Queen Victoria’s favourite prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, Viscount Hughenden of Hughenden – affectionately known as “Dizzy” to his friends – famously advised his political colleagues: “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
Nobody in Toronto is taking his advice.
Instead we insist on rousing Fido from his afternoon nap, and drag him out for a little run in the park. Or more likely, hire somebody to do it for us: the professional dog walker.
This is a relatively new occupation, but it is growing rapidly. A quick Google search on the subject returns 349 million hits in less than a minute. And last year the City of Toronto issued 344 commercial permits for people whose business is walking the dog.
The permit, which costs $272 a year, allows a professional dog walker to walk four to six dogs simultaneously…provided the walker has $2 million in public liability and property damage insurance, and the dogs themselves are licensed.
This may seem a precarious livelihood, but there is a steady demand, especially in Leaside. There are at least five major dog walking services in our community and surrounding neighbourhood (see sidebar for just a few) and many more individuals who quietly work from home.
A long-standing and well trusted service is Leaside Dog Walkers, started seven years ago by Alison Smith, a public relations and marketing executive who dumped the corporate rat race for the more psychically-rewarding business of working with real animals.
“I can’t say exactly when dog walking began as an industry,” she says, “but it makes sense that it would have been about the same time as the rise of dual income families.
“Often nobody is at home during the day to care for the dog, and the dog is considered to be an important part of the family.”
Find the right walker
Choosing a new friend for your best friend can be a tricky business. “Anyone can purchase a dog walking licence,” says Smith. “There are no legal qualifications. So, the public must do their research when hiring a dog walker.”
She suggests three major requirements:
• Make sure the person you hire is insured and bonded,
• Ask if they have pet first aid certification,
• And make sure they have experience working with dogs, especially if they are taking dogs on group walks. They will be responsible for caring for your pet in a group of dogs who do not know each other.
Getting a commercial dog walker’s permit is no guarantee of competence. “There are some really great dog walkers out there,” says Ms. Smith, “and some others that have no skills and are really very scary.”
“We only offer private walks,” she says. And those private walks are often an extension of the dog training she offers through a separate company, A1-K9 Training Toronto.
That is one of the things she says differentiate her from other walking services.
“There are two key things that set me apart,” she says.
“The first is that I am a dog trainer. I am knowledgeable about, and comfortable handling, all types of dogs and dog temperaments and I am always available to share this knowledge with my staff.
“For clients who need both training and walks I can ensure that the skills we are working on in training sessions get reinforced while out on walks.
“The second thing is that I only offer private dog walks. This means that 100 per cent of my attention is focused on each client dog. The only time we will walk more than one dog at a time is when they are from the same family. Our client dogs are never at risk of being placed in a group of dogs that they may not get along with.”
And that’s nothing to woof at.
A sampling of dog walking services in the Leaside area:
Leaside Dog Walkers
Davisville Dog Walkers: 647-297-4696
My Leaside Dog Walker: 416-500-3938
Bayview Dog Walking: 647-975-7560
A Walk Apart: 416-434-1502