Until I moved to NYC ten years ago, “dog walker” was an unfamiliar and, quite honestly, ridiculous concept to me. I grew up in Vermont, and the idea of paying someone to walk my three doggies was just as inane as putting them on a leash and picking up their poo with a plastic baggy. Our dogs had 24 forested acres as a backyard, and someone in the family was almost always home to let them out to play. But we also never locked the doors to our house, and we skied on Fridays instead of going to school. It was a different kind of life.
When I moved to New York I quickly learned that dog walkers are as integral to city life as taxis, food delivery, laundry services and Bloomingdales. With subway commutes, long hours at the office, and a growing number of dual income families, a dog walker is a necessity for most dog-owning residents of NYC.
After seeing how good a dog’s life in the city can be, especially and perhaps most importantly, with the help of a reputable dog walker, I decided I needed a dog (or two) of my own. In law school I started taking my pups, Emma and Oliver, to the dog run in Washington Square Park every day. It soon became the highlight of my day, sitting in the sun, getting to know the Greenwich Village dog walkers, and watching my loves run around and make new friends. It was especially comforting to see the relationships that some dog walkers build with their dogs, knowing that I would eventually have to find a dog walker for Emma and Oliver.
Moving to NYC and learning about dog walkers, dog runs, and dog-friendly parks can be an overwhelming undertaking because the safety, health, and happiness of your dog is at stake. The task is made more difficult by the myriad dog walking businesses to choose from. I had a transitional period to get to know the ins and outs of owning a dog in the city and to become familiar with the different types of dog walkers, but most people don’t. The information in this article is intended to ease that process by providing you with some basic answers to commonly asked questions about where your dogs can play and what type of dog walking services are available.
Where do people bring their dogs to play in NYC?
It may be a concrete jungle, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t green oases, open spaces and opportunities for your pup to escape the city:
Dog runs are not only a place for your dog to run, play and socialize with other dogs, but are usually at the heart of the local dog community. Most of the NYC dog runs are created and maintained by the city and by volunteers, but there are also a few private dog runs. Sometimes the dog runs host fun events or fundraisers like Washington Square’s doggie Halloween party and annual calendar. Dog runs generally have a surface of gravel, pavement, dirt, or wood chips, and some dogs can be particular about which surface they prefer. If your pup is teeny tiny, don’t worry, there are dog runs for the little ones too. A list of NYC dog runs can be found here.
Many of the parks in New York, Central Park and Prospect Park included, have off-leash hours between 9pm and 9am when dogs can run freely in the open spaces. Prospect Park even has a dog beach where dogs can swim and play off leash.
Day Trips/Dog Hiking:
For more wilderness, NYC dog owners can send their pups for a mid-week adventure in the mountains using a dog hiking service. There are only one or two NYC dog hiking services, but it is an amazing opportunity for your dog to really be a dog. There is nothing my pups love more than escaping the city for a day to hit the trails!
Do I need a dog walker?
Most likely, yes. For dog owners – city dwellers and suburban commuters especially – the minumum recommended amount of exercise for your dog of 3-4 hours is, in reality, aspirational. Most of us barely have enough time to go to the gym, and providing our pups with 3-4 hours of exercise every day can be unrealistic. Even taking them out in the middle of the day to poop and pee is impossible for most working people, and without a dog walker your pup will probably be left alone in the apartment for long past the recommended limit of four hours at a time. Having a reputable dog walker will provide your dog with exercise, mental stimulation, and fun, bringing you peace of mind and easing your busy schedule.
How do I choose a NYC dog walker?
Choosing a dog walker or dog walking business in New York City is a tremendous decision for two reasons: 1. you are trusting someone you don’t know very well with your beloved dog; 2. you are trusting that same person with keys and access to your home.
Reputation and Expertise are of paramount importance in the search for a dog walker. Talk to people in the neighborhood and don’t be shy about asking for references. Local communities are a great resource, and some dog walkers only work in certain areas of Manhattan, such as Union Square or Greenwich Village.
