Animal Training and Pet Sitting Module 5

Out And About – Professional Dog Walking

Professional dog walkers are in demand like never before. In this module you will learn what you need to know to start out and excel in your job. How you handle tough situations with dogs can ‘make or break’ a dog walking business. We will cover behavior basics, such as dog body language and aggression. You will have a foundation of how to “temperament test” each of your dogs before you introduce them to other people and other dogs. The goal is to keep everyone safe, happy and of course, healthier than ever before!

5.1 Be prepared – what to be on the lookout for

5.2 Reading dogs body language

5.3 Understanding aggression

5.4 The dynamics of dog fights and how to avoid/intervene

5.5 Complying with the law

5.1 Be prepared – what to be on the lookout for

There are many aspects of dog walking that you will need to be prepared for. In this section, we will break it down into Equipment, Troubleshooting, and General Guidelines.


Having good equipment will help to keep you and the dogs you walk safe. It is necessary to make sure that your client provides you with proper, well-fitting equipment for their dog.

Basic things like leashes can be provided by you, just to keep things simple. If you do decide to provide a leash for each dog you walk, be sure that they are uniform in size, made of a sturdy material that is easily cleaned and disinfected, and has a secure snap on the end that will secure all sizes and strengths of dogs. Too-small snaps that are meant for toy breeds can be easily broken by a larger dog when they pull. Many dog walkers prefer to provide their own leashes because they trust the quality, they can control the dogs more reliably with familiar equipment, and if you are walking multiple dogs at one time – you know that each leash is equal in length to the next, allowing you more control.

Leash Selection: Keep it simple

Style: Simple flat lead or leash

Material: Leather or woven nylon (no ‘bungee’ material)

Optimum size: “Traffic length” – 6 feet long and 5/8 inch wide (about 2 m long and 1.5 cm wide)

Heavy-duty steel or brass snap, or ‘bull snap’ for large and giant breeds

AVOID: Retractable leashes

Retractable leashes are popular but are seldom used properly. Most dogs lack proper obedience training on the leash to benefit from one. While owners enjoy the ‘freedom’ that their dog may have at the park while on a retractable leash, they have considerable downfalls. It is not worth the risk – do not use them in your business!


1. Retractable leashes can jam, leaving you with having to walk a dog on a very thin lead – which can be hard on the hands and can make it almost impossible to control the dog.

2. Fingers can get trapped in the lead, causing severe injury.

3. If not used properly, dogs are unsafe on these retractable leads. If you aren’t paying close attention or are not “quick on the trigger” to stop the leash from extending – dogs can run out into traffic or quickly become out of control – lunging at people and other dogs passing by.

The “Slip Lead”, Choke Chains and Pinch Collars

It is always good to have a spare “slip lead” or two in your bag or car when you go on each dog walking job. If there is a problem with the dog’s collar or leash, you can use it in a pinch. A “slip lead” will “slip” over the dog’s head with a loop. Typically these are braided or flat woven nylon with a small metal ring on one end and a loop for your hand on the other. The nylon leash material is fed through the ring, creating a “noose” on one end, into which the dog’s head will go. When the dog pulls on the leash, it functions both as a collar and a leash, putting pressure on the neck. Daily use is not recommended, as they can damage the dog’s neck if they pull too much. They can be ordered in bulk online and personalized with your business name, phone number and website address. Many veterinary offices have these leashes on hand.

Choke chains and pinch collars are popular for larger dogs. Most of these dogs wear a collar such as this because they lack proper obedience training on the leash. Choke chains do a have a purpose for certain training – but they are usually not used in this manner by the general public. Choke chains and pinch collars can cause skin irritation and can damage the dog’s airway. Some dog walkers are not comfortable using these ‘training aids’ – many encourage the owner to pursue advanced leash training and obedience with their dog, or use of a Gentle Leader® headcollar or harness.

General Guidelines and Troubleshooting

Being a good dog walker involves more than just being a good dog handler or dog lover. You also need to have good common sense about your surroundings and how your surroundings may affect the dog(s) you are walking. A few handy tips for success in starting out:

