Undercover at Your Local Dog Walking Company
The true story of one dog trainer’s experience while working as the manager for a local dog walking service.
Towards the end of 2015 I began managing a dog walking company; both to help this company, as well as to fill up my days, leaving evenings and weekends open to private lesson clients. The company had been in a business for just over one year when I was brought on as their New York City manager. It took this company three weeks to decide to hire me; the hiring process seemed very thorough. After I was invited to join the team, I still had to wait over two weeks to begin, all of which seemed normal to me. I only ended up working for this company for 6 weeks, after which I got an email telling me they could no longer afford to pay me, and that they would no longer need my services. Needless to say this was extremely unprofessional, and not at all like the experiences I have had while working for any number of other reputable pet services companies in New York. I had no way to confront this complete lack of professionalism, so I am writing this blog to caution dog owners out there!
Things I knew about this company BEFORE I started working for them:
On Yelp this company has 10 reviews and a 4.5 star rating, with all 5 star ratings except one 2 star. There were 10 reviews that were not suggested, but those were all 5 star good reviews, and 2 removed, one 5 star, one 2 star, so in all the reviews there were only 2 negative reviews.
On Thumbtack they have 10, 5-star reviews.
This company received an A on Angie’s List with 5 reviews.
…You can see I did my research.
This company offers GPS tracked dog walks, and if you visit their site, it explains a very extensive hiring process for their dog walkers. The process described on their website states that each walker goes through a face to face interview as well as a background check.
They were offering me a very reasonable Salary.
Their pricing was consistent with other local services.
Things I learned about this company DURING the hiring process:
The company is owned by three people, none of whom reside in, or anywhere near New York State, let alone New York City.
…A major red flag.
Things I found out about this company AFTER I started working for them:
Their “Extensive” Hiring Process:
The first step is to fill out a questionnaire-style application, which did request a photo, a resume and two references.
Next was a short video interview; there were 10 preset questions given to the applicant and they had one minute to record each answer. I suppose this is what they meant by “face-to-face” interview because at no time did any of the three owners, who were all out of state, or even myself, meet with or interview any dog walker we hired. I don’t remember hiring too many while I worked for them as I had very high standards for who I would hire.
As for the references, a simple text message from any two references simply stating the person was good, was all it took for this company to begin to bring them on board.
There were never any background checks conducted on any dog walker who was hired in the entire 6 weeks I worked for this company. There were walkers hired by some of the owners during this time.
The person’s ACTUAL experience with dogs was of very little importance.
If the company received an inquiry for a dog walker in a certain area where they do not have a walker who can take the client, they go through the applications to specifically hire a person who will take this client, as the most important factor in the hiring process. Their experience really had very little to do with their being hired.
Their “Training” process:
So by now you are probably wondering what sort of process the person goes through before they come into your home and take your dog….
The newly hired person is required to complete two online courses. The first is to help them to understand how to use the GPS tracking app on their phone while on walks, and the lesson actually instructs the walker to report that the dog has gone #1 and #2 (no matter what).….It might have been a typo, but I did bring it to the owners’ attention and it was not changed….
The second online course is about dog behavior, to some extent. It was definitely copied off of a Cesar Milan website. It instructs your dog walker to physically correct your dog if he or she barks while on the walk. There are many other horrifying things in this very brief lesson plan, that takes about 10 minutes to read through slowly, but there is not any proof the walker actually took this course, it is very easy to just click through it and make it look like you read it.
As a new client you would have the right to meet with your dog walker, but please keep in mind, you are still meeting him or her before any other company employee has. You are inviting this person into your home, who has perhaps been hired because he or she lives across the street from you, and applied at just the right time. Very little else about this person remains important to the company as long as they can pair you with a walker and start getting paid!
And Finally The Incidents:
Within the first few days of starting with the company there was an incident with a dog walker who had been with the company before I started. He went for a meet and greet with a rescue puppy who was brand new to the city, and quite fearful. When the walker put the leash on the dog’s collar he didn’t attach it to the metal loop, and instead hooked it around the cloth of the collar itself. The owner was concerned and corrected him, he emailed me to let me know and I told him that I would go over proper leash and harness skills with the walker, but the owners of the company never approved this meeting. The next day the owner purchased a harness for the dog, and the walker did not use it properly. The dog got out of the harness and was loose, luckily only in the hallway of the building, but it could have been far worse.
The next incident occurred about a week later. A walker wrote in that while she was walking one of the dogs, he lunged at a lady and made contact with her clothes, possibly tearing her pant leg. She was leaving the building where the dog lived and was quite upset. The walker had no idea how to hold the dog back or handle the situation, and called in hysterical about being yelled at, meanwhile she did not address her handling, or should I say mishandling of the dog, and situation in general. Nothing was further required of her, in fact I asked some questions to find out more about the situation, and I was chastised for being too hard on the dog walker. I explained that all I was trying to do was understand if this situation might happen again and if it might, then we need to figure out a way to be sure the dog, the walker, and the public are all kept safe. I was told to be nicer to the walkers because we don’t want to lose her.
Finally the last incident… Right before Christmas I see an email come in after business hours that one of the dogs bit a child while out for a walk with one of our walkers. Again due to the walker’s lack of common sense, dog experience and professionalism, as she describes it, she basically just hurried away from the father who was helping his child, and disappeared around the corner, she only let us know because she was very proud of herself for not telling the owner anything happened at all! She said over and over that we shouldn’t worry at all because she didn’t let the dog’s owner know. I was, of course horrified, as I am not even certain this company double checks that their client’s dogs are vaccinated. Also it is important that an owner know information like this, it definitely should not be kept a secret. These things can happen even with the best of dog walkers, but the owner needs to know!
