Choosing a dog walker, dog daycare or dog boarding facility is more than finding a way for your dog to do their business while you’re away during the day or keep them occupied when you’re at work or on vacation. They will become a part of your family; even if they only come when you’re at work, they are there all the time and are a BIG part of your dog’s life. Even if you only go away once a year, you want the piece of mind while you’re away that you’re dog is in the right place for them.

Toronto’s dog walking, dog daycare and dog boarding scene has exploded in the last 5 years and it seems like everywhere you look there’s a new catchy business name popping up. How do you know which one to choose? How do you know what questions to ask or what is required of Toronto dog walking, dog daycare and dog boarding companies?

Let’s start simple with the general rules in Toronto right now:

– A person must have a “Dog Walking City Permit” to have more than 3 dogs in their care at one
time on public land.
– If the dogs are going OFF LEASH each person cannot have more than 6 dogs in their care with this permit.
– If the dogs are ON LEASH, the 6 dog rule does not apply.
– The only thing a person must have to obtain a City Dog Walking Permit is insurance – however there is no stipulation on what level of insurance is required so it can be the bare minimum individual insurance policy.
– No training or experience is required to obtain a City Dog Walking Permit whatsoever.
– There is no law that says that dog care providers that use their own personal vehicles have to have business insurance on their vehicles to cover dogs while being transported on the road.
– None of these bylaws or permits pertain to private land – the city can only regulate public areas / dog parks.
– There is no way to prevent any person with any breed or temperament of dog from entering a public off leash dog park at any time.
– There is no way to prevent unfixed dogs from entering a public off leash dog park.
– There is no rule as to how many dogs a dog daycare can have on site at one time.
– There is no rule as to how many dogs a dog boarding company can have on site at one time.
– There are no rules governing what type of vehicles must be used for dog transportation, how many dogs may be transported at once, amount of space per dog or what safety features they must have.

So what does this mean to you? It totally depends on what kind of dog walking service you’re looking for; on leash, off leash, on foot, vehicle transportation, public parks, private park, etc. The only way to find out these answers is to ask the right questions!

First of all, any dog walking company should want to meet you and your dog. The better ones will not meet you in your home – dogs act TOTALLY different in their own homes vs. in a strange place with new people and new dogs. This is what the dog walking company really needs to see and assess, not how cute your dog is sitting in their favorite spot on the couch where they already feel comfortable and safe. Beware of any company who does not have a Meet & Greet process or an assessment plan in place – that means that they have no idea what kinds of dogs your dog will be coming into contact with.

Here is a handy list of questions to bring with you to any Meet & Greet Assessment with a potential dog walking company:

1. Are they insured?

If so, who with and is it legitimate company insurance or is it just for a specific individual? Ask about information on liability, injury, dog bites, transportation. These types of things are very regulated by insurance companies and have standards as to what is covered and what is not covered. Always ask!

2. Who walks your dog?

Is it the person you are speaking to or someone else? It’s totally fine if it’s not the person you meet – most of the time the walkers are out on the road when you come in. Ask if all the walkers are insured under the company policy equally and if it will be the same person coming every time or a rotating schedule of contracted walkers? Ideally you would want the same person coming every time if you want your dog to be able to bond with them properly and really get the dog/pack leader bonding experience.

3. Where do they take your dog?

Are they going to public parks? If so, how do they control what types of dogs that your dog will come in contact with if they have no control over the dogs/people coming into the park? If it is private land, what are the qualifications/assessment requirements for a dog becoming a part of the pack? For instance, asking this is the only way to find out if the dogs your dog will be playing with will be fully vaccinated!

4. How long is the outing?

If it’s an hour long outing door to door you must factor in walking/driving time and compare to the amount of time they are playing off leash. For example, If they are walking on foot, how many times do they go up and down in the elevators vs. time at the dog park.

5. What is the method of transportation?

Are they walking the dogs on leash? If so, how many dogs at a time per person? Are they going to an off leash park? Are they driving? If so, what type of vehicle is it and is it properly equipped to transport dogs? How are the dogs separated – by size? What type of barrier? How are they protected from traffic accidents? Is there a security system / GPS tracking on the vehicle?

6. What is the loading/unloading procedure?

This pertains to vehicle transportation only. Do they unload outside of the dog park onto the street? Ask for a run down of how they get your dog from the vehicle into the park and vice versa. Do they park on the street and then open the doors, leash the dogs and run across the street into the dog park? Do they park and walk for a while to get to the off leash area? Always ask!

7. What is their method of correction?

Do you agree with the methods they use if they need to correct behaviour. All dog packs will need moderation from pack leaders so you need to make sure you know how they are going to handle your dog when they need to do so. if a dog does not heed corrections do they separate them from the rest of the pack? If they are a public dog park how do they do this? You need to know how they handle other dogs, as well as your own, if the dog misbehaves.

8. What are some of the risks/rewards involved?

Every company should be up front with you about potential risks of any kind of activities with multiple dogs. Each style of dog walking comes with it’s own pros/cons list and all companies should know what they are and be happy to discuss them with you to ensure that you’re getting the best fit for YOUR dog’s needs.

9. Does the company have reviews?

This is always a great way to get a feel for a company. Some companies have a 5 star rating but only have 1 – 10 reviews, while others may have a 3 or 4 star rating but have well over a hundred reviews with a vast majority of 5 stars. Certain sites like Yelp are extremely biased towards the negative reviews so take the time to read them all. Always read reviews the same way you would read them for a restaurant or hotel to see what the complaints are and how they were handled. Many people will leave a company a bad review because their dog nay have acted up and they a are unhappy with the outcome. This can be one of the best tools if the company is well established so take the time to be thorough on this one!

10. Has the company been inspected / reviewed by professionals?

Some examples would be Toronto Animal Services, OSPCA, Ontario Board of Workplace Health and Safety. Have they been cleared for good business? Inspections are a good thing if they are doing things properly and should be welcomed on a regular basis! Companies should be upfront about their problems / issues and also with their solutions. Dog care industry standards will only move forward if people put the effort into raising the bar!