As Britain gets busier and busier, is man's best friend losing out? Martin Hickes reports.
THE UK ECONOMY might still be firmly in the doghouse, with talk of a double dip looming, but one sector which is booming is that of professional dog walking.
As professional couples in the both the UK and across the Atlantic – or DOWDies (Dog Owners with Dollars) as they are known in some online circles – get busier and busier, more are turning to pro dog walkers to lend a hand.
And as domestic dog numbers boom worldwide, Britain is increasingly taking its lead from its N American cousins in making sure man's best friend is still pampered.
Equally, in a mixed status economy on both sides of the Atlantic, more are training up as pro dog walkers to meet the increased demand – and to stride towards a career were the clients are always appreciative.
While the use of such might seem to be ideal to some in the 21st C, others are more concerned this particular form of pet care surrogacy is the ultimate sign of a materialistic society, with dog-tired owners putting themselves before their pets.
Dog walking services are booming in Britain thanks to unprecedented demand from busy professional couples, second-career 'baby boomers', retirees with pets, the elderly and others in busy 21st C Britain.
Global and UK dog populations are also believed to at their highest for years, according to new figures released in Jan 2011.
In 2010 257, 062 pedigree dogs were registered with the Kennel Club, the national body which oversees the welfare of dogs.
Overall, it is estimated that the number of domestic dogs in the UK stands at around eight million, but figures could be as high as 10.5m according to a recent survey by researchers at Bristol University, four million more than pet food experts had predicted.
Harrogate's Layla Young started her dog walking business Poochie Mooch last year after studying at a veterinary clinic – and is finding no shortage of demand.
Ms Young, 30, a former pupil at Harrogate Ladies' College, uses Harrogate's famous Stray and other woodlands to exercise her canine clients.
“I've enjoyed three years as a veterinary nurse at the Shamrock Veterinary Clinic, in Knaresborough Road, but after taking a break from such, it is often difficult to get back into the profession.
“I didn't want to lose touch with working with animals and given my family also have strong photographic links, the opportunity to walk dogs, offer a pet photography service and other pet care add-ons is proving to be the perfect option.
“From my experience to date, there are many professional couples these days who either want to own a dog and who baulk at such because they are too committed to their careers, or who conversely, do own pets, but for whatever reason cannot give them their fullest attention.
“In addition, in Harrogate, especially, there are a number of members of the older generation who still want to take their dogs for walks but who can't through either advancing years or a disability.
“It's critical that dogs receive their exercise and to recognise that each dog – just like human beings – has its own personality.
“A Great Dane is vastly different in temperament and needs to a Westie or a lurcher. But more than than, it's important to appreciate that dogs are very much part of people's families and should be respected as such.”
Martin Deeley, an Englishman who now lives in the United States, executive director of the International Association of Canine Professionals, an expert on family dog training, behaviour and gundog training, who has commentated at the CLA Game Fair in England for the past 26 years, says:
“There's has been a big growth in dog walking over here plus day care, especially in the city areas.
“Families want a dog to complete their 'pack' but then find that with both husband and wife working - more normal these days - then there is little time for the dog.
“So, they put the dog in day care or hire a dog walker/visitors. Some do walk the dogs and some just go to the home and let the dog out into the garden.
“In New York, around Central Park, a number of dog walkers can be seen with a pack on the end of leashes; some 'packs' are not always totally under control and don't always give priority to other human walkers. But of course , there are also the responsible ones who walk with consideration and who ensure that dogs get the exercise they require as part of a happy life
“No license is required although I am sure there would be liability of a dog created an accident.
“And anyone can set up as a dog walker with no experience at all. Some walkers come and load the dogs into a special van and then take them to a dog park or another safe area.
“Here in America there are strict leash laws and unless allowed all dogs have to be on a leash in public. Our membership of 1400 includes 125 dog walkers.”
Caroline Kisko, from the UK's Kennel Club, which looks towards the welfare of dogs across the UK, says:
“The Kennel Club’s main concern is that every dog is given enough exercise and stimulation be this through the owner a friend, or a dog walker.
“However, we would want to be sure that this is not indicative of a deeper underlying issue and that the owner still has sufficient time to give the dog the love and affection it needs.
“Dogs needs are simple; they require exercise, food, appropriate health and medical care and your love and affection. There are some people who buy a dog on a whim but are not able to give their dog the love and affection that it needs and that is why our rescue homes are overflowing.
“It is perfectly possible to fit a dog into a busy lifestyle but not unless you can ensure that both you and your support network (who must be trusted and familiar faces to the dog) can fulfil all of the dog’s needs.
“Licensing laws in the UK vary between local authorities, the best thing to do is to contact your local authority to see how this affects you.
“Every dog needs at least one walk a day, and many breeds will require more than this. Regular exercise is important not just in order to keep your dog fit and healthy but also to keep it mentally stimulated. Every dog has excitement peaks throughout the day and a walk is an important part of this.
”It is important to remember that every breed is different, and has their own exercise needs. The Kennel Club provides information and advice about the different breeds of dogs so that people make the right choice for their lifestyle.
“Some breeds, which are considered to be highly intelligent will need plenty of stimulation that only walking can properly provide, and may prove to be disruptive in and outside of the home without it.”
Dianne Eibner, from Toronto, Canada, a recognised authority of pro dogwalking, says:
“Professional dog walking is very popular now. I started in 1990 and was one of the first pro dog walkers in my area in Toronto. For the first few years, I think there were less than 10 in all of the City of Toronto.
“I've put a lot of time and years into my business and I founded The Professional Dog Walkers Association International which ran for seven years as an incorporated non-profit organization. I merged it with the International Association of Canine Professionals in the States in 2007.
“I still manage a site called www.prodogwalker.com which is a site for advertising pet services and was one of the first to write a book on starting up your pro dog walking business.
“ProDogWalker.com strongly recommends and suggests many credentials be obtained for your business and we would like to see pet professionals adhere to certain codes of conduct which this site endorses.
“Its not as easy as it seems, and that is the biggest misconception for people who "love dogs and want to work with them".
“You do have to have some training skills and know about dog behaviour i.e. not just have walked your own dog. Otherwise, you might find it is much more difficult to walk a dog than you think. I would say, when properly researched people would find that pro dog walking can be a very rewarding and enjoyable business, after all factors of responsibility are taken into consideration.”