5 Lessons I Learned as a Dog Walker

I started walking and training dogs in 2004, and in October, I retired from dog walking.

In my (unscientific) estimation, I have taken 18,000 walks, not including walking my dog two to three times a day and walked approximately 300 to 500 dogs.

Wow. No wonder I’m tired.

Starting, I thought dog walking would be an easy gig. I quickly found out it was not. One of my first clients was a Shar-pei named Zoe, who was a friendly lover when I met her in her parents’ company but turned into a wrinkled biting machine when I first encountered her alone.

On my first day, I spent a good 30 minutes trying to make friends with Zoe through a cracked door with turkey hotdogs and many words of love. We eventually made friends, but that first 30-minute walk I scheduled took an hour and a half or more, including driving.

Zoe was my first challenge, but she wouldn’t be my last. That was the first of many lessons my canine clients taught me. It turned out while I knew much about training dogs, I still had much to learn from walking dogs.

Lesson #1: Dogs can be quite different away from their pet parents

I walked two dogs on Cougar Mountain for ten years. My most often told tale was I was out walking two large dogs on a trail near their house on Cougar Mountain when a coyote pup happened along the path in front of us.

I saw the coyote a couple of seconds before the dogs did thought he would quickly run back into the thick woods like most of the wildlife I see, and I would continue along my way. Imagine my shock when he just kept coming! He was a cute little thing, cocking his head back and forth as the two dogs snarled and lunged.

“Any second, he’ll run,” I thought as I struggled to maintain my balance and hang on to the dogs. Nope, he kept coming. Eventually, I lost my balance and slipped on the trail in what I think was an extreme ballerina pointe, breaking my leg. I guess that was finally enough to scare him away.

Magically I still had a hold of the dogs, but I then had to get me and two now significantly overstimulated dogs back to their house with what I thought at the time was a twisted ankle. I managed somehow and spent the next eight weeks in a walking boot, still walking dogs, albeit much slower.

Lesson #2: No matter what, hang on to the dog

I have to say many of my canine clients were leash reactive. These are dogs who have trouble meeting other dogs while leashed.  The problem can range from avoidance to full-blown aggressive displays. My favorite of the snarly crew was Ren, a 110-pound Kuvasz.

The story that goes along with Ren is that I was walking past a neighbor’s house struggling to pass their fence containing three dogs. The trio was snarling and barking while my charge was trying to break through the fence to commit some form of dog homicide.

The dog’s owner’s daughter-in-law, an Olympic weightlifter, came rushing out to control her pooches and said, “Wow, you’re strong.” I limped the rest of the way home with a tiny bit of pride that day. 

See, reactive dogs are just trying to communicate fear or anxiety in the only way they know how frequently overreacting to certain stimuli or situations. Those dogs were behind a fence but unleashed, or uncontrolled dogs were the worst part of my job.

There is nothing scarier than overseeing someone’s pride & joy and seeing an unleashed dog bearing down on you. I became a master of avoidance, throwing myself into bushes, hiding behind parked cars and dodging cars on busy streets trying to avoid an ugly scene.

I sustained bites, angry looks and was told to keep that “aggressive” dog at home many times, but these dogs have the same right to exercise as non-reactive dogs. I came to understand that some of these pups were not vicious but fearful and proactively trying to protect themselves while others just stood behind the door when the “greet politely” gene was handed out.

So, don’t judge or gape if you come across a dog flipping out while the person at the other end of the leash desperately tries to avoid you. Help them.

Lesson #3: Reactive dogs are not bad dogs

While working with my canine clients, I’ve broken my leg, lost all my upper teeth on one side, been bitten maybe 20 times, broken up 3 or 4 fights and frequently been covered with various canine bodily fluids.

When I started in 2004, I was only going to dog walk to make some extra money while I built my dog training business, but I got hooked and almost enjoyed it MORE than the training side of my business. The pay was low, the job was time-consuming and sometimes irritating and painful, but I found I could get a ton of work done in my head while I walked.

Still, as do many others, I thought that the job would be an easy way to make money. But it’s difficult getting up every day, no matter how you slept or how you feel or what the weather is like and know you must walk for 5 to 6 hours straight.

Fortunately for me, I liked it more than I didn’t, but you REALLY must love dogs to do it.

Lesson #4: Walking dogs as a job is more difficult than you would think

In the 17 years I walked dogs; I lost many clients. Some just moved or had a change of circumstance, but I had at least one dog a year die. It’s awful to lose your personal pet every 12 to 15 years, and it is equally difficult to lose an animal you see every day to death even when it isn’t technically yours.

This past year I was called back to a house to briefly walk a dog I had previously walked for a long time. His people had retired and no longer needed me but called me when they both needed to be away. The last time I had seen him, he was a vigorous teen, but now he was a fading senior.

We took one last walk, and I fed him one last cookie, knowing it wouldn’t be long before I wasn’t called again. Less than a month later, I got word that ‘Parker’ had died. He was one of my first pup patrons and, as it turned out, one of my last.

Lesson #5: If I walked a dog for any length of time, it became my dog too. 

As painful as that, and many other things were, it was the best job ever. My clients were always happy to see me with a wag, a wet nose while joyfully waiting for their daily outdoor adventure.

Dedicated to the memory of Parker, Hadley, Barney, Tina, Cosmo, Ted, Tango, Nora, Arnie, Gizmo, Moe, Wimsy and Coco.

Comments

  1. Karen Kipper says

    What a wonderful article! Thank you! I enjoy lots of your articles but especially this one.

  2. Such a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing something so wonderful, we need more of this in the world!

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