It can be a bit of a mind field understanding the different dog services available these days, especially for a new dog owner. There are so many different services available so here I have explained the difference and what you should be looking for when choosing a service. Anyone that’s looking after your dog for a period of time without you there will have a contract for you to read and sign and their Terms and Conditions.
WALKING When choosing a dog walker this will depend on the type of service that you want. There is a wide variety of services available and choosing the right one for your dog can have a huge impact on their life. It’s important to remember that dog walkers are not trainers and to expect them to rectify any behaviours or lack of training is both unfair on the dog walker and your dog. A dog walkers’ role is to walk your dog. They will make sure your dog is kept safe and happy but to do this effectively it’s of paramount importance that you are totally open and honest about all your dog’s behaviours. With that information, they can decide if they are the right person to walk your dog or in the case of dog walking business where they have a team of walkers, that they supply the right member of staff. Make sure your dog walker is canine first aid trained and ask about their policies and procedures. You should have a contract with them and it’s vitally important they are insured, they can show you a copy of their insurance. Enquire about the group sizes. There is no blanket rule on the number of dogs someone can walk at any one time, each council have their own by-laws which dictate how many dogs can be walked together at any one time. Some parks also have an additional restriction on the ratio of dogs to handler. Check what their insurance covers them for, some insurance companies do insure for larger groups. SOLO WALKING This is a premium service where your dog walks on a 1:1 basis with the dog walker. This is ideal for newly rescued dogs, dogs where you are still learning their behaviours and personality, their likes and dislikes. It’s also ideal for older dogs who like to take their time and perhaps can’t keep up the pace with the younger dogs. Maybe your dog is reactive to other dogs or people; or is a dog in training and maybe your dog walker has agreed to carry on the training that you have started; or puppies who can’t keep pace or are still learning. Some people choose solo dog walking purely for the fact that they want their dog to have some ‘one on one time’, a walk that’s all about them. I have to admit if I was having a dog walker for Sheba, my own dog, I would choose a solo walk. GROUP WALKING Group walking is suitable for dogs who have been socialised. Socialised doesn’t mean they play with all dogs, socialized dogs also know they CAN’T play with every dog. Dogs that have at least minimum training such as walk nicely on a lead, have good recall or can stay on a lead and be happy. Dogs that can ‘leave’ or ‘drop’ on cue; dogs that are able to load into vehicles patiently; dogs that are not reactive, don’t resource guard and are not possessive. Each service provider will vary their rules slightly; these are some of our rules and I know that many other walkers have similar.
SMALL GROUP WALKS At Walkies With Una we have decided that our group walks are now limited to 2 or 3 dogs only, if they are well trained. This is the in-between of a group and a solo walk. The same rules apply as the group walk but instead of your dog being one of a group the dog walker is able to give your dog more attention due to the small group size. It’s important to remember that this does come at a cost as there are less dogs on the walk so you could be asked to pay a price that fits between group and solo walk costs or you could have additional requirements (like we do) such as extended notice for holidays or notice for leaving or pro rata holidays form walks.
DAYCARE Just like every other dog service there are various types on this also They are usually home or commercial premises where the dogs are cared for during the day. It is a legal requirement for any daycare to be licenced by their local council. Should you choose an unlicensed daycare provider, the service provider’s insurance will be void and will therefore not pay out for any claims should one arise. You also put your dog in a precarious situation and have opened them up to a potentially dangerous position. When choosing daycare is it important that you choose what is in your dogs’ best interest, just like every other dog service. The various types of daycare will depend on your own preferences, your dog’s age, abilities and fitness levels. It’s important to remember that daycare is not an alternative to tire your dog instead of you training them. They can be an enriching and fun time for your dog but choosing it as an alternative to training is not fair on your dog, the staff or the other dogs. Any daycare provider, be that a home daycare or a commercial day care (daycare centre) will assess your dog before they join.
HOME DAYCARE A licenced activity in someone’s home. They should be able to show you their licence. They will be able to talk to you about what happens in the case of an emergency or have facilities to deal with separating dogs if need be. Just like dog walkers they will be trained in canine first aid and have appropriate insurance. Ask about what enrichment activities they do such as walks, games, play time. Find out about rest time as this is paramount for all dogs. They will have a limit on the number of dogs which they can have in their homes at any one time, and they may employ staff. For this you will may pay a premium.
