Finding the right dog walker

Pub date March 30, 2010
WriterMelanie Ruiz

If you wake up every morning and begin your day with a leisurely stroll to the park to spend time frolicking with your beloved pup and other pup friends, you’re blessed. But if your schedule isn’t so flexible — and you’ve got a little cash to spare — there’s an easy way to keep your BFF (best furry friend) exercised, socialized, trained, and happy.

Hundreds of dog walkers in this city are looking for your business. There are companies and independent walkers, playgroups and privates. Some pet sit, some don’t. Some even bathe your pooch if it happens to get too dirty while out on the town.

But there are also some operators who cram too many dogs into small vehicles, pay little attention to them while they run amok on public land, and don’t show much concern for your pet’s overall health. So it’s important to take some time finding someone who has a good reputation, a good rapport with your dog, and has a training philosophy you either share or would like to learn.

Start with your doggie’s temperament. If she thrives with other dogs, go playgroup. If not, one-on-one time is best. Endless energy and in need of a vigorous workout? Maybe a daily jogging session is required. Dogs who don’t get along with other dogs won’t be accepted by most dog walkers — although some specialize in behavior problems.

Next, pick a setting. It’s not always the case that off-leash park romps are the best option. If your pooch has anxiety in new places, say due to poor eyesight, maybe a neighborhood haunt is best. If she is limited by arthritis, a stroll close to home might be ideal.

Then go observe the dog walkers in action. Find someone whose energy fits your dog’s and start asking questions. Ask for references. Ask happy dog owners or your veterinarian’s office for recommendations.

Transparency, friendliness, and willingness to spend time answering your questions are good signs; nevertheless, the proof is in the meeting. Make sure you have an interview with all potential dog walkers. Most dogs get driven together to parks, so make sure the vehicle is safe, large, and cool enough.

Good dog walkers train their charges during their time with them. Great ones become extended family members. And remember: you’re trusting this person with the keys to your home. There’s no state or city licensing required, so make sure your dog walker is bonded and insured. Top-end dog walkers are often members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and have taken classes in animal behavior.

I recently spent an hour romping around in the Presidio with 10 ecstatic dogs and walker Andrew Frye. Frye is the newest partner of Who Let the Dogs Out (WLTDO). Lauren Goldboss, who started the company seven years ago after deciding she’d rather be outside with dogs than inside with bankers, calls Frye "the best dog walker in the city."

Frye takes out two playgroups a day, and Goldboss says people beg to be in his group. After 30 minutes of picking up the pups and getting to the park — favorites are Crissy Field, the Presidio, Bernal Heights, and McClaren Park — he runs around with the dogs playing ball and teaching them tricks. He taught Birdie the cattle dog to weave in and out of his legs as he walks.

Frye loves his job and is great at training the pups to behave while showing them a fabulous time. He has no formal education in dog training, but reads extensively about classical conditioning and spends his free time talking to other people and dog walkers about tips for making the animals learn and behave.

Goldboss says the most important thing she looks for when hiring dog walkers is the way they interact with the dogs. They need to be willing, able, and happy to run around with the dogs everyday — rain or shine.

For an hour of park time five days a week WLTDO charges a monthly rate of $385 — a relative bargain. Some independent walkers I spoke with charge $15– $30 per trip, depending on the details, so you can spend as much as $600 a month for a daily walk. Typically, there are discounts for households with multiple dogs.

One benefit of hiring an established company is consistency. If your dog walker gets sick or takes a vacation, other staff can fill in, leaving your schedule is undisturbed.

But if your own schedule is flexible or is subject to sudden changes, make sure your dog walker is open to that and won’t charge you for days when you don’t need the services. Individual dog walkers are often willing to be accommodating.

Finally, different companies offer different services: SF Puppy Prep, for example, ( specializes in adolescent dogs.

On a beautiful, sunny Tuesday, it definitely didn’t suck going out to the park to bounce around with the dogs. As Ernie the bulldog rolled around on the beach, covering his wrinkly face with a thin brown mask of sand, I knew he had found the perfect dog walker in Frye. Earlier that morning, I saw the same honest grin on Jack the standard poodle as he wrestled with his neighborhood friends in the run. That’s one of the best standards of all — your dog walker is having fun, and so is your BFF.