Saturday, 28 May 2011

Multi-dog walks - good or bad?

Avoid walkers who take out multiple dogs at the same time. IMO they care more about the cash than the dog's welfare.

 I saw this comment on a message board, where someone was asking the legalities of a dog walker taking out their dog aggressive dog. For the legal side, Trevor Cooper is your main man, and that is not what I am here to discuss. For dogs who are aggressive to others, that is also not my main concern. I'd like to talk about walking more than one dog at a time.

I often get told 'that's a handful you've got there' when I'm walking a small group of dogs - my idea of a small group may be your idea of a large pack of dogs. I am insured to walk up to six dogs at a time, but rarely walk this many on my own. I prefer a ratio of one handler per four dogs, which some still feel is a large group.

Let me explain. I have seen owners who cannot control their ONE dog. It's off the lead, running around 'being friendly' but really barging up to people and dogs alike, regardless of the welcome it might get. The owner calls it back, and it ignores the calls. Finally the owner comes over to get it, or they walk on, leaving the dog to rejoin them when the dog feels the owner is far enough away to want to close the gap (I call this the critical distance). I have also seen dogs straining and pulling on the lead as they want to come over to my group, while the owner has to drag them along to get them moving. Who really has the 'handful'?

I posted the comment (protecting the writer's identity) onto Twitter, here are some of the response I got, mainly from other dog walkers and dog trainers, so if you're a dog owner I'd love to hear your views too!

I wouldn't want multi-dogs for my dog. 1 person, 10 dogs. How does 1 person handle unexpected safely w/ 40 dog paws in mix? And the ones who unload a truckfull @ the off-leash park? Yeah. I think those are more profit, less welfare. Caninestein
 Quite agree especially when they have a large pack off lead! Once saw 1 person with 11 dogs most off lead. WagtimeUK
Lots of people round here up 7-10 dogs stick em in a van drive to the park and open the doors and let them run. we do 1-2-1 unless the owner wants them walked with another dog never more than 4. hard to control and dogs don't get enough attention. PlatinumPetcare

This really is a ridiculous amount of dogs for one person to be walking, and does seem like profit before welfare. How can you watch the dogs when you're picking up the dog poo? How can you carry that many bags, all the leads and still be in control of the dogs? What happens if one dog puts their foot down a rabbit hole and sprains an ankle?

Totally disagree - I take a group out in which all dogs are vetted and introduced carefully. It allows owners to pick the time best for them (normally lunchtime) which means dogs are not left for too long either side. PoochesGalore
 I still prefer 1 on 1 (w/ bonus of training while walking), but might consider skillful walker with, maybe 4 max. Caninestein
I think it depends on the walker and what dogs they have. When I walk big dogs that pull I only walk 1 or 2, but if I have dogs that are well behaved & don't pull & have good recall then I walk 3 or 4. Depends on what owners want as well. Born2RunPetCare
Our walker takes our 2 out with max 2 others - have no prob. with that - would worry about many more... ttouchtrainer
When they say "multiple" what kind of numbers are they talking about? I only take 4-5.insured for 6 but feel safe with max 5. misstew
 This last one is the point I feel - how many dogs is safe to walk, what is considered 'multiple'? I felt defensive when I saw the comment on the message board, as the dogs I walk are all trained in recall, they all know what No means, and if I say 'Wait' they stop walking. Equally, if I stop walking to collect a dog poo, so do all the dogs! Some dogs are less speedy at obeying than others, but if they are having a mad five minutes, there's always the lead. Making sure there are only 4 dogs or less per person means it's a reasonable number to walk on leads together. But it appears there are still dog walkers out there who feel that 10 is a good number to walk - I once saw two walkers taking 13 dogs out... On a Wednesday I have 8 dogs on my lunchtime walk - my assistant takes 4, and I take 4! Occasionally we will walk them all together, but Will takes 2 or 3 on lead, and be ready to jump in with another, while I'm supervising and playing with the other dogs.

Also it should be remembered that most dog walkers are experienced in walking multiple dogs, so they don't wander along with phone in hand, MP3 player stuck in ears, or chatting with friends as I've seen so many owners with their ONE dog doing - the dog gets no interaction from the owner so has to make its own amusement.

