How to Find the Best Dog Walker and Dog Trainer
As doting pet paw-rents, we want the best for our furry friends. We want them to eat the healthiest food, have the cutest and most functional dog booties on the market, and be as happy as they can be. And when it comes to hiring a walker or trainer for your dog, you naturally want to find the best one out there. We can help you with that!
Whether you’re looking for someone to explore the neighborhood with your pup or help them brush up on their skills, here are some keys to keep in mind:
Decide what you’re looking for
Before you even begin your research, it’s best to write down (or at least think about) exactly what you’re searching for in a dog walker or trainer. Ask yourself questions like:
- What training goals am I trying to achieve? Do I want my dog to simply learn some basic obedience, or do they need more in-depth help with a behavior challenge like leash reactivity, resource guarding or fear of strangers?
- Do I want solo attention or for my pup to be part of a pack? Do I prefer group training classes or private training sessions?
- Am I looking for someone who just walks my dog when I occasionally have to work late in the office, or do I want a dedicated professional who can commit to visiting your pup on a daily basis?
Knowing exactly what your goals and expectations are before setting out on your search will help you quickly narrow down who will be the best fit for both you and your dog.
Ask for recommendations
Not sure where to start on your hunt for the perfect dog walker or trainer? Look no further than your inner circle! Consult family, friends and fellow pet paw-rents you know to see if they have any recommendations for top-quality candidates. If they’re unable to provide you with a few suggestions, you can also check in with your veterinarian, groomer, favorite pet store owner or even a local animal shelter, as they’re likely to have a list of vetted service providers they can share with you.
If your network doesn’t know someone who does the trick, the next step is to Google dog walkers or trainers in your area to see which companies and trainers have good reviews online. For dog walkers, you can also consider using a national company like Wag or Rover to gain access to their database of dog walkers in your city or neighborhood.
Keep it positive
This is especially important when searching for a dog trainer. Ideally, you want to look for a trainer who uses a positive-reinforcement training method, in which they reward “good” behavior with tasty treats, a fun toy or lots of praise, and they don’t punish your dog for “bad” behavior. Positive reinforcement helps to build trust and a strong bond between a dog and their trainer, and makes it much more likely that your dog will look forward to training rather than dreading or being fearful of it. You should always avoid trainers who use punishment or punitive teaching methods.
Conduct an in-person (and in-puppy) interview
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a few promising candidates, go the extra mile by opting for an in-person interview. This way, both you and your dog can meet the walker or trainer prior to making a final decision, and you can witness firsthand how they interact with your pup. For example, if your dog is shy or reactive to strangers, it’s insightful to see how the trainer or walker responds to this behavior--do they try to approach your dog head-on despite his discomfort, or do they give your pup the time and space he needs to come out of his shell? It’s important that Fido feels comfortable with the person caring for and training him; be sure to trust your gut and your dog’s reaction, and don’t be afraid to ask for a second meeting if your dog doesn’t warm up during the first meeting or you’re still having some doubts.
When conducting an interview, there are some baseline questions you should be sure to ask both dog walkers and trainers, including:
- What’s your background and experience? How long have you been dog walking or training?
- Do you have experience with dogs who have similar needs and behaviors as mine?
- What are your rates and cancellation policies?
- Do you have liability insurance? (This helps cover off on any accidents that might happen during a walk or training session. It’s important to clarify who would pay any necessary vet bills if your dog gets injured under their care.)
For dog walkers, you should also ask questions like:
- Where do you plan to walk my dog?
- How long will you spend with my dog each visit?
- How much advance notice will you provide if you need to cancel your visit?
For dog trainers, make sure to ask the following questions:
- Do you have professional certifications? (Although a trainer who is certified by an organization such as the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers is a plus, it’s not an absolute requirement.)
- Where will training sessions take place?
- Will you be training my dog yourself, or will you be teaching me how to train them?
When it comes to trainers, keep in mind that in most circumstances, you’re actually the one who’s being trained (and then passing that knowledge along to your dog). So while it’s important that your pup feels comfortable around the trainer, make sure you’re comfortable with their communication style and teaching approach, too.
During your interview, it’s crucial that you’re upfront and honest about your dog’s personality, medical needs and any behavior quirks. It’s important that your dog walker or trainer has the skills necessary to handle your dog safely and compassionately, so don’t try to gloss over any behavioral challenges your dog may present. It’s better to potentially “scare off” a candidate who wouldn’t be a good fit after all than to sugarcoat your pup’s quirks and get both your dog and their walker into a situation they’re unable to handle.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to go on a trial walk with any dog walking candidates to see for yourself how they handle your dog, and that they’re comfortable with the size and behaviors your dog might display. If interviewing a trainer, try sitting in on a group training session (or private session, if possible) to watch the trainer in action and get a better grasp of their training style. And don’t forget to ask for--and check--references, so you can hear feedback directly from other clients before hiring the perfect candidate.