In the last decade, the business of dog-walking has become a burgeoning industry – largely thanks to the growing trend of apartment living, dual-income households, and the modern dog owners’ desires to care for their canines like never before. Anna Washington reports ..
Big dogs, small dogs, fierce dogs and ones too timid to bark. There are the true leaders of the packs, as well as tiny Chihuahuas who appear to believe they’re German Shepherds, brave enough to take on all and everyone.
Today, you see bands of dogs together everywhere: racing through a park, gambolling on a beach and straining at multiple leashes. And the rise in popularity of apartment-living has helped spawn one of the fastest-growing businesses in Australia today: dog-walking.
“When I started my business 15 years ago, I had eight dogs,” says trained veterinary nurse Jann Emanuel, who worked as a corporate executive before moving into dog-walking. “Now I have around 40 I see every week. It’s really taken off.
“I think there are a lot more apartments now allowing dogs, and we’re all more accepting of them. Many people are having kids later on too – or not having them at all – so they have pets instead. And everyone’s time-poor.”
It’s those busy professionals who love their animals but are out at work all day, and often living in apartments, that also make up the bulk of Beate Stavik’s business. “There are now a lot of people who treat their dogs like humans and they really care about them and their welfare,” she says.
“They realise how important walks and social activity are for them. Busy dogs are healthy and happy dogs. It’s only when they’re bored that they can be noisy or destructive.”
The Pet Industry Association of Australia doesn’t keep figures on dog-walking but, anecdotally, they know the service is becoming more and more popular. Industry consultant Susie Willis keeps a keen eye on its growth.
“It’s now going through the roof, and there’s a proliferation of operators, because people are so time-poor but still really want the best for their dogs,” she says. “It’s probably safe to say that dog walkers didn’t exist 15-20 years ago, but nowadays people view their dogs as important members of the family and care for them as such.”
That means business is booming for professional walkers like Jann, 57, of K9 Kapers in Sydney, and Beate, 34, of Walks4Paws and Dr Doolittle in Melbourne. Both absolutely adore their work. No two days are ever the same, their customers are always thrilled to see them, and they get to know – and love – their different personalities.
There are still challenges, however. Jann had to quickly grab one of her dogs when it looked like it was about to pick up a snake in a park; and retrain another with a tendency to bully; and she’ll never forget the time she came upon a group of firemen organising their water hoses.
“A fireman, as a joke, sprayed the dogs, but a little one was petrified and bolted,” she says. “He was missing for six hours before we found him again. Now when I see firemen, I always steer well clear – lesson learned.”
Beate got into dog-walking after studying a degree in international studies, and finds her biggest challenge is with English or Irish Setters – a breed historically used to hunt game birds.
“They’re just crazy about birds, so they’ll chase them whenever they see them, and won’t listen to you when you call,” says Beate, who also often takes her dogs paddle-boarding to give them variety in their exercise program. “But they do give you a laugh every day.”
Small dogs that think they’re big are frequently problematic for everyone, but the bigger dogs can be a handful sometimes, too. Labradors are known to be greedy eaters and Cath Patrech, 39, of Sydney’s Doggy Walking, has first-hand experience of that.
“I was out walking the dogs when a man sat on a park bench and got out his sandwich for morning smoko,” she says. “My Labrador ran over and before he even saw him, ran off with his sandwich, and managed to get it out of its cling wrap to eat it. Luckily, the man was very good about it, and thought it was funny too.”