of experience but I never felt comfortable I was always worried for her dog.I definitely don’t like the packs of dogs a woman in my neighborhood runs a dog walk/training business – she walks most of the dogs in my building she keeps the packs small and she walks in a long caravan with about 4 other helpers( usually about 8 -10 dogs) who are mostly young and inexperienced .I guess the rationale is she is there as guidance but they are a hindrance when I walk my dog there is a lot of lunging and barking and as a result when I know they will be out I try not to walk my dog.I did see them lose a little dog who slipped out of his harness under a car but it was parked and they got it out but I never forgot that. There are other packs of dog walkers everywhere in NYC- my main qualm is the walkers are usually oblivious on their cell phones and its up to me to steer away from the approaching packs of 6 or 7 dogs.I used an agency at one point for individual walks and that was fine . I think the pack walks are a nuisance and encourage aggression and I think the apps are a gamble and judging by the flyers many owners lose out.There are plenty of individuals who can walk dogs and they will come for interviews there is no reason to go out in a pack .Many of my neighbors use the pack and you can’t convince them not to -they feel it is socialization for a dog left at home all day.I just think the same person coming at a set time every day is the way to go not packs of dogs or unknown strangers.
This is a totally insane idea. Uber for dogs? That alone should raise a huge red flag. Uber and Lyft have a terrible reputation and to be compared to them is NOT A GOOD THING!. Their are certainly good dog walkers out there but they are not employed by dog walker companies who keep a large percentage of the fee and do nothing at all to earn or deserve it.
Ex Uber Driver
I’ve used a number of dog walkers over the years, all of whom were quite good with one exception. My current one came from Rover: she’s excellent with my dogs, her rates are very reasonable, and my dog’s love her. For me where I find one is less important than the following: 1) do a one-on-one interview so you can find out their qualifications. Equally important, though, is how they introduce themselves to your dogs, how they interact with them, etc. 2) Ask them to walk your dogs up and down your street. Don’t go with them, just observe them from your house—you’ll learn a lot! 3) give them clear expectations and rules. 4) Train your dogs! You’ll never. Keep a walker if your dog’s obnoxious on a leash, and it won’t be safe for you or your dogs. 5) TRUST YOUR JUDGMENT! If something feels off it probably is. I ignored this once and the result was disastrous! Hope this is helpful.
Get referrals from dog friends if possible. Nine months in advance I planned a 14 day trip, asked around, got names and met with 2-3 candidates, selected my favorite and started the “interview process: Dog&I met walker away from home. Dog&I met walker with another client dog at the local dog park & watched him interact with his, mine and others. Invited walker to the house as a guest. Walked through our – expected – routines , pills, chows, treats, etc. Dog&I& walker took the dog for a short walk, then walker took the dog alone. One more home visit without providing keys – I left home, walker let himself in, took dog for a short walk, I returned and we discussed experiences to clarify. Critical for success: this is Walker’s job, I respect his time and efforts. I PAID him! Results: relaxed old dog, happy to see me, but not stressed. To keep up communication and contact, I have walker come about every other week for an outing. New young reactive dog; similar routine, had walker attend sessions with the trainer. Need: find and repeat with at least one other person for back-up for each other. Happy Dog! Happy humans.
I would like to respond as someone who did sign up to be a dog walker. They have a questionnaire to complete with a quiz and have to give references. The more the better, but that is the only screening process. Never speak to anyone. I walked 5 dogs and all were challenging, luckily I have a background with dogs as I owned a groom salon and am now a canine massage practitioner. After 5 I quit responding to my app and they never once asked me why. I found the reliance on the app over any personal contact to not be acceptable to me. I felt I had experience but even then, you had to accept a walk before you could even read notes from other walkers on behavior to allow you to chose. Ended up not being something I wanted to do and would not use to have my dog walked to be honest.
If possible put in a doggy door to your fenced in back yard
As the owner of a small, local pet sitting & dog walking company, please consider a professional organization such as Pet Sitters International (PSI), or National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS). There is a locator on their respective websites which will direct you to an insured, bonded, and trained sitter in your area. As a Certified Professional Pet Sitter, member of PSI, I try my best to educate people on the difference between professional and hobby sitters. We invest our lives in our client’s pets. Not only their well-being and safety, but that of their homes as well.