Dog walkers issued strict new guidelines to keep pets safe as unregulated industry booms

PROFESSIONAL dog walkers have been issued new guidelines amid fears for pet safety in the unregulated industry.

Dog walker with one dog

Dog walking has become a boom industry (Image: RSPCA)

With nearly one in three owners relying on dog walkers to exercise their pets, leading animal charities have come together to ensure high welfare standards in the growing but unregulated industry. The RSPCA, Dogs Trusts and Pet Industry Federation have drawn up the Professional Dog Walkers’ Guidelines, warning there are currently no checks on people offering the service. Describing dog walking as “minefield” for owners, the charities say they want to make it safer for all involved.

Among the key tips in the 16-page guide are:

* How dog walkers should react in an emergency;

* The need for all walkers to be trained in canine first aid and carry a first aid kit;

* The best practice for walking dogs in a group and complying with insurance cover;

* How to transport animals safely with dogs left unattended for only absolute minimum amount of time;

* The best ways to provide dogs exercise;

* How electric, spray or choke collars should never be used.

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Dog walker in New York with 11 animals

Dog Walking in the USA. Professional walker with 11 dogs in New York (Image: GETTY)

Packs of dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds being walked together is becoming a more frequent sight along urban streets, parks and in the countryside. Dog Walkers can charge up to £12 per animal, per session.

Busier lifestyles means 22 per cent of dogs now spend four or more hours home alone while their owners work. One in five dogs left on their own show signs of separation anxiety.

With owners becoming more reliant on outside help to care and exercise animals, professional walking services have boomed but, say animal welfare charities, only a handful of local authorities have introduced any form of regulation.

Dogs Trust Veterinary Director Paula Boyden says: “The unregulated dog walking industry is a minefield for owners and we want to make it safer for all involved. Worryingly, almost 60 per cent of owners have no contract or legal agreement in place with their dog walker to protect them and their dog.

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“We have worked with the RSPCA and PIF to create a workable set of guidelines that can provide information for local authorities and provide a framework for dog walkers, as well as helping pet owners understand what they should expect from a suitable dog walker.”

The Professional Dog Walkers’ Guidelines reiterate the legal responsibilities and requirements, particularly compliance to the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, as well as the importance of heeding local authority regulations and bylaws.

Headline areas include understanding a dog’s needs; how to transport animals safely in vehicles; providing exercise on and off the lead; walking dogs in groups; how to react in emergencies; minimising impact on the environment, people and other animals as well as stressing the importance of training.

One of the key recommendatiions is that no more than four dogs are walked at any one time.

Read also:   “Sometimes they have even more stamina than larger dogs.” A collar appropriately sized for small dogs will help keep your petite pet from accidentally getting loose and possibly prevent a lost pup.

Small terrier type dog  being walked on its own

No longer in the shadows... Dog Walking given new guidance by top animal charities (Image: RSPCA)

RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Sam Gaines said: “Dog walkers are currently unregulated and unlicensed meaning there are no checks on who these people are and how they ensure the needs of the dogs in their care are being met.

“We felt it was extremely important – not only for the welfare of dogs but also for dog walkers themselves – to produce a set of guidelines to ensure that dogs are always being well looked after and to guarantee that dog walkers know what is expected of them.

“We hope these new guidelines will also help dog owners make informed decisions when choosing the right dog walker for them and their pet.”

The guide also stresses how owners should be given reasonable notice when dog walking arrangements are being terminated.

PIF chief executive Nigel Baker added: “Professional dog walking is certainly a fast-growing pet service, both in its own right and as an additional service offered by a range of pet businesses.

“This makes it all the more important that a comprehensive framework exists to help guide businesses about best practice in dog walking; and provide dog owners with a benchmark of what they should look for when using a professional dog walker.

“By doing so, the intention is that these guidelines will raise standards in this unregulated industry and help safeguard animal welfare.”

To download the guidelines, see: www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/dogs/behaviour

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