When Kenny Lamberti hired a dog walker to care for his 14-year-old terrier mix, Rubin, during his office days in Washington, D.C., he knew immediately that he’d made the right choice. Not only was the new walker highly attentive to his dog, quick to respond when Lamberti reached out, and respectful of his home (hanging up leashes neatly, wiping up paw prints on muddy days), but she also met the most important criterion.
“When I’d come home to him,” says Lamberti, the acting VP of Companion Animals at the Humane Society of the United States, “I could tell without a doubt that he was happy.”
If, like many dog owners, you consider your dog an integral part of your family, finding the right walker isn’t always easy. So to help you screen potential candidates, here are five questions that, according to pet-care experts, will help ensure that your pooch is getting the best possible care.
1. May I contact a few of your other clients?
A reputable dog walker—whether part of a service or a solo operator—should have no problem sharing his or her references. Reading online reviews of walkers can help, but, Lamberti cautions, those aren’t nearly as reliable as personal testimonials from other dog owners, who can answer specific questions about the walker.
2. When can you have an introductory meeting with my dog?
According to Yvette Gonzales, a veteran dog walker as well as president of the New Jersey-based National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, a meet-and-greet with a potential new dog walker is an absolute must. In fact, such a meeting—which will let you observe the walker’s interaction with your dog, as well as describe your dog’s specific needs—should be insisted upon by the walker. “If the pet sitter doesn’t require one,” says Gonzales, “that should be a red flag to the pet parent.”
Since dog walkers tend to have regular routines—such as walk times, routes and protocols—you’ll need to assess whether they’re right for your dog. Among the details you should cover, says Ashley Morgereth, who owns the Frederick, Md.-based dog-walking service Ready Pet Go: Will my dog be walked alone or with other dogs? How long and strenuous will the walks be? What sort of leash or harness will you use on my dog? And how will you handle my dog’s care on bad-weather days?
4. What would you do in the case of an emergency?
In the unlikely, terrible event that something happens while your pooch is in the care of your walker—say, an injury or a bite from another dog—the walker should be able to articulate a clear and appropriate plan for getting your pet to the nearest animal hospital and contacting both you and your dog’s vet. Some dog-walking organizations, says Gonzales (including hers), are insured and bonded to cover certain accidents; others require their walkers to get certification in basic veterinary first aid. If these are issues of concern to you, ask to see credentials.
A good dog walker, says Lamberti, will touch base with you each time your dog is in his or her care. Some services use online portals to log daily walks, where you can check on your dog’s activity. Other walkers may want to leave a note at your house after each visit, to assure you they were there. But most, these days, will prefer to text you each time your dog has been returned home. “My walker goes beyond the call,” says Lamberti. “She sends me pictures. That lets me know my dog is special to her—just like he is to me.”
Now that you have a walker, get additional peace of mind with pet insurance through the GEICO Insurance.
Next: Here’s how to pet-proof your place in a weekend.