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A former film industry staffer gives up the movies for life on the leash with dogs in his London neighborhood. Writer Maris Kaplan takes us on a walk through his thriving new business. Getting Down and Dirty with a Dog Walker
Text by: Maris Kaplan
Photos: Go Walkies
Country: England

t’s about 10 a.m. on a crisp morning in South West London, and Tom Rochester is on his way to meet his first dogs of the day, a pair of very intelligent and obedient Staffordshire Terriers. Tom is a professional dog-walker, meaning that other people pay him to take their dog for walks while they’re at work. Depending on the day, Tom might have up to three scheduled walks: one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. He walks all kinds of dogs, and finds that the pups‘ parents are a very diverse cross-section of society who all have one thing in common: they need a hand!

Sometimes Tom’s appointments are home visits, and sometimes the dogs are walked in pairs or in groups of up to four. More than four, he explains, and things start getting too difficult for both him and the dogs. In addition, there is actually a law in certain areas that prohibits walking more than four dogs at a time! He always gets around by bicycle or on foot, and he usually takes the canines to walk in dog parks, commons, or the woods if they’re nearby, so that they can happily run off the lead. The walks last for a minimum of one hour, and Tom is always sure to be responsible and pick up after the dogs. ‘Hometime’ can be as early as 4 p.m. or as late as 7 p.m. If it’s a rainy or muddy day, he’ll rub the dogs down with a towel when they get home. “Hearing me call outtowel time’ is the best part of the walk for some dogs; they really love being tickled.” he says.

Before Tom found his calling as a dog-walker, he worked in the film industry. He was a ‘grip,’ handling equipment such as light stands and cables. “I always loved film but found working in the industry frustrating and totally uncreative,” he says. “I felt like a glorified labourer except without the job satisfaction.” Tom realized that he really appreciated the outdoors, and he liked the idea of working for himself. In 2011 he decided that starting his own dog-walking business would be a great way to continue enjoying the simple pleasures in life, like exercise and nature. In order to gauge how it would work, he did a trial month walking the dogs of friends. He enjoyed it so much that he never looked back!

Now, his company Go Walkies London is doing quite well, with about 15 clients currently. After his first 6 months of business, he started hiring people to expand their covered territory. Since he’s gotten so busy, he’s definitely getting his fair share of exercise outdoors, one time walking almost 15 miles in a day! “There was a time when I was cycling about 25 miles and walking about 8 miles every day. Suffice it to say you can save money on gym membership when you walk like that. There is an old saying that you should never trust a skinny chef, the opposite may be true for ‘walkers’!” jokes Tom.

He uses the Go Walkies website and social media applications such as Twitter to help stay in touch with his clients. Taking photos whilst out on a walk and sharing it has become an easy way to offer customers a window into their dog’s day. He also tries to stay as flexible as possible with scheduling, explaining that ‘It’s not the kind of job you want if you live by your watch; you’d be constantly stressed.’ He tries not to plan too far ahead and just go with the flow, saying “the trick is to be as efficient as possible.”

While most of the dogs are well-behaved, there is always the occasional surprise to deal with. Once in awhile he gets a dog that doesn’t ‘play nice’ with others. In Tom’s experience, any trouble that he’s had to deal with occurs with male dogs that aren’t fixed. Go Walkies initially had a policy that said they would walk any dog that needed them, but it’s become necessary to introduce a policy against unneutered male dogs. Sometimes a dog is just not ready to be walked in a group; Tom has been given dogs that are so wild and confused that he simply had to just hand them back to their owners. “There’s not much room for error when walking in urban areas. One misbehaving dog can endanger the pack, so it’s never worth tolerating.”

Tom is a strong believer in training through positive reinforcement rather than punishment. While unfriendly dogs have generally not been a problem, any signs of aggression are quickly trained out. “A social dog is a mentally healthy dog,” Tom explains. Basic training such as ‘recall,’ ‘heel’ (stop pulling), ‘wait’ and ‘fetch’ are taught so that the dogs know what to do, making the day easier and safer.

The group walks themselves can be valuable social training for a dog, as well. Tom has witnessed several dogs undergo amazing transformations in their personalities; some dogs become more sociable, and nervous dogs will gradually come out of their shells. He has seen many dogs overcome their ‘funny little issues,’ whether it is having to pee in a certain place every day or rolling in the mud every time their name is called. Dogs are influenced by the rest of the pack and learn from them, and Tom finds that larger dogs tend to make good leaders and be a calming influence.

Sometimes the dogs aren’t the problem – their owners are. Occasionally there are Librería runaways who slip their collars and, as a result, Tom is in a constant battle with his customers to tighten their dogs’ collars ‘just one more notch‘. Loose collars and ineffective harnesses are the biggest hazards in his line of work, and it’s always important for the walker to be in control. He also recommends that owners begin training their dogs early on, because the first few months of a dog’s life are a very important time for learning behavior patterns. According to Tom, “Your dog wants to do things for you; they want to communicate. You just have to teach them the language.”

For now, Tom is enjoying the increasing demand for his services, with two or three potential new customers each day. He’s happy to report that, as the business has grown, he hasn’t had to let a good dog down. When he’s not busy managing his company though, he spends quality one-on-one time with his own dog, Hudson, as well as enjoying cycling, watching documentaries, or reading about science. In the future Tom plans for Go Walkies London to continue growing slowly and expanding its services as well. For him, Go Walkies has been a very rewarding job, saying “It’s a real pleasure to see people relieved of some worry … and there really is nothing like a happy dog’s greeting, ten times a day!”

Fun Facts

In 2011, the number of pet dogs in Britain surpassed the number of pet cats. Now at an all-time high, Britain’s dog population has risen steadily from 5 million in 1970 to 8.3 million. The cat population has been declining since it peaked in 2004 at 9.6 million.

The population in Britain is 62,641,000. That means that there is one dog for every seven people.

In the UK, The Kennel Club conducted a survey of 1,000 dog owners and found that one in five did not walk their dogs on a daily basis.

A study by Michigan State University showed that people who walk their dogs are 34% more likely to meet expected levels of exercise, with a recommended level of 150 minutes of activity such as dog walking per week.

A study found that while female pooches enjoy playing with both genders, male dogs prefer frolicking with females.

A recent experiment resulted in 75% of walked dogs in a shelter finding homes, while only 35% of the not-walked dogs were adopted.




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Dog Walker Unleashed .

Tom Rochester worked in the film industry until he found his calling. Now he is a professional dog-walker with his own business called Go Walkies London. People pay him to take their dogs for walks while they’re at work. Depending on the day, Tom might have up to three scheduled walks: one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. He walks all kinds of dogs from all types of people who need help with their dogs.

Sometimes he just visits with the dogs at home and other times he walks the dogs in pairs or groups of up to four. More than four dogs is too difficult for both him and the dogs. The walks last for at least one hour and he always picks up after the dogs. At the end of the day he cleans the dogs with a towel and most of the dogs really love this part, because many of them like being tickled.

Most of the dogs are well-behaved, but some can be difficult. Tom says dogs should be trained when they’re little and he believes the best way to train them is with rewards rather than punishments. His business is growing and he feels lucky to have a job where he gets a lot of exercise and plays with dogs all day long.


 

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