Who's Walking the Dog?

By Linda McVay CCS CDW

What a lovely walk.
A beautiful walk in West Seattle left us asking, “Who is walking the dog?”

This summer my husband and I discovered that Seattle has hidden parks everywhere and wonderful places to “get away” from the city embedded right in the heart of the city itself. One such place is Westcrest Park, located in West Seattle at 9000 8th Ave. S.W., it consists of 81.8 acres. This includes over four miles of walking trails, play equipment for the kiddies, and an off-leash dog park. The dog park has to have one of the best views of the city available anywhere. Another plus for Westcrest is that it abuts the Duwamish River Greenbelt. The D.R.G. has many miles of trails that offer a wonderful variety of heavily wooded walks from gently rolling hikes to fairly intense rises in elevation that will have your pulse racing.

We enjoyed our walk immensely… until we got in the car and started to drive away. That’s when we heard a dog scream. We pinpointed the location of the scream and watched a pair of dog walkers loading a Subaru Outback station wagon with their furry charges. I stared in disbelief as the two women grabbed a small terrier, lifted it off the ground by the collar and literally tossed it into back of the car. They continued to deliver each one of the dogs into the car in exactly the same fashion, no matter the weight or size of the dog and regardless of the type of collar the dog was wearing. The last dog was a little Pit who was clearly frightened of entering or approaching the car. This lovely dog was cowering and backing away to the end of her leash while the woman handling her was getting visibly more upset that the dog wouldn’t approach the car. Amid verbal railing, she tightened her hold on the leash until the dog's front feet were slightly off the ground and then moved behind the dog and kept tension on the leash as she placed her knees in the center of the dog's back and used her body weight to push the dog toward the car. The more the woman pushed, the more the dog resisted. When woman and dog finally got close enough to car, she jerked the dog up by the leash until the pup was completely off the ground and tossed the flailing dog into the car. This dog weighed at least 40 pounds, so the pressure on the dog's throat must have been painful at the very least. This whole scene took maybe 3 minutes to play out, but the repercussions of such harsh treatment could affect these dogs for the rest of their lives.

Association is such a powerful learning mechanism in dogs that one or two events like the one I’ve described could leave lasting psychological damage that manifests itself in behavioral changes which the client is then stuck to “fix.” I’m utterly certain that the owners of these dogs have no idea that their beloved pets are being treated in this abusive way. These clients all wanted the very best for their dogs or they would not have gone to the trouble and expense of hiring a dog walker.

Some would argue that this incident was perhaps just someone having a bad day. I too have bad days, as do you. But, how long would you keep your job if your “bad day” translated to you abusing your co-workers? I have known dog walkers, and indeed have been one myself, who are kind, caring, qualified, and well suited to the difficult task of managing a group of dogs in a highly exciting environment. A skilled dog walker is a true marvel to watch; they can make handling a group of dogs look effortless. I have also seen the exact opposite -- too many dogs, no control, and inappropriate or mean responses to normal dog behaviors.

This is the second part of Chapter Two, Who's Walking the Dog?

“Are you going to be the one always walking my dog?”
If the answer is no, I would insist on meeting any other person who will be responsible for walks.

“Do you have an established relationship with a veterinarian in the area?”
“Is that vet willing to recommend you?”

Take the time to phone or email any references that you are given.

“What are your rates and business practices?”
“Will my dog get walked even if the weather is rainy, cold and wet?”
“Is your rate structure fixed or seasonal?”
“Do you have a flexible “sick” day policy?”

Knowing the cost of any service provided is important for your peace of mind as well as the family budget.

“Do you offer any other type of service?”
“Pet sitting or multiple daily visits?”
“Pet taxi?”
“Do you administer medication?”

This last question is one that those of us with young dogs may forget to ask, but dogs age and, like us, their needs can change.

Asking questions and going through the process of interviewing a prospective dog walker can be hard for a lot of us but it is important to give some thought and care to the person who is walking such an important family member. I would also take the extra step of shadowing my dog walker at least once to see how they handle the common events that pop up during an average walk.

Once you have decided on your dog walker, check in on a regular basis and keep the lines of communication open. If you notice a change in your dog's behavior you should feel comfortable calling during your walker's phone hours to discuss your observations and concerns.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge that UCLA Dogs is an official satellite of dogTEC’s, Dog Walker Academy. We have wonderful clients and one of the most frequently asked questions has been, “Who do you recommend to walk my dog?” This question prompted Andrea and me to attend the DWA in San Francisco and after passing our exams we became Certified Dog Walkers. We were impressed by the depth of knowledge that was conveyed to the students by Veronica Boutelle and Kim Moller and unbelievably excited to be chosen to teach the DWA here in Seattle. We are one of only two satellites in the country. Our ultimate goal is to be able to say with confidence and assurance that, “Yes, we know a great dog walker and here is their information.”