I’ve seen commercials and scenes in movies where a dog walker is loaded with what looks like a dozen dogs, all shapes and sizes, leashes tangled, complete chaos as they waddle down the street to some fun, funky music before the walker is finally ensnared by the leashes. That type of set-up, in reality, would be a total nightmare and the exact opposite of what a good dog walker would want. We try to focus on quality and treating each dog as individuals with their own unique personalities. Grouping them en masse in the city of Chicago is not safe, not smooth and does not make for a quality experience for either the dogs or the walker.
Don’t get me wrong, dogs enjoy being with their friends, but a chaotic, messy herd of dogs, is not the right way to go about it. Two to three dogs (occasionally four) who know each other and get along can make for a healthy, quality experience for all those involved. Let’s say a dog walker goes out on a beautiful, sunny, blue-sky day here in Chicago. First things first, I might take a look up at the sky and appreciate such fine weather that I get to be out in all day. I might even go out with a small skip in my step. I gear up with my: dog waste bags, pens, extra notepads, extra leash, my dog route for the day, my dog towel and weather appropriate clothing. I’m out the door and off!
Before entering a client’s home, I run through a quick mental check list. Where will the dog be when I come in? A crate? In the bedroom? Where is the leash? Is there an alarm code? If so, I double check my notes to make sure I’ve got it right. Are there any special instructions I should remember?
Once inside, I handle the alarm first, then greet the dogs with a healthy amount of enthusiasm. I’m genuinely happy to see my buddies and they normally return my energy ten fold so that is a great part of my job. Sometimes a particular dog might need a lower energy greeting so they won’t get too riled up and that is a-ok too. It’s all about forming bonds with each dog and getting to know their traits and likes and dislikes. In my experience, dogs are a lot like little children. They need guidance and direction, they will test to see what your boundaries and expectations are and they will respond according to the energy you present them.
After we greet each other, I try to get out on the trail as efficiently as I can. I try to give each dog as much outdoor and exploration time as possible so we usually get out in 1-2 minutes or less. Some dogs have particular routes they enjoy following and particular spots they like to check out and explore around. If there are parks near by, we usually walk in and around the parks and we try to get on as much grass as we can find. We always avoid long, straight stretches of major streets. In the summer, they’re too hot and they’re always too busy and noisy.
As we’re exploring through the neighborhood, I try to remember “booby trap” areas. Booby traps in dog walking lingo are any areas where a dog (and sometimes a cat) behind a fence might unexpectedly appear and startle us as we walk by. If the dog is friendly and just wants attention we just casually walk by, but if a dog appears aggressive and will run at the fence, teeth bared and barking loudly, we try our best to avoid those areas and walk away when we see them.
We normally avoid other dogs we encounter on our walks. We don’t know them and it’s safer to not take the risk. We also keep en eye out for bikers, skateboarders and delivery trucks; anything that is loud, moving quickly, has wheels and zips past has the potential to rile up our dogs.
I usually pet and encourage my dogs throughout the walk and just let them know I’m there and they can trust me to guide them. Some like to follow me and others prefer to lead. I don’t personally subscribe to the alpha-philosophy so I’m just fine with letting some dogs lead me. They will still respond to my direction and they know when to listen just by the energy I’m giving them throughout our time together.
After we go out and explore and we’re back inside I give them a few more pets and let them know they did a good job out on the walk. Sometimes we play and romp a bit before I leave. I check their water bowls and return them to the place where they normally spend their day. I find the notepad and write down our activities for that walk. Did we chase some pigeons? Bark at some squirrels? Have a great time exploring Humboldt Park? Did we walk briskly and focus on exercise or did we have a more casual, “sniff-focused” day? I do my best to provide accurate information on the notepad and include a little extra about each dog’s time with me. Finally, I follow the “leave no trace” philosophy so if I tracked in dirt, mud or water, I do my best to clean it up and leave the house as I found it.
Occasionally when I enter a home I might notice a dog with lower energy than normal, or maybe a slight limp. When that occurs, it’s time to communicate that to Dana. Our policy is to communicate anything out of the ordinary to Dana so she can communicate that to the parents. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant, if it’s out of the ordinary routine, we pass that information down the chain and maintain the smooth, even circle of dog, walker, client, management. When we’re all communicating openly and honestly, the circle remains nicely shaped and balanced.
After six years on the dog trail I like to think I’ve seen it all, but I am always learning and always experiencing something new with the dogs. As I’ve grown with Super Dog Walking, I’ve also tried to become more educated about dog behavior. I’m looking forward to continuing my journey with the dogs and learning more about what makes them tick. Dogs are truly a gift to us and when we recognize them as our friends, they are always thinking of ways to pay us back. I hope this helps give you a glimpse inside a day in the life of a dog walker.