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How to Find the Right Dog Walker

Author: Cathy Madson, MA, FDM, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

Published: March 7, 2022

Updated: June 12, 2024

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find a dog walker near you

Finding the right dog walker for your dog can be tricky, considering the level of trust we put in them to care for our precious furry family member. It requires more than just a love for dogs; it involves trust, reliability, professionalism, and mutual understanding of your dog's needs.

A dog walker can be a great addition to your dog's caretaker team. If you have a young puppy, a dog walker can visit to take them out to their designated potty spot while you're at work.

Or perhaps your schedule has changed, and you can't take your dog out as often as you used to. Many dogs with behavioral issues benefit from extra exercise, making a dog walker a big part of their treatment plan. 

Even though I have a yard and regularly walk my dogs, I still have a dog walker come twice a week to walk my younger dog. These two weekly walks give him a chance to practice polite leash walking and leash reactivity exercises with someone other than me, something I prioritize for his training and behavior goals. This also gives my senior dog, Sookie, a break from his herding dog "management." She looks forward to her private bully stick chew time when he leaves with his dog walker. 

Whatever your reason, finding the right dog walker can make a wonderful difference in your dog’s life and in yours. So here are some tips on finding dog walkers, and the questions you should ask to ensure that you’re choosing the best dog walker for your pup and your situation.

Know What You Need in a Dog Walker

Define Your Expectations

What matters most to you in a dog walking service? Are you looking for someone to engage with your dog in play and exercise, or just a simple stroll around the neighborhood on sniffari, letting your dog sniff to their heart's content? Do you want real-time updates during your walker's visit or end-of-day summaries? Would you like them to bring in any deliveries on your doorstep or leave them be?

What level of qualification are you comfortable with? I wish more people thought about this when hiring a dog walker. Hiring a neighborhood teenager or friend to walk your dog may be more budget-friendly, but the risks are high regarding safety and liability. Even if your dog is easy-going and mellow, that doesn't negate the risk of off-leash dogs approaching and the potential for a dog fight and injuries.

If your dog is leash reactive and escapes the walker's control, you can be held liable for what happens to other people or dogs. This is why it's important to not only think about what you'd like in a dog walker, but also what your dog needs to stay safe and sound.

Collie on a dog walk

Assess Your Dog's Needs

Consider your dog's breed, age, energy level, and socialization needs. Do they require slow, short walks or long, high-energy outings? Are they comfortable in the company of other dogs, or do they need to be walked alone?

Are they fearful of new people or anxious about loud sounds? Do they need extra care when on walks to avoid certain triggers? Do they need help practicing leash walking and other training skills? If so, they can benefit from a certified trainer who offers day training that includes walks.

Knowing your dog's health and behavior needs will help you determine the level of expertise your dog walker needs.

Shepherd dog on walkWhere to Find a Dog Walker

There are as many dog walkers out there as there are reasons for needing one. Here are some ideas on the best places to begin your search.

  • Ask your family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors if they use a dog walker they recommend. Maybe one of your neighbors has a responsible older teenager at home who loves to exercise and is looking to make some extra money? Your network can be a great place to start, depending on what your dog needs.

  • If you have a trusted pet sitter, ask them if they offer walking services or have a trusted referral.

  • Check with local animal shelters and at your vet’s office or groomer’s for a referral. Many veterinary technicians (vet nurses) do dog walking and/or pet sitting on the side, and this can be extremely useful if your dog also requires medications or other treatments in addition to their walks.

  • Ask your dog trainer. Not only might they have a dog walker or two to recommend, but many trainers offer walking or day training services themselves.

    This can be great if your pup needs not just physical exercise but also mental exercise and refreshers on behavioral skills. If your dog is having issues with loose leash walking, training walks can help make all of your walks with your pup more enjoyable, too.

  • Of course, the internet can be a great resource, so another option is to look through an online pet service, like Rover, Wag!, or DogVacay. There are also online neighborhood groups, like Facebook groups or Nextdoor, where you can post your dog walking needs specifically to those living in your neighborhood.

Questions to Ask a Dog Walker

Once you’ve found a couple of potential candidates, there are some important questions you should ask. After all, you need to trust your dog walker not just with your dog’s health and behavior but also with their safety. And, in many cases, your dog walker will also be given access to your home. So these interviews aren’t something that you want to overlook.