  • Always ensure that the dog’s collar or harness is snug (only allowing 1-2 fingers between the collar and the skin) before attaching the leash.
  • Secure the leash snap to the ring on the collar. Always check the ring on the collar or harness, as they can become worn or rusted and can possibly fail if the dog pulls too hard. If the collar is in questionable condition – notify the owner for replacement and use a “slip leash” or lead as a back-up.
  • Be aware of the surroundings. If you are in an urban area, pick out a route for walking the dog(s) before you arrive to pick them up. Scope out a “route” if you are walking from one home to the next as you pick up the dogs for their walk. This will help you to avoid problems like stairs, bad sidewalks, lack of sidewalks and heavy traffic on roadways.
  • Ask the owner if they have a favorite route for walking their dog. The dog may enjoy familiar sights and smells.
  • Keep several “poop bags” – biodegradable ‘plastic’ waste collection bags with you. These typically come in rolls at pet stores or online and can be put into handy ‘dispensers’ that attach to the leash or your belt.
  • Keep a few treats in your pocket. Sometimes a dog will become afraid while on a walk and a little “bribe” may be necessary to keep him moving.
  • Avoid other dogs if possible. You don’t always know how your dog will react or how the other dog will react. Avoidance is the best policy if you see them coming!
  • If your dog is not well-trained on the leash, you can always take the time to work on it with him. Discuss the issues with the owner (pulling on the leash, fear of going forward, etc.). Always refer to a local dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist if you think that the bad behavior on the leash is deeper than just lack of training. Anxiety can be a big problem for some dogs that needs a more professional evaluation and treatment.

5.2 Reading dogs body language

Dogs communicate with us (and with other dogs) through barking, whining, grunting and body language. Body language can be very subtle and difficult to read – even by seasoned professionals. It is a good idea to have a basic knowledge of common dog body language – as it can help you to identify fearful animals and prevent dog bites and fights.

Key Body Language to Know – these are signs of a fearful or anxious dog. Most of the time many of these signs will be seen at the same time.

  • Slight or Significant Cowering
  • Licking Lips
  • Panting
  • Furrowed brow
  • Ears to the side, back or flat
  • Moving in “slow motion”
  • Acting sleepy
  • Yawning
  • Looking around quickly
  • Won’t eat suddenly, when dog was previously hungry
  • Moving away
  • Pacing

5.3 Understanding aggression

Aggression in dogs is serious and should be taken as such. Aggression can lead to bites and increased fear in both people and other dogs. When you encounter an aggressive dog, it is important to understand why he is acting this way, in order to reduce aggressive tendencies and get the pet appropriate behavioral modification.

What causes aggression? Typically, there are four reasons:

1. Fear Aggression

2. Resource/Possession Aggression

3. Dominance Aggression

4. Predatory Aggression

With any aggressive dog – Rule Number 1 is to STAY SAFE.ALWAYS.

If you are not comfortable in a situation with an aggressive dog, call for help and remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible. Also, while it is not your job as a dog walker to actively fix every dog’s issues, you can certainly help in certain situations. You should not be expected to be a trainer unless you are qualified and comfortable in doing such things.

Fear Aggression

Fear is a response to a perceived threat. Fear aggression is the most common type of aggression seen. When people say that their dog is “people aggressive” or “dog aggressive” – it is most likely due to fear. It is important to identify fearful dogs (by their body language and other actions) and prevent aggression from happening. It is important with ANY aggressive dog to not make eye contact and to talk in a soft, high-pitched voice. Approach the dog and get down on their level.

Depending on the dog’s body language, it may be okay to offer out your hand towards them or a flat hand with a treat on it. Allow the dog to come to you…don’t approach the dog. Never force the dog to “face their fears” – as this may result in them “lashing out” and biting. Also, never punish a dog for being fearful – it will only make him more fearful. Using positive reinforcement techniques such as rewarding the dog for not being fearful (giving treats when he approaches you, for example) can be very beneficial.

Resource / Possession Aggression

Resource/possession aggression happens when dogs are physically guarding something dear to them. It could be food, a food bowl, a particular location in the home such as a sleeping spot, or a person. Some people think of this as the dog being “territorial.” When they bite or act aggressive – it is because they are “protecting their stuff or turf.” Many times, if you find that you cannot approach the dog in a certain location in the house, try to coax them away by something more enticing – such as a tastier treat (cheese, hot dog, etc.)

Dominance Aggression

Dominance aggression is tricky to identify in certain dogs and is actually pretty rare. Many of these dogs are very outgoing, very protective of their people or “stuff” and rarely shows fear postures or “apologetic” behavior. They can also appear “needy” and “lack confidence”. Many ‘dominance aggressive” dogs are very sweet when you first meet them and very charming, but the next minute or visit, they are barking, biting and acting very much like a boxer ready to fight. They can be very unpredictable.

If you notice this type of behavior, discuss it with the client. These dominant aggressive dogs often need leadership in their lives – which you can provide for them while you are walking and caring for them. Removing things that they are “guarding”- taking control over these items- can be a start. Removing the dog from the home to go for a walk can actually change the dynamic since he is “out of his space.”

Predatory Aggression

Predatory aggression is rarely seen in dogs towards humans but can occur towards small children and infants. Keeping dogs you walk away from children is the first step in preventing issues stemming from this problem. If children try to approach the dog, verbally instruct them not to and get the attention of their parents.

