As I have been in the industry for over a decade now I thought that information was needed to warn pet owners of what to look for in a pet professional. Having had practical experience in the industry and a behaviour and welfare degree I have a vast amount of experience and knowledge surrounding dog walkers and pet sitters. One of the first things you need to know is the law!
Under the animal welfare act and control of dogs order the owner or keeper is responsible for the dog, this means that as a professional walker any actions of the dog in your care are your responsibility. It is your legal responsibility to ensure that each dog is under control at all times as you may be held criminally liable if not.
- Animal welfare Act 2006
- Control of dogs order 1992
- Countryside rights of way Act 2000
- Dangerous dogs act 1991
- The dangerous dogs (amendment) 1997
- Dog fouling (fouling of land) Act 1996
- Dog fouling lean neighbourhoods and environment act 2005
- Dogs protection of livestock 1953
- Microchipping of dogs regulations 2015
- Natural areas of beauty (it is against the law to use these spaces for commercial purposes this includes dog walkers)
- DEFRA guidelines (welfare of animals/ protection of animals during transport)
Your walker or care provider should know understand and abide by the above laws at all times. In October 2018 a new animal activities law will be implemented which means that all day care premises require a licence to look after animals. Check that your provider has a licence; you can obtain the information directly from the provider or by speaking to your local council that deals with licencing. Without a licence the providers insurance is invalid.
National Occupational Standards
National occupational standards are used in every part of the UK and are underpinned by law, designed to help describe the performance required from an individual, these are approved and agreed by employers and industry professionals so always worth considering. A few of the NOS relevant to walkers would be:
- LANANC72 Provide dog walking services
- LANCTB2 Handle and control dogs
- SFJZJ1 Maintain health and safety for dogs
There are more that are relevant, these standards are good for codes of practice for each company and will certainly give you information of what your provider needs to be doing to maintain a certain standard.
- Third party liability should be carried alongside care custody and control
- Insurance to cover holding keys
- Insurance to cover care custody and control of the dogs
- Professional indemnity insurance should be held by the company or walker
- Walkers should walk only the number of dogs specified on their insurance document or as advised by the local authority (normally 6 per person)
- All walkers and companies should have an incident reporting procedure
- Dogs must be on leads o public highways even if owner has specified the dog is allowed off lead
- Dogs should be walked in accordance to local council byelaws
- Dogs must have a tag or collar with the walkers details clearly displayed whilst out walking regardless if they are on or off lead as well as the owners own tag and details
- If a dog gets lost the walker must inform the dog warden and the owner of the dog immediately
- Walkers must ensure dogs are never left unattended in public places
All of the above will form a nice question base for your chosen professional; you should arrange to meet with them prior to any bookings and at this time you can ask for relevant documentation and information.
Treating the dogs as individuals
Every dog is an individual and therefore you need to make sure that your provider is catering for these individual needs things like Condition / health / age / weight/ behavioural issue and personalities all need to be considered by your professional and if these things are not ask yourself why?
- Meet and greet: induction to be carried out for all animals prior to any walks, visits or sitting
- Medical issues and vets listed at the induction
- Behaviour (fear/ anxiety/ aggression) these cases need to be walked solo or alongside a behavioural modification programme drawn up by a full qualified behaviourist
- Muzzles and protective equipment should be used where needed walkers should have access these at all times just in case.
- Per first aid certificate should be carried by each walker
- Basic animal husbandry course should be obtained by each walker
- Basic behaviour knowledge should be obtained by each walker
- CPD should be carried out each year
- Companies should be responsible to ensure staff are appropriately trained
- Companies should ensure they comply with health and safety laws
Dog walking professionally is not an easy job; it can be very demanding trying to get it right, walkers and sitters should attend regular CPD to improve their practice annually. Ask your provider what qualifications and experience they have had.
Transport is used in the industry and can be a great way to add variety for the dogs walked, however transport is often overlooked in the industry, it is an offence to have a dog in your vehicle that’s distracting all dogs should be transported in a safe manner. Temperatures should be monitored in both hot and cold days.
- Adequate ventilation (specify what this means as some people may think leaving a window open on a hot summers day is sufficient recommendations for electric cooling fans, cooling mats, showers to hose dogs down before and after walks and cooling coats work really well).
- Water should be carried by the dog walker at all times and a travel foldable bowl is recommended.
- Commercial vehicle insurance if someone is driving a van with sign writing on it they must carry commercial vehicle insurance which states they are covered for carriage of dogs. Standard business insurance generally does not cover for companies with signed up commercial vehicles.
- Suitable caging or containment to ensure comfortable and safe transport, by this I mean separate cages or crates for each dog with a comfy bedding so that each dog can feel relaxed and comfortable during transportation.
- Leads and chains should be avoided to restrain during transit as this can cause injury and is not sufficiently safe.
- Dogs should not be left for lengthy period unattended in vehicles, for example no dogs should be left in a vehicle whilst another walk is being carried out. Some walkers collect a large amount of dogs and then arrive at a location and split the numbers into two groups leaving one group in a van behind.
- All vehicles should be cleaned using animal safe disinfectant to prevent any disease spread and allergic reactions.
Other vehicle recommendations:
Safes in vehicle should be provided to store customer keys whilst out walking
Trackers and cameras in vehicles for safety of both dog and walker
Dogs that are unwell should not be put into the vehicle or exercised to prevent the risk of spread to other dogs unless they have suitable provision to prevent disease spread (so they cannot exercise but should not go into the vehicle either)
Walking in practice
- Your provider should select walking locations that are away from main roads, safe for unloading and they should keep the dogs on a lead in any car parks.
- Equipment and use of equipment should be for the benefit of the individual dog none of which should cause anxiety, distress or suffering
- Behaviour modification should be implemented via a qualified behaviourist
- Training methods should be kind and not cause fear and distress
- Full attention should be given to the dogs during their walks at all times
- Dogs must not be off lead unless there is written permission from the owners and it is safe to do so
- Dogs that are off lead must have a good recall
- When dogs are kept on a lead the Lead should be held in a secure manner (multi leads/ flexi leads should be avoided)
- Bitches in season should not be walked in parks where there are other dogs and should not be in groups of dogs
- Fresh water should be carried at all times
- Stimulation should be provided during walks and visits with brain games and scent work tasks.
- Treats will help for control of groups of dogs during walks and will help to train recall to walkers, some dogs may have allergies so the provider should check that your dog can have treats. Balls and toys should be used with caution to prevent any friction amongst groups of dogs that are not living together
- Your provider should use longlines to allow freedom for dogs that cannot go off lead; these should be used with a shock absorber to prevent injuries to both dog and walker.
- Each group should be matched by your walker with age, behaviour, personality and fitness at the forefront.
- Your walker should know and understand signs of disease and in case of an outbreak be able to separate if needed.
- All dogs should be vaccinated wormed and de-flea (conventional or natural) unless they have certified exempt certificate and your provider should check this during a meet and greet.
- Ask what the maximum number of dogs that your provider walks at one time.
- Check that your provider carries sufficient amounts of poo bags treats and leads for each of the dogs walked.
A great hint for this would be for you to find out where your provider walks and try to watch them whilst they are working or ask if you could join them for an introduction walk prior to the first walk.
Ask what your provider has in place in case of emergency, things to think about:
Does your provider have trackers and/or cameras in vans and on the provider’s body?
Does your provider carry a Mobile phone at all times?
Does your provider carry emergency contact details for owners at all times?
Does your provider carry a First aid kit?
What are the procedures in emergency situations?
If you have a question about something that we haven’t covered here, please do feel free to get in touch, we are more than happy to help.