Check Qualifications and Experience

Ask about any certifications (such as training certifications). Are they certified in pet first aid, including CPR? Are they familiar with the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke? Do they have any memberships with professional groups, such as Pet Sitters International? Investing in certifications, continued education, and professional memberships shows how committed a dog walker is to providing the highest level of care to their clients.

What about their experience handling different sizes and types of dogs and their overall knowledge of dog behavior and training? Do they know how to break up a dog fight, should there be a problem?

What is their approach to training and correction? It’s important that you and your dog walker are on the same page and, ideally, that your dog walker uses only positive, rewards-based methods of training. Ask whether they use any aversive walking or training tools, such as prong, choke, or shock collars. If they do, immediately cross them off your list. No dog walker should rely on these tools to have control over a dog. Learn more about the dangers of using aversive dog training tools here.

Is Their Business In Order?

Do your due diligence when it comes to ensuring that your dog walker has their business in order. This is crucial when it comes to safety and liability. Here are some questions to ask:

  • How long have you been in business? Are you licensed, bonded, and insured? Ask for proof of insurance.

  • Can you give me several client references?

  • What are your rates and payment schedule? How do I pay you?

  • What’s your cancellation policy?

  • If you’re out sick or on vacation, do you have another employee who walks the dogs instead? If so, what are their qualifications? How is this communicated? Can you opt out of substitute walkers?

3 Dogs on a walk together

How Are Dog Walks Done?

Single or Group Dog Walks?

Do they walk more than one dog at a time? If so, how many dogs do they walk at once? I am personally not a fan of "group walks" for many reasons, primarily because of the increased safety risk and stress that many dogs experience when walking in close proximity with unfamiliar dogs.

If a dog walker does group walks or outings, what's their maximum number of dogs? How are the dogs initially introduced? What’s their policy on dogs together that haven’t been spayed or neutered? This likely wouldn't be a problem for young intact dogs. But when a sexually mature intact dog is in a group, it can lead to fights, unintended matings, and other problems.

If they do group walks or take a group of dogs to a dog park for exercise, what is their safety plan in case one dog gets injured or into a fight? How do they manage multiple dogs at once, especially if they are off-leash in a dog park?

Large doodle dog on walk 400 canvaDog Walk Routines

Can your dog walker come at the time your dog needs? Or is there a specific time opening in their schedule? Where will they go, and what will they do during the walks?

Do they do any training work and reinforcement while on walks? If so, is it basic walking practice or are they comfortable adding in more skills?

Do you ever go to the dog park or other off-leash areas? (If your dog is under 17 weeks of age and hasn’t had all of their puppy vaccinations yet, they should stay out of the dog park and other "high-density" or popular dog areas.

If the walks won’t happen near your home, how will they transport your dog? If they will be riding in a car, they should be properly restrained, either in a crate, behind a barrier, or through the use of a car harness.

Will they send pictures and updates from the walk? Do they send a “report card” via email or text that notes my dog’s energy level, mood, and eliminations at the end of each walk?

If it's too hot or too cold outside for a walk, what is the plan for their visit?

Health & Safety Needs

Your dog walker should be familiar with the location of local animal emergency rooms and your dog's regular veterinary clinic. If your dog walker will be walking your dog regularly, or if there are likely to be times when your dog is in their care, and you won't be reachable by phone, it's a good idea to leave your dog walker with a medical treatment authorization form—just in case.

Can the dog walker accommodate all of your dog’s needs? This can mean anything from accommodating the special challenges of a specific breed group, a medical condition, behavioral issues, or simply adapting to your dog’s changing moods. 

If your dog exhibits aggressive behaviors, such as resource guarding, or has a history of bites, you MUST inform a potential dog walker (or any other caretaker). They should be qualified — ideally, a certified professional dog trainer or certified behavior consultant — and comfortable working with your dog, especially when you are not present.

If you do not inform them, they may inadvertently trigger aggressive behavior, putting themselves in danger and receiving awful injuries, such as this young woman in Texas. This also puts your dog at risk of being impounded and/or designated "dangerous" or "vicious" by authorities. 

Hiring a Dog Walker

Ask for a Trial Walk

Now that all the questions have been asked and your list whittled down, it’s time for the “dog walker test drive.” As they say, actions speak louder than words. You should meet with all of your dog walker candidates, having them visit your home and go on a trial walk with your dogs.

While you may have to pay for these trial walks, they can be well worth it! Trial walks are often necessary to really know that you’ve found the right dog walker for you and your pup. A trial walk can help you feel more comfortable with your choice.

