Updated: Sep 27
Everyone who works for Animate got into the job because we love animals! We spend our days caring for our client's animals and a big part of those days are spent walking dogs in groups. We consider ourselves very lucky to be able to play such a big role in so many dog's lives and never get tired of seeing our doggy clients ecstatic to see us when we go to collect them to go for an adventure with us.
But it's not all about the fun and games! Being trusted with the care of other people's animals is a big responsibility and it's one that we take very seriously. Safety on walks is our number one priority and everything we do is aimed at ensuring the safety of the dogs in our care, as well as any animals and humans we may meet along the way. So, here's how we go about making our walks a safe, fun environment for all involved:
Pre-walking: It all starts when our dog owner first makes contact with us (let's call the dog Fido). We try to get as much information about Fido's situation, personality and training as possible using the questions on our forms. Conducting a free in-home consultation with Fido and his owner while we complete the paperwork allows us to see his behaviour first hand and get a better idea of how he would fit in on our walks.
Aside from information about Fido's personality our forms also cover any medical issues or injuries he may have and we complete a 'veterinary release form', which allows us to act on behalf of Fido's owner in case he should ever need to go to the vet and his owner is not contactable.
If we decide between the owner and ourselves that Fido would enjoy and benefit from our group walks then we can start the process.
Our Vans: Once Fido is signed up for the group walks we set the date and he's collected in one of our three vans and taken to his first walk - exciting times! Our vans are kitted out with custom made dog crates in the back meaning that the dogs travel safely - separated from each other and from the driver. Two of the vans have roof fans to allow plenty of air circulation to keep the dogs nice and cool in the summer and the other has the ability to be cooled from the cab area. In addition to this the crates have comfy beds and cooling mats for the hot days. We also carry water, first aid kits, spare leads/collars as well as towels and blankets.
We choose our walk locations carefully and have lots of favoured walks because we're confident that they provide a safe environment for Fido and his mates to have a good hour of fun. In an ideal walk we look for the following:
Somewhere a little remote, where we won't meet up with lots of other people, children and dog walkers.
A walk where we're not too close to roads and/or railway tracks.
Open areas with good visibility (so we can see if there's people/cattle/tractors/etc up ahead) and natural boundaries such as ditches, rivers or hedges.
First walks: Initially we like to take newbies out with just one or two dogs who we know really well. This means that Fido won't be overwhelmed by a big group of dogs and because we are confident that the other dogs are super relaxed and friendly then this should set a great example for Fido to follow. Fido would stay on the lead for at least his first one or two walks so that we can try to establish a relationship. This also means that we can see how he reacts and responds to other dogs, while being able to use the lead for control if necessary.
Being allowed off-lead
Allowing dogs off-lead is one of our biggest safety concerns so before any dog is allowed off-lead we need to have the owners written consent (our off-lead permission form) and we also have to be convinced that the dog is going to follow our commands and have good recall. With many dogs this can happen after a couple of walks on-lead as they prove themselves ready. There are lots of variables that affect this including: Age, breed, temperament, training and relationship with their owner.
Lets take Fido for example, if he comes on his first walks and is happy to sniff bums with other dogs, makes eye contact with me when I say his name, sits for a treat and doesn't try to drag me around on the end of his lead - then chances are I'm going to feel confident that I can let him off and he will be a good boy. On the other hand, if he's not paying any attention to me at all because his only concern is what the other dogs are doing and he's just frantically trying to drag me around by his lead, then he will most certainly be staying on the lead! If he doesn't feel the need to pay attention to me on-lead, I've got no chance when he's footloose and fancy free and he could put himself and other dogs/humans in danger. It can be the case that we (and/or the owner) feel the dog isn't ready to be let off and they spend several weeks walking on lead, progressing to a long line or extending lead until we're confident enough in their behaviour to let them off.
Dog to dog interaction: Once we've established a strong relationship with Fido and we walk him regularly then there's a great bond between us and he trusts us to lead the walk effectively; While this does include regular and liberal dispensing of treats we're mainly relied upon to be strong, fair pack leaders who ensure all of the dogs get to enjoy their walks.
We walk lots of dogs, of all shapes, sizes and personalities so it's massively important that we get the right mix of dogs in a group. From a behind the scenes perspective we organise the groups not only according to location but also according to personality.
On every walk we are constantly monitoring how the dogs are interacting with each other so that we can nip any bad behaviour in the bud immediately. We find that if the dogs are confident that we are in control of the walk then they look to us to resolve any issues, rather than trying to sort it out between themselves.
If we're not comfortable with how a dog interacts with the other dogs then we stay in close contact with the owner and can recommend a behaviourist that may be able to help resolve any issues.
And finally.... Day to day us dog walkers are required to make judgement calls on a regular basis and our most essential 'qualification' for a good dog walker is common sense! We often come across situations where we need to act quickly in order to keep everyone safe so it's imperative that we're on the ball and able to think on our feet. We've been faced with a variety of situations over the years, which gives us the experience to know how and when to act in many situations. We always go with the motto 'it's better to be safe than sorry' and will err on the side of caution; whether it's putting all of the dogs back on their leads, cutting short a walk or seeking further training...Fido's owner can rest assured that we will always put a huge amount of effort into keeping him safe so that he can enjoy his walk and then head home nice and relaxed for an afternoon snooze!