Most ‘predatory aggressive’ dogs are terrier or hunting breeds that naturally have a “prey drive.” They are more likely to be aggressive towards smaller dogs, cats, rabbits and other small creatures. While walking a predatory aggressive dog, be aware that they may become ‘crazy’ and ‘unfocused’ if they see a squirrel, rabbit or other animal they want to chase. They can become aggressive towards you when you don’t let them chase – so be on the lookout and remove them from the area as soon and safely as possible.

5.4 The dynamics of dog fights and how to avoid/intervene

Dog fights are scary and can cause lots of damage. Any dog can get into a fight with another dog and it is important to be aware of your dog’s body language and triggers. Keep in mind that some fights can come on without warning and between dogs who have been ‘happy playmates’ for years.

The reasons behindfights can be quite confusing. Dogs typically don’t fight to see who is “top dog.” Fights can stem from many of the different types of aggression listed in the previous section. They can also happen if play gets out of hand. Barking, growling and “huffing” air through the nose are signs that a dog is agitated and may want to fight. Some fights do erupt because they are trying to work out a “pack order.” Females are more likely to fight other females to the death than males.

Dogs of opposite sexes are less likely to fight than dogs of the same sex – even if they are spayed or neutered. Terriers especially are prone to fighting if there are multiple males together or multiple females.

Pain or illness can trigger fighting among dogs. Painful or ill dogs may feel the need to protect themselves and can start fights to keep others away. Fighting also causes a type of ‘adrenaline rush” in certain dogs, which can make them feel less pain from bites. This is said to contribute to some dogs being able to “fight to the death.”

If a fight breaks out, don’t punish the dog that seems to be the aggressor. Sometimes the dog that seems to be the aggressor to humans is not. Also, it can be difficult to figure out which dog is the “leader.”

Sometimes humans interfering in dog interactions can spark a fight or make one worse. Be mindful of this when you go to intervene.

Monitor body language between dogs closely and separate any dogs that are showing signs of trouble. Sometimes you can work with these dogs in order to be able to walk them together, but sometimes it won’t work out. Always keep safety in mind as your top priority! Some dogs are not suited for group walking for behavior reasons, or for trips to the dog park. Always get a thorough history from the owner about how their dog acts around others and in dog park scenarios. Ask them to be totally honest about incidents in the past. Use your best judgment.

Breaking up a Fight

Breaking up a fight can be dangerous and can make the fighting worse. It needs to be done with care. Some rules to remember:

1. If the dogs are already fighting, don’t yell. This can escalate the fighting.

2. If the ‘fight’ is over within 10 seconds, it was just a fuss and remedial training is needed and may be helpful.

3. Keep your hands off of fighting dogs. If you put your hand on them, you will likely get bitten.

4. Use something like a broom, a mop, an umbrella a tree branch, etc. to separate the dogs.

5. If you can safely grab the end of the leash, do so and pull them apart. You can tie one dog away from the other.

6. Ask for help!

7. One fight between dogs is too much. The dogs should not be walked together again and remedial training should be done as soon as possible.

5.5 Complying with the law

Laws regarding leashed dogs varies from city to city. Most cities have “leash laws” or ordinances regarding dog control. Most require that dogs in public be walked on a leash under positive control by the owner or dog walker. Research and learn the specific laws for your particular area. Some cities in Europe require that dogs be muzzled whenever they are in public. In some countries, it may be common to see dogs off-leash but still wearing a muzzle. Keep a couple of cage muzzles in each size (small, medium, large) in case you ever need one for a dog. Even if the owner never complies with the law – you must when the dog is with you in public.

Some public spaces, such as public transportation, may ban the presence of dogs. Not all parks are dog-friendly either. Private property should be avoided when walking dogs unless you have written permission from the owner. In some countries, walking a dog on private property without permission is called ‘trespassing’ and is punishable by law.

Cleaning up dog feces is also mandated by law in most places. Heavy fines can be imposed if you are caught not picking up after your charge. The environment, wildlife and humans can also suffer from feces that are left in public spaces. Zoonotic diseases, such as roundworms and hookworms, can be spread by fecal material to both humans and other dogs. Giardia can be spread to wildlife, humans and other dogs. Water sources can also be contaminated due to run-off.

Commercial dog walkers also must comply with special laws, such as in San Francisco, California, USA. For example, in San Francisco, dog walkers must have a business license, a dog walking permit, and proof of $1 million general liability insurance.

Other requirements include safety inspection of vehicle used to transport dogs, limits of how many dogs can be walked at one time, leash length (less than 8 feet long each), provide sufficient water for the dogs and carry specific safety equipment such as a pet first aid kit.

Well Done!