While on a trial walk, pay close attention to how the dog walker and your dog interact. Does the dog walker communicate well with your dog? Do they read your dog's body language, and does your dog respond well to their cues and direction? Does your dog seem comfortable with them, and vice versa? Your dog’s body language—and your intuition—will help you make the right decision.

How Much Do Dog Walkers Charge?

This varies widely based on the area, a dog walker's experience, and other factors. Dog walkers charge between minimum wage and upwards of $70 per hour. 

For example, I pay my dog walker $30 (plus tip) for a half-hour walk. I am comfortable with this higher rate because she has a certificate in animal behavior from the University of Washington, is properly licensed and insured, and has extensive experience working as a dog daycare attendant and dog walker. However, if you hire a neighborhood teen to walk your dog, you may start paying minimum wage. If you hire a certified dog trainer for day training, where they work on training skills and walk your dog, it will be more expensive. You get what you pay for!

Jack russell terrier on a dog walk

After Hiring a Dog Walker

Just like any relationship, things may not be what they seem, and things can change. Choosing a dog walker isn’t always a “set it and forget it” scenario. It’s a good idea to continue to keep a watchful eye and check in with your dog walker regularly.

While the vast majority of dog walkers are kind and trustworthy, there are, unfortunately, some who aren’t. Like this dog walker in Florida who didn’t do the walks they were paid to do, this one in California who was caught throwing a small dog to the ground, and this one in Chicago who was busted kicking a dog in an elevator.

So to make sure that your dog is in good hands and that you’re getting what you’re paying for, consider these precautions and checks:

  • Watch for the development of concerning behavioral or physical changes in your dog, and continue to keep an eye on the interactions and comfort level of your dog around your dog walker. 

  • Ask your neighbors to keep an eye out and not hesitate to let you know if they see anything suspicious.

  • Put an activity and GPS monitor (I use the Fi Collar, but others include FitBark or Whistle) on your dog. Not only can this be a great way to track all the new exercise your pup is getting, but it’s also an easy way to ensure that your dog is actually being taken for all the walks and distances you’re paying for.

  • Set up cameras by your front door or throughout your home. These are easy to set up and there are lots of options out there, like the Nest Cam. Make sure that you inform your dog walker that you have active security cameras.

dog walker with shepherd dogTake Care of Your Dog Walker

Once you’ve found a good dog walker hold onto them like they’re gold! It’s not just about treating them kindly and paying them what they’re worth, it goes beyond that. Here are some things you can do to help your dog walker feel appreciated:

  • Respect their schedule. Make every effort to avoid last-minute cancellations and try to book as far in advance as possible.

  • Know when their birthday is and give them a card and token of gratitude for the ease and peace of mind they bring to your life. And for an extra nice touch, give them a card and a “thank you” from your dog, too. (Who doesn’t love a gift certificate for a massage or other spa service!)

  • Don’t forget them on your holiday card list when the holidays come around. Consider a nice monetary tip and a thank you at the holidays, too.

  • Give them a great review if they have a website, Facebook, or other promotional pages. Just like when you were searching for a dog walker — it helped to hear others' experiences and recommendations. Point out what makes them unique and/or what you love most about their service.

  • And, of course, a simple “thank you” goes a long way as well.

Do you use a dog walker? How did you find them? What have your experiences been? Feel free to share your tips and stories in the comments section below.

About the author

Profile picture for Cathy Madson

Cathy Madson, MA, FDM, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

As Preventive Vet's dog behavior expert and lead trainer at Pupstanding Academy, Cathy focuses on helping humans and their pets build a strong relationship based on trust, clear communication, and the use of positive reinforcement and force-free methods. With over 13 years of experience, she has had the opportunity to work with hundreds of dogs on a wide variety of training and behavior issues. Beyond her one-on-one consultations through Pupstanding Academy, she also teaches group dog training classes at Seattle Humane. Her specialties include dog aggression, resource guarding, separation anxiety, and puppy socialization.

Cathy is a certified Family Dog Mediator, and certified through the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers, holding both the CPDT-KA and CBCC-KA designations. Cathy is a Fear Free Certified Certified Professional, a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the Pet Professional Guild, and the Dog Writer's Association of America. She has also completed the Aggression in Dogs Master Course.

When she's not geeking out about dogs, you can find her reading, hiking with her two Cardigan Welsh Corgis, or paddleboarding.