Clients and friends have told me that they’ve found it tough to know exactly what questions to ask, when looking for a good dog walker, or home boarder. So, I thought it might be helpful to write my list of suggestions to help good, dog-loving people with their research! Here’s what I’d want to see and know when finding care for my beloved dogs. Because, sadly, Doggy Ofsted still doesn’t really exist. One day, fingers crossed. Anyway, here’s my hopefully helpful guide. Whether you sign up with me or not, as a new client, I hope you find it useful. It isn’t exhaustive. Anyone who knows me will know that I can jaw on for hours and hours about what I think is good dog care, but here I hope I’ve at least covered the key points. Do email me if you have any suggestions on what I should include or just feedback in general: firstname.lastname@example.org: very happy to hear from you!
1. For dog boarding – please make sure they are a properly licensed business. They should all have a licence from Portsmouth City Council which will state the number of dogs they are permitted to board. It is a legal requirement. Good, reputable businesses will offer to show you this, or have it framed on the wall. Check it is in date. Any queries or worries, ring Debra Jones, at PCC, Environmental Health Department. Don’t hesitate – you will be doing all the dogs in this city a favour! You are a hero to the dogs of Pompey!
2. For dog boarding and daily walkies – please make sure the business is properly insured – a ‘Pet Sitters and Walkers’ policy giving cover for Public Liability, Care, Custody and Control of Animals, including Custodial Responsibility. Most serious businesses will also have cover for ‘Employer’s Liability’ and ‘Professional Indemnity Extension.’ as well as theft or loss of keys. Again, good businesses will show you this without asking, but ask if they don’t, please!
3. Transportation. Walking or boarding, your dog is probably going to be transported by car or van. I would ask about safety in transit. It is a legal requirement for all dog owners that dogs are restrained whilst travelling in a vehicle. This can be simply through canine seat belt harnesses (which click in to ordinary seat belt anchors) or dogs behind a securely fitted ‘dog guard’ in a car. Ideally, in my view, a vehicle which has been converted into crates, or had crates fitted is the best bet in terms of safety. In transit, you don’t want your dogs to have too much freedom of movement as (god forbid) it can significantly worsen impact injuries. Individual or divided crates also prevent squabbles with other dogs in transit. Some vans have ‘Standing Space’ for Giant Breeds, that’s also good, as the standing giant will have his/her lead affixed and not be crammed into a crate.
4. Canine First Aid. Has the carer/walker attended a course specifically in Canine First Aid? Ask a few ‘What would do you if…?’ questions. Do they have a dedicated dog first aid kit in their house and in their van/car? Ask to see it. Do they have their own vet ‘on call’ and who is supportive of the business? It might be helpful to ask them to describe any medical emergency incidents they have had and dealt with, just to give you an example of their capabilities.
5. Walkies. Again, expect to meet your walker, preferably outdoors whilst they are on a walk! Do the walkers carry fresh water and bowls? What do walkers do, if a dog becomes ill or injured during a walk? Have you had a talk about emergency veterinary care, if it’s needed? What if there’s a dog fight – how will your walker deal with it? What strategies have they got in place for preventing a fight in the first place, or breaking it up quickly and dealing with the possible consequences? Where are the dogs walked? Personally, I do not approve of ‘road walks’ on the pavement on busy highways for ‘pack walks of multiple dogs’ as I think there are far too many hazards a dog can encounter and too many triggers for behaviour problems – like fear of traffic, lunging at buses or bin lorries, etc, But in the case of this, see point below about staff’s level of experience/qualifications. What is the ratio of dog handlers to dogs? Perhaps, most importantly, what is their staff’s experience with dogs? It’s a huge misconception that anyone who likes dogs, has always had pet dogs, etc, can walk a dog or several dogs and everyone will have a nice, safe time. Like us, dogs are complex individuals, each with their own triggers, hang-ups, fears and quirks. I would like my dog walker/carer to be someone with real, demonstrable professional experience of handling dogs. I would want someone with a professional background, a trainer or a behaviourist, or someone who belongs to an organization, maybe competes seriously in various dog disciplines. There are too many incidents that can ‘crop up’ on a walk. I would want someone who knows exactly what is happening and how to deal with any number of unexpected incidents on a walk. Because, it isn’t ‘just a dog’ – he or she is a member of your family. Having said that, we’re a real ‘Pass it On’ sort of professional community and you will often find us bringing on keen and well-informed, mature trainees. Properly supervised by a professional handler, these women and men do represent the future of the dog care service and bring a great deal of enthusiasm and energy to our businesses.
6. Premises – dog boarding. Always go round and inspect and always bring your own dog/expect a familiarization or perhaps a trial night. I won’t patronize you by detailing at length what I think represents good dog care here because of course, you can use your own eyes. I will just draw your attention to a few issues I’d want to check, like is there a garden/outdoors space – do dogs have regular or free access? Sleeping arrangements. Look for lots of nice, clean water bowls. Look for tons of comfy dog bedding, towels, etc,. If you are shown a huge cupboard of dog treats, shampoos, Kongs and various bits of dog kit, then I think you really have found a proper dog lover! And I firmly believe space is important. They should have enough space to play, to mooch around, to chill out, to stretch. Supervision is important. Please check your dog isn’t crated (apart from overnight), or left alone. What’s the point of paying for care, then? Maybe ask about the house rules – how carers expect dogs to behave and how they (hopefully) train them kindly in the ‘house rules’ if they don’t?
7. The link between prices and quality Please be very careful because, like with everything, you get what you pay for. Your dog’s safety and happiness is crucial and I don’t like to think of corners being cut. As above, ask to see licences, insurance, discuss handler’s experience, qualifications and their staff and don’t be bamboozled by the old-fashioned and totally discredited idea that ‘looking after dogs is easy’ because if it’s being done carefully and safely, it isn’t. It takes a good level of knowledge of many aspects of dog behavior, training, care, safe handling, first aid, etc to be a really good and safe dog handler.
Good luck and all the best. My final point is just to shop around and find the person and the place you are most comfortable with when it comes to looking after your dog.