DAYCARE CENTRES (COMMERCIAL DAYCARE) These are usually housed in warehouses , barns, kennels or industrial premises that have been converted. More like a big play centre for dogs. They often have large fenced areas for outside play and larger toys for indoor. Make sure they have a good dog to staff ratio, the minimum for their license is 1 staff to 10 dogs. For a higher standard licence it is 1:8. Find out about how they handle situations should they arrive, after all not all dogs will get on just like not all humans like one another. It’s important to remember that a daycare centre is not an alternative to tire your dog instead of you training them. “OUT AND ABOUT” CARE OR ADVENTURE WALKS This type of care does not require a licence. Your dog is usually out for approximately 3 hours although some do offer all day. (if they are offering all day please find out where and how your dog will rest, eat, drink etc..), Your dog will usually be taken with other dogs and explore different parks, forests, fields. As this type of care is not in a building or a fixed address , it is important to consider if your dog is fit enough to handle this level of activity and are they trained to a high enough level to be safe on this kind of activity.
OVERNIGHT PET CARE
HOMEBOARDERS All home boarders require a licence from their council. The licence will state the property and person that is licensed and how many dogs the home boarder can have at one time (and this will include their resident dogs, if any). The home boarder should have experience and, in many cases, an appropriate canine qualification. Like all dog services, ensure your boarder is canine first aid trained and has appropriate policies and procedures in place for all eventualities. Your dog will live in the home with the boarder, they are not allowed to use kennels or outhouses as space or room for the dogs. As with all dog services it’s of paramount importance for you to be open and honest about your dog in order to make sure that the boarder is the right fit for your dog and vice versa. Usually your dog will need to be dog friendly however there are some homeboarders that don’t have their own dogs and will accommodate solo boarding. Any good home boarder will ask you to do a trial visit if they have not cared for your dog before, this can include a trial night. This is often the best choice for puppies, elderly dogs, friendly and trained dogs. There will be daily communication between you and the boarder and updates and photos/videos of your dog.
PET SITTERS A pet sitter is someone who will come into your home and stay overnight with your dog. They do not need a licence but will require appropriate insurance. Like all services, ensure the pet sitter is canine first aid trained and can give you references. Often it is agreed that they may l leave your dog alone during the day at some point as they may have other dogs to walk and visit. Again, this is another premium service, but some dogs prefer to be in their own homes, particularly if elderly or not dog friendly. Sometimes people choose this if they have multiple pets. There will usually be daily communication between you and the sitter and updates on the pets.
KENNELS All kennels require a licence from their council. This is a separate boarding facility where dogs are housed in individual kennels, some are outside and some are in outbuildings. Like all services it is up to you to decide if this is the right facility for your dog. There are some really great kennels and its not just a case of your dog being locked in a kennel and not coming out for the week. Some dogs do better in kennels than in a group setting, but other dogs find the solitude upsetting and will fret. When viewing the kennel be sure to ask lots of question to decide if you think this is the right choice for your dog. Find out about their routine, interaction, stimulation and as always about their licence and insurance. Any good kennels will let you view where your dog will be staying and many provide videos, updates etc.. Some vets offer overnight boarding.
GROOMING Another activity which can leave you wondering what’s best. As with the above it’s your responsibility to make sure your dog is ready to use the service. For example, if you have never brushed your dog correctly or got them used to being handled, it cannot be expected for the groomer to train your dog in this. They will only be able to do their job if you have put in the prep work. It’s vital to remember that you will only ever get the cut that you want if you have maintained a good coat with no matting. Also, that you have conditioned your dog to be groomed. If your dog is restless or reactive to being groomed then you won’t get the style you are looking for so be realistic. There is no point in asking for your shih tzu to be kept in a long coat if you’re not going to keep it maintained. Currently groomers are not licensed or governed so there is the question of qualifications over experience. This is really your own personal choice. You can have a highly qualified groomer who has completed lots of training, but they don’t have experience. Then you have a groomer with 40 years’ experience but no formal qualifications who is able to groom to an extremely high standard. You may have a dog who is fearful of grooming and in that case you probably won’t want a Grooming Salon as they need to have a certain amount of dogs in and out daily. Having a fearful or reactive dog in this situation is probably not the best idea. A home groomer would probably be a better idea here. It’s important to remember with any groomer that you should pay for the extra time spent if they have accommodated behaviours and altered times to make sure your dog has a great groom.