My one exception to my 1-4 rule is when I have one or more of my dogs with me. They not only have an instant, emergency recall, but a 'walking recall' which means when called back they stay with me until released. This means I can safely 'ignore' them, because once called back I know they'll stay and I can concentrate on any slower dogs.

The general consensus seems to be that very small groups, of 4 or less, is a number the walker can safely deal with, and still be in control. So when you see a walker with more dogs than this, think to yourself, what is their motivation? It is true this is not only a vocation for some of us, but it also has to pay the rent. That's not to say money comes first, but we have to make a living, while ensuring the safety and welfare of each of the dogs in our care. Four seems to be a reasonable number to allow both of these things to happen, while keeping fees affordable for all the lovely dog owners out there. The alternative, thousands of dogs left alone for 8 or 9 hours a day, is just too sad.

Crazy isn't it? Good dog walkers are worth their weight in gold!! WagtimeUK
 Related blog posts:

10 tips to find a GREAT dog walker

How do you tell the great from the mediocre? How can you make sure the person you find will work day in, day out, no matter what the weather and really care for your dog the way you do?

Finding a dog walker is easy. Check any online free ad site or pet directory and there will be plenty there, or ask your friends and family. A visit to your vet or local pet shop as well should mean you now have a list of dog walkers who cover your area

My top ten of things to look out for should make your life easier and your dog’s life more fulfilling.
  1. Love – do they love dogs? Will they kneel in the mud to check a sore paw? Will they not mind too much if their leg is mistaken for a lamppost? Great dog walkers do the job because they enjoy spending time with dogs and can’t help falling in love with each of them.
  2. ‘Can do’ attitude – dog walkers are there to make your life easier, to help you take care of your best friend, so you need someone who will work hard to make it happen for you. Need to change something? Dog not well and you want an update, a bandage rewrapped or medication given? You want to hear ‘yes’ and know it’s taken care of. If they really can’t help this time, you need to know that too.
  3. Safety & security– your walker should know how many dogs they can safely handle, both walking and in a vehicle. Is your key kept safe and your house locked up securely each time? For multiple pickups the van should be secured each and every time it is left.
  4. Paperwork – there is no national regulation for dog walkers but a great dog walker will be insured, as well as registered as a proper business or self-employment. If they take dogs in overnight and charge a fee they need a boarding licence. If they tell you they don’t, check with the licensing department of your local council, and if their insurance company covers them without a licence.
  5. Knowledge – A great dog walker will have great local knowledge. They’ll know all the great places to walk your dog and what bylaws or dog control orders may be in force (and obey them) , and will hold a Canine First Aid certificate. If your breed of dog is new to them, they’ll want to read up on it to do the best for your dog.
  6. Experience – everybody has to start somewhere, but have they ever owned a dog? A great dog walker will start small and build up as they gain experience. If their own dog never listens to them how will they manage your dog? A great dog walker will live with great dogs.
  7. Understanding – you are only human and might sometimes forget to book or cancel on time. Sometimes you need someone to talk to about your dog, or have what you might fear is a silly question. A great dog walker won’t mind if you text at 10pm because you’re worried about your dog and don’t know who else to turn to.
  8. Focus – are they concentrating on and committed to the dogs in their care, or doing something else such as chatting on the phone? Is this something they do for a living, or are they waiting for something better to come along? A great dog walker will see their work as a vocation.
  9. Value for money – are they offering a deal that seems too good to be true? They may be cutting corners or trying to undercut other walkers. A dog walker who is too cheap may walk lots of dogs at once, cut walks short, or give up unexpectedly when something better comes their way. Equally if they are charging a great deal more than other local dogs walkers, do they really offer a superior service, or are they more interested in the money?
  10. Reliability – Do they turn up when they say they will, and walk for as long as you expect? Do they give plenty of notice of time off? Does their vehicle break down on a regular basis? A great dog walker will maintain their vehicle well, and not use it as an excuse for a day off.
Every dog walker will have their own style, and only you can decide what is most important to you and your dog. These are the things I’ve found most useful to my customers over the years, so go now and find your great dog walker!