There are probably plenty of people who think that dog walking is an easy job but one thing we’ve always said is that if it IS easy, you’re clearly not doing it properly. Taking care of what is, essentially, a member of someone’s family, albeit a furry, non-human one, comes with huge responsibility and fulfilling that responsibility requires significant diligence, vigilance and consideration. A good dog walker keeps her/his eyes on her/his charges at all times in the same way that a childminder does because she/he knows that problematic situations can develop quite quickly and evasive action is often necessary.
What I’m talking about here are the myriad obstacles and potential perils that both dogs and walker encounter on footpaths during an average walk: cyclists, horses, motorised scooters, parents with pushchairs, environment agency vehicles, broken glass, deep water, items that look/smell tasty but are unfit for canine consumption etc., etc. And that’s to say nothing of other dogs, many of which, contrary to their owners’ smiles and insistence, cannot be relied upon to be entirely friendly. Yes, I know, we make it sound like our favourite walking destinations are minefields, they’re most definitely not, but anywhere can be dangerous to dogs if they’re not properly supervised.
For us, this means that on the occasions where we have to split and walk separate packs, checking emails and text messages or taking calls during the course of a walk are all unnecessary distractions and something we prefer not to indulge in. If we lose a potential customer to another dog walker because we don’t answer an enquiry immediately, that’s something we can live with because we’re content in the knowledge that we’re doing our job properly. Existing customers, of course, love to see photos of their dogs on walks and we’re happy to take them, but this too can be quite a distraction, so there are walks when we end up taking less pictures than we’d like rather than jeopardise the safety of the dogs involved.
Something we often hear on fine, sunny days is “Oh, you’re a dog walker, what a fantastic job”. It certainly can be when the sun’s in the sky and the ground’s dry underfoot but these are conditions that the British climate rarely affords, so for the other 8 months or more of the year, you can be trudging through mud and sopping wet grass with the rain either coming down or threatening to do so at any minute. Don’t get me wrong, we’d rather be outdoors than in, no matter how inclement the weather is, but when Old Blighty is giving it her worst, nobody could ever say dog walking is a glamorous job. Moreover, the smell of wet dog that accumulates in the van during the colder months is pungent to say the least and permeates everything. We have items of clothing for which no amount of washing will ever eliminate that unique odour.
Hot weather, on the rare occasions that we get it brings its own unique challenges. Some dogs deal with it better than others, with size and breed often the factors that determine exactly how well. For the conscientious dog walker, however, little can be left to chance and all strategies have to revolve around those members of the pack who struggle most with the heat. This means choosing locations with the maximum amount of shade, starting walks earlier in the day, and always carrying vessels of water for the dogs to drink from. It also often means avoiding rivers and their banks or making greater use of leads than usual because a hot dog can smell the water from a good stretch away and will often take off suddenly with the desire for a cooling dip. Fine if you've got an agile retriever that was bred for swimming not so good if you've got a bull terrier that wasn't.
Then, of course, there are the dogs themselves, who, putting it mildly, can be somewhat high spirited when first let out of the van and allowed to play with pals completely untethered. In this state of eagerness and enthusiasm they’re a total joy to watch but they do have a tendency to not look where they’re going and often end up careering in to you. Not a big deal if you’re talking about an 8kg Cockapoo but an entirely different story if it’s a 30kg Labrador. Skittles and bowling balls spring to mind in the latter case. Every gentleman dog walker also knows the pain of the paws of a large dog landing in his nether regions as he/she gets impatient for treats, toys etc. Oof!
Finally, no discussion of the pitfalls of dog walking would be complete without a mention of that most fragrant of substances: fox poo. Every dog loves it and every owner and walker hates it! The former seem capable of smelling it from at least a 100 yards away and are off and rolling merrily in it long before you've had chance to anticipate the move and clip them on lead. You're then faced with the dubious pleasure of having to somehow remove all traces of it from their bodies, collars and harnesses before you can get them back into your vehicle and deliver them home. Even with a pump-based porta-shower in the back of the van this is quite the challenge!
If there are negatives to the job, however, they’re vastly outweighed by the positives. Seeing the look of excitement on dogs’ faces when you arrive to pick them up and then later the sheer, unbridled joy that they experience while chasing one another, running for balls, dashing through long grass etc. is absolutely priceless and reward enough for any of the woes that are experienced during the course of the day. Dropping them off later and then subsequently receiving photos from customers showing them fast asleep contentedly in their beds (on the sofa, on owner’s bed etc.) is a great feeling and one that tells you, if you had any doubts at all, that you performed your duties well that day.
Job’s a good’un, as they say.