Home groomers A home groomer is someone who comes to your home and will wash your dog in your bath, groom in your home. They will bring their equipment to yours and groom. This is great for dogs who become stressed at the groomers. Some home groomers will be very kind and offer you tips or a quick lesson in maintaining your dogs’ coat.
Grooming Salons A grooming salon will contain anything and everything needed for every type of groom. You can drop your dog off and pick them up when they are ready. It’s important to remember to keep your appointment times as there is nothing worse for a groomer than to have the rest of the day held up because of a late appointment.
Mobile Groomers Usually these will have a large van and park outside your home. They will take your dog into the van to groom.
TRAINERS Think of trainers like teachers. They teach the dog and owner how to communicate and teach commands. Some specialise in a sport that they might compete in or have retired from. Some work purely with rescues, some teach assistance dogs, the list is endless. But a trainer is a teacherThere are various types of trainers. Not only are there many schools of thoughts with training or different theories but different ways for lessons to be delivered. It can seem a minefield. However, if you are putting your dog at the forefront of all decisions you won’t go wrong. If you have someone who is engaging, rewarding, fair and kind you are on the right track. Does my dog look like they are enjoying themselves or do they look bored, emotionless or frightened? Find a trainer who you feel you can be very honest with. Find out their reviews. Do you agree with their ethos? Do you wish to use the methods that they use? Will you put in the time and practice to train? A trainer doesn’t have a magic wand!! I mean we wish we did as it would make lives easier however you MUST put in the training and believe me a trainer will see instantly if you have or not. There is no point in the trainer doing it all for you as you won’t be building the bond with your dog that you need to trust one another and work as a team.
Group classes In a group class sometimes held inside and sometimes outside, you will be looking at the ratio of dogs to teachers. Do you want to be 1 of 10 with one teacher or would you like to pay a bit more and be 1 of 5? Sometimes these groups are a fantastic gateway to meet other dog owners with dogs of a similar age and ability. They can often lead to you getting into other disciplines. Will your dog do well in this setting, or will they disturb the class or become fearful? A group class is not there to socialise your dog. You are there to learn about training.
1;1 Dog Training This although comes at a higher financial cost to you, the benefit is you have the trainer to yourself for the hour or however long you have booked and you alone. You are not sharing their attention with any other dogs in the group. It generally means that the training can be more efficient, easier to get to grips with as it is done in your time rather than a schedule to keep to so the class is not held back. This type of training is tailored to your needs rather than the class.
Behaviourists This can seem like a grey area for someone who’s not dealt with it before. A behaviourist is a step above a trainer. Someone with greater experience and more in depth behaviours. A behaviourist should have particular behavioural qualifications and you will be able to check these out with their education provider, some display certifications on their website. You will find most behaviours that a dog exhibits can be modified through training and you learning how to effectively communicate, train, spend time and manage your dog. A behaviourist however is more like a dog phycologist and a veterinary behaviourist is like a dog psychiatrist. A veterinary behaviourist will have a degree related to veterinary medicine and animal behaviour and can prescribe the right medications to help alongside training and behaviour work. A trainer will often refer to a behaviourist. They will sometimes work together on a dog. The trainer working on things in-between the behaviourist. A good behaviourist will have many connections with vets, trainers, walkers, kennels and so on. A behaviourist has many years of study and delves deeper into the mind of the dog. Why they are behaving as they are. If you are looking for a behaviourist ask your vet, trainer or other canine professional for a referral. Be wary of someone offering to fix a behaviour with no experience of this. Please do not attempt to fix a behaviour by doing something that you have seen on TV, internet or word of mouth. Doing so can have serious repercussion’s and this is how dogs end up losing their lives. Don’t be offended if a pet professional recommends you see a behaviourist. It’s not an insult but a chance for help with something before it develops.
It is your responsibility as an owner to choose the right services for you. What is right for one dog is not right for the next. What is important is that your dog is being treated with kindness, compassion and professionally in which ever service you choose.