I was recently asked by a new dog walking business owner, how one goes about safely gathering a group of dogs together for a walk, and also about how to safely transport them, should it be necessary. Great question!
How To Safely Gather a Group of Dogs
How you gather your group depends a lot on where you live and whether or not the dogs are walking distance from each other. If it requires driving from house to house to gather them for a “Boot Camp” or a “Dog Safari” skip to the next section below. If they are walking distance, I would just pick them up one at a time, adding to your group as you go from door to door. Try to hook a circuit so the first picked up is the first dropped off (first in, first out). This goes back to what I talk about in The Dog Walker’s Startup Guide (the importance of planning your walks ahead of time).
As far as what to do with them as you go door to door to pick up the next dog—it really depends on the situation. If the dogs I am bringing to the door are nice and polite, I would just bring them inside with me (provided the dog whose house I’m entering knows the dogs and will not be territorial about this intrusion—this is something only you can evaluate) and if you’re the least bit in doubt about it try one of the other ideas I mention next. You can also hook them to a banister at the door, duck in and leash up the next one, and pop back out and continue on your way. Again, evaluate if this option is safe and that the dogs aren’t going to freak out if left outside for a moment or two. If your client has a fenced yard you could bring the first dogs into the yard (shut the gate) and then go inside to get the next. Mostly you’ll just learn as you go along, you’ll figure out the best way, so don’t get too worried about it! Sometimes there just won’t be a good way to do it and you’ll just suffer with a less-than-ideal situation. Other times you might not be able to do it under certain circumstances. It does happen to be one of the trickier parts of the job!
Here is a little trick I learned: if you have to leave some dogs tied outside you might consider dropping a big handful of kibble on the ground before you go inside. This will occupy the dogs and give you a chance to duck in and out to hook up the next one.
Remember it will be much easier to check on the dog’s water bowls and the like after the walk so wait until you’re dropping them off to do that kind of business. Same goes for note writing. You’ll be able to bring the dogs inside with you because they will be agreeable to each other at this point (or should be). Just make sure they don’t run roughshod all over your client’s home! After a while the dogs will get used to the system as long as you are consistent.
How To Safely Transport Two or More Dogs
If you’re not walking door to door then you’re stuck driving a group to a destination (which is how most dog walkers must do it).
Safety is very important so you definitely need an automobile that’s big enough to comfortably and safely hold the number of dogs you’ll need to transport. You’ll also want to be sure you have a strong partition between you and them, (a strong canine containment barrier) so the dogs can’t jump in front with you! Doggy seat-belts, which I’ve used with up to two dogs at a time, work pretty well by keeping the dogs in their own space. Also, as I mentioned in the book, you don’t want to mix dog sizes without making sure the smaller dogs are protected from the larger ones. You may have to crate the smaller dogs and seat-belt the larger dogs.
I’m sorry there isn’t a definitive answer! Because the situations and vehicles vary a great deal, you’ll have to evaluate your situation and decide how you want to proceed. Just make sure you can drive safely, that the dogs aren’t going to injure themselves, or you, and that they are reasonably protected in case of an accident. As you probably suspect, loose dogs in a vehicle can be a recipe for disaster! So please think carefully about how you’re going to manage this sticky issue. Also, inquire from your automobile insurer and pet sitting insurer about this issue, you may need to upgrade to a commercial vehicle insurance policy if transporting dogs becomes a regular part of your business.
Although I have not heard of any specific liability issues resulting from an accident involving a car-load of dogs and a dog walker, I’m sure it can and will happen. One thing I am certain about, you don’t want to be responsible for a tragic accident because you had 5 dogs inside a Subaru and couldn’t see the road—because that’s exactly how the police will see it when they arrive on the scene.
The safest and most profitable way to transport dogs would be in a van with the seats removed. I might install multiple crates or kennel-like cages which are bolted or tied in place. You can safely and confidently transport a larger group and enjoy the peace-of-mind that comes with knowing that you are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of you, your employees, and the dogs. Also, a company van is tax-deductible and acts as a moving billboard, which is another upside. Taking these steps will demonstrate your commitment to your business and a commitment to the safety and the well being of your clients pets.