So What Did I Do About All of This?
During this six weeks, I constantly tried to work with the three owners to improve their hiring process as well as change their training process entirely.
I urged them to have an on-site training portion before any walker was released to walk any client’s dog. I explained how irresponsible it was that their walkers did not go through any formal training. I re-worked their hiring application, to be more thorough, and I did this on my own time.
I re-wrote the entire training course, explaining why Cesar Milan’s techniques are not only non-scientific, but also there was a lot of questionable advise, including teaching the walkers to poke the dogs when they misbehave. I explained that this is very unsafe, and a good way to get their dog walkers bitten! I did all of this on my own time.
Their hiring requirements had been a person commit to 2 months and to give 1 week notice. I explained that every other pet company I have ever worked for or with requires at least six months as turn over is very hard for animals, as well as at least 2 weeks notice, some even 1 month’s notice, as again, training a new a person to handle animals is sensitive when handled properly. I also explained the walkers should be bonded at the very least, and that the company could have the walkers pay for their own bonding, only to receive a bonus in the amount of the bonding once they have stayed for 6 months. None of this was implemented and still has not been.
I asked if it would be ok for me to just show up to shadow walkers throughout their day to be sure they are where they say they are, this request was never responded to.
I insisted all owners be made aware of all incidents as they were reported to us, most especially those where people were bitten.
I offered my dog training experience to ensure they have a thorough training process for their walkers, as well as offering more classes so dog walkers could advance their status and take on more difficult dogs. Believe it or not, right when I left, this company was beginning to have a separate section for more difficult dogs, and the client was to pay more for a “more experienced” walker, but please keep in mind, there is NO determination making these walkers any more experienced. Even if they work for this company for a long time, they receive no training, so if they were doing something incorrectly on day 1, they likely are still doing it! The owners have never met these walkers, have never offered to further their training, but will still up what you pay so you think you are getting a more experienced dog walker.
…And What About those Reviews?
After I received an email telling me they could no longer pay me, I went and re-checked some of those reviews. With the exception of any negative review and maybe 2 others on yelp, they were all written by the dog walkers who work for the company, they are all completely fabricated, each and every review is one either a current or former employee of the company.
So What does all of this Mean?
I am saddened and scared for the dogs who will continue to be walked by this company. I was appalled by so many things that were wrong with their process and complete lack of concern for the safety of their client’s dogs, and even homes. But I wanted to stay because I felt like they were open to changing. They did try to take some of my suggestions, but again they were far away and working other jobs on the side. I really would have liked to stay to have the opportunity to help improve their services, both for the personal success, as well as for the safety of the dogs! I am disappointed I did not get the chance.
Please be careful! At this point, there are many dog walking companies throughout the country that are popping up and follow this, sort of match-making structure. The problem is, instead of grabbing a coffee with someone who you aren’t attracted to, this person is matched with you and goes into your home, while you are not there, and takes your dog out. The fact is, this is not the kind of thing that can be left to a simple algorithm.
You shouldn’t only interview your dog walker, you should interview your dog walking company. Find out about where they are, and how often they meet with their walkers. Ask questions like their employment requirements, and employee retainability.
Watch out for catchy things that don’t really mean much! GPS tracking is nice, but it isn’t worth as much as a good dog walker, and besides if it is very important to you, you can always download an app with your own dog walker for this. Be ware of FAQs sections that claim to say everything you want to hear, this is your dog, speak to someone and have them tell you over the phone, if not in person about their employees and services. If dog walkers are shown on their website, then inquire to be sure those walkers actually still work for the company and that this section is updated. This shows they know their walkers will be around long enough for this to be worth while. If they have a section of walkers filled with employees who no longer work for them, this is a red flag.
Finally use common sense, and your gut feeling, not to mention a good referral! If a dog walking company doesn’t even have a managerial employee in the same state as their dog walkers, this might mean they have other questionable business practices, don’t let your dog be a victim of their unprofessionalism and lack of care! Ask for proof of things such as bonding and insurance, remember this person will possibly have keys, and definitely have access to your home. In my opinion, the best way to hire a dog walker is through the referral of a trusted friend or family member. If you know someone who has had a positive experience with a dog walker, over a prolonged period of time, this is truly the best way to choose! If you are really uncertain, ask your vet r even your dog trainer to help you find an appropriate dog walker. As a trainer I am always happy to help my clients find the best dog walker for their needs.
In closing, I’m want to say that I am sad that I was not able elicit the necessary and positive change this company needs, but I am also glad to have further understanding of this industry that I can offer to help my clients make the best choices. As a dog trainer I have worked with day care companies, dog walking companies, therapy dog groups, shelters and training groups. I feel that by doing so I an offer my clients the best advice in choosing the right care for their pet. As a positive dog trainer there is very little that saddens me more than a dog being punished unnecessarily or harshly, but one thing that does upset me more than this is when a dog is harmed, or even killed, due to the negligence of an unprofessional, and inexperienced pet care company. I wish I could have done more for this company, but at this point, I wish yo do more for the pet owners out their who might fall victim to their delinquency.