Dog walking: Not as easy as it looks

Lindsay Warburton grasps seven leashes in her clenched fists. The dogs are pulling wildly, urging her to speed up. Suddenly, one dog stops abruptly to do his business on the city lawn.

A man rushes out of his house and yells at her and the dog.

“Sorry, I won’t come on your lawn again,” she says and pulls the dogs to continue their walk.

That’s the way it used to be when Lindsay Warburton walked dogs. Today, she works at Dogeden, a daycare for dogs. She knew she wasn’t in the wrong, in that situation, but sensed there was a more professional way to handle the dogs around their neighbours.

“You’ve just got to be nice to them and show your professionalism and just kind of swallow your pride,” she said.

Dogeden is a daycare centre for dogs, that also provides dog grooming and dog walking services. Jennifer Brunke opened Dogeden at a farmhouse in Stouffville, Ont., in 1997. She has since moved her business to Markham, Ont. Brunke has loved animals ever since she was a little girl. When her family didn’t have the Internet, she used an encyclopedia. She had the C, D and H pages memorized because they had information on cats, dogs and horses. Brunke said that training a new dog walker is one of the many things she does and takes a long time.

Brunke puts an employee to work in the daycare first, to gain. Each employee has a three-month probation period, then they’re good to go.

“You have to have a valid driver’s licence and you also need to have a pretty good working knowledge of the Markham area,” Brunke said because the walker needs to drive to each client’s house to pick up the dogs. “You also have to have very good organizational skills because it’s not the same dogs every day.”

The walking routes for dog walkers change every day. They have to look at what dogs they’re walking that day and devise the most efficient route. Brunke currently has two dog walkers and they work in different areas of Markham East and West.

“Our East person, depending on what dogs they’re walking, they want to find the most efficient route so that they are no spending extra gas money and time,” Brunke said.

A dog walker also needs to choose which dogs should walk in a group and which ones should walk alone, Brunke said. Dogs that are geriatric or are too young need to be walked alone or take a short pee break. The dog walker needs to be very organized or everything will end badly.

“That’s where a lot of the organizational skills come into play,” Brunke said. “You have to have a very up-to-date calendar and if you’re not organized, then it falls apart pretty quickly.”

Deanne Smith, a veterinary technician at Bridle Trail Veterinary Clinic in Markham, thinks training dog walkers before they go out on their own is important. She said they need to be able to see the body language and signs that the dog gives them. If a dog becomes aggressive, for example, its tail will become stiff and nose will be wrinkled, and if the dog is stressed, its body and tail will go down.

“You have to watch for signs because not every dog is going to be that happy and healthy,” Smith said. “In the summertime, it’s very important for dog walkers to know the general basics of body language.”

Smith added that dog walkers also help break up the dog’s day, especially if it’s alone. She said that dogs are also a lot happier after they receive exercise and socialize with other dogs.

Brunke said that dog walkers also need to conduct interviews with their clients so that they know what kind of person is walking their dog. Dog walkers try to sell their abilities by answering as many questions as clients have.

“You want to have a good feeling and ask them (the dog walker) a lot of questions because they have a key to your house and they’re going to be alone with your dog,” Brunke said.

Warburton has learned many things from being a dog walker. She has always thought that being with dogs was what she was born to do.

“It’s always reassuring to know that I can help a dog that is clearly untrained and off-the-walls, and I can do something about it,” Warburton said.