It’s better to be safe than sorry, right? Well, this adage has never applied more than to the professional dog walker, a person charged with the safekeeping of vulnerable, cherished loved ones. Most dog walking-related tragedies can be prevented, and in this blog post we’d like to share with you exactly how.
This guide is a collective effort between TDWA members, Kelly’s Dog Walking, Rover Achiever, Tail Blazers, oh my dog! and Dog Embarks. We wanted to share our safety tips and check lists with you, our fellow professionals and pet owners, so that you may benefit from our experience, and more accidents can be avoided.
We all know that when we set out in the morning, anything can happen. So we try to be prepared for anything and everything. And when each dog is returned home safely at the end of the day, a good dog walker does not take that for granted. We sweat the small stuff when it comes to our jobs because, the thing is, it’s not all small stuff. The tiniest detail could safe a life.
We were prompted to write this post because of the rash of dogs recently lost while under the care of professional pet sitters and foster ‘parents’. Admittedly, we all know that horrible things can happen to great dog walkers; accidents happen. But each of us sleeps a little better at night because of the set of guidelines we’ve created for ourselves. We’re hoping that fellow pet sitters and dog owners will read this and take something from it.
Safety protocol starts form the second the key hits the lock. Before you even arrive for the first walk with a new dog, ask clients explicitly if their dog is a ‘door darter’. Even if they say “no”, open the door slowly and with caution on the first day. If they say yes, you’re prepared, but ask them if there’s also a way to block off the doorway inside so that you can enter safely, close the door and leash up.
At the dog park and on the trails:
- Keep a constant head count, and never count a dog unless you have an actual visual.
- Work on recall from day one, with only the most delicious of treats.
- If a dog does stray from the group, keep calling them so they can hear your voice.
- Never change locations in a larger park without a visual on each dog.
- Never let brand new dogs off leash until they’re well established, comfortable with you, making eye contact, and coming when called in a fenced park.
- Make sure you’ve attached the leash to the right loop, rather than the ID tag ring.
- When things don’t feel right, collect your group and move on. You can only do this if you’ve got control to begin with.
- Make sure all dogs have an up to date name and number tag.
- Add other walkers’ numbers to your contact list and call for help right away if needed.
Know your dogs and your surroundings. Here are just 9 scenarios in which a dog might bolt:
- Thunder phobic dogs during a thunder storm.
- Chasing wild life
- Chasing another dog and then getting misplaced from group and becoming frightened.
- Dog is distracted (maybe sniffing, eating garbage) as the group moves on, when the dog looks up he panics and races to look for his group in a panic
- New dogs in the car should always be tethered, crated or in front seat as they are not used to the door opening and closing.
- When another group of dogs charges at your group, a frightened one may run.
- Picking up a scent of garbage
- After a fight dogs may panic and bolt
- Separation of group. ie. two walkers walk together and then separate, the dogs might be working to keep group together or not know who to follow.
Tips for on-leash walkers:
- Some use a carabiner to clip the dogs’ leashes to themselves so there ‘s never a dropped leash.
- Never leave dogs outside of condos, buildings, coffee shops etc.
- Make sure collars and harnesses fit properly, especially when they’ve just had haircuts <hot tip: sometimes owners loosen the collars and harnesses after you tighten them>
- Use martingale collars whenever possible; they are designed to tighten if the dog jerks or pulls away, which will prevent slipped collars. Most other types of collars or harnesses can be slipped out of, given the right degree of panic.
- Don’t let the dogs cross the street before you enter into the street yourself.
- All dogs need to have a safe and strong leash – no retractable leashes.
- Examine leash & collar for signs of wear and tear before every walk.
- Ensure that all harnesses and head collars are secured with a safety strap.
- Double check that leash is clipped to the collar ring and not the more flimsy tags ring <this one was worth repeating>
- Whenever possible, position yourself between your dogs and possible sources of fright, like busy roads, other dogs, police horses, sidewalk cleaners, garbage/recycling bins, construction sites, cement trucks, sandwich board signs on windy days, etc.
- When stopped at an intersection, keep dogs several feet away from the road.
- Always be fully alert and present while crossing streets.
If you use a vehicle:
- From day one, all dogs should be trained to wait until they are given the “ok” to jump out of the car.
- Always open the door a crack, then slowly open it, blocking the gap with your body. Have a hold of ALL the leashes before allowing them to jump out one by one.
- Grab the leashes of the more excited ones first.
- Be aware of smaller dogs who might be hidden from view, and creeping up towards the front.
- Keep your windows up, or not open more than a crack; on hot days use your air conditioning instead and have a second set of car keys if you need to. If a dog can fit his head through a cracked window, he can fit the rest of his body though also. This is because dogs’ shoulders move freely, unlike a human’s, and also applies to the use of chest harnesses. Also use your car’s child lock system for automatic power windows to prevent curious paws from accidentally opening a window while you’re parked OR while you’re driving.
Please feel free to add your comments and suggestions. Each tip and story we share makes us better dog people and decreases the odds of a dog going missing. This blog post is a great example of why we started this association in the first place, and why we do what we do. These dogs mean the world to us, so let’s be Safe, and not Sorry!