NYC Dog walkers offer different types of walks (see below), and you should choose one that best meets your dog’s needs. Don’t be afraid to meet with different dog walkers to see who you feel comfortable with – the best dog walkers are in the business because they love dogs and are good at the job. Using a dog walking service that has built a reputation, that carefully screens its dog walkers, and that has been around for at least a few years, is usually a better choice.
Finally, it is a really good idea to use a dog walker who also provides dog boarding and/or sitting services because most dog owners will have to occasionally leave the city without their doggie. Using the same service will provide your dog with a safe, consistent, trusted environment. The first time I boarded my pups I felt like they were the ones getting a vacation – they already knew, loved, and trusted their caretaker.
What does a dog walk entail?
Different NYC dog walkers have different approaches to the job, and these are some things to consider:
Type of Walk:
Different NYC dog walkers offer different types of walks, and it is wise to know about the pros and cons of each before selecting a dog walker.
Dog Run Walk: Many NYC dog walkers take their doggies for a walk and then to a dog run or park in the neighborhood where the pups can play off leash. This provides the dogs with the chance to exercise, socialize with other dogs, and interact with people. All of these things are extremely important in the life of a healthy and well-balanced dog. It is also a great way to become a part of the local dog community – I don’t live near Washington Square anymore, but when I visit the neighborhood my dogs still pull me all the way to the dog run so they can say hello to their old human and doggie friends!
Walk Only: Some NYC dog walkers do not go to the dog runs, and instead take their dogs for neighborhood walks, or even for a run. This might be a good option for some dogs, particularly aggressive dogs, but it is important to remember that a walk on the leash does not give your dog the opportunity to play and socialize.
The same can be said for another type of walk sometimes referred to as a “ramble” – dogs are taken on a long walk, in a circle around a particular neighborhood, dropping off and picking up other dogs along the way. This kind of walk is efficient for the dog walker, and does give your pup the chance to meet other doggies, but falls short of the kind of stimulation that a trip to the dog run or other off leash play area provides.
Out to Pee Only: the most minimal kind of “walk” sometimes offered is for your dog to be taken out to poop and pee. Often, your dog will be picked up with several other dogs from the building, brought outside to go to the bathroom on the sidewalk, and then returned to the apartment. The disadvantages to this kind of outing are obvious.
Number of Dogs:
An individual dog walk – one dog at a time – can be an appropriate option for aggressive, antisocial, or sick dogs. Some owners also just prefer that their dog be walked alone, whatever the reason. There are some very significant disadvantages to individual dog walks, however. Dogs are social animals, which means it is more fun and usually better for their well-being, to be walked and to play with other dogs.
Small group dog walks, up to three at a time, are usually the best option. This allows the dogs to be social and get to know each other, while ensuring that the dog walker can safely watch all dogs in the dog run. More than three dogs at one time is generally not a good idea and can be dangerous. Most dog runs set a limit of three dogs per person because it is difficult for one dog walker to control and keep safe any more than that at one time.
Large group dog walks are a sight to be seen. Veteran New Yorkers may be able to impassively brush shoulders with crazies and celebrities, but the sight of a dog walker with 15 dogs on a leash behind him will always turn heads. The scene is remarkable and iconic in New York, but large dog walks offer only one advantage – they are less expensive.
Length of Walk:
Many dog walkers in New York City take dogs for at least hour long walks because of the time it takes to get the dog in and out of the apartment building, and then to the dog run. An hour offers ample time for the dogs to exercise, socialize, explore and play (but most would stay all day if permitted!).
Some dog walkers do offer half hour dog walks, which may be appropriate if your dog is elderly or less agile. That being said, I have seen plenty of barely mobile dogs happily relax and socialize in the dog run for hours on end.
The walk sometimes called a “ramble” mentioned above can last two hours or more, but the pace is very slow, and again, does not give your dog the chance to play and explore off leash in a stimulating environment.
In sum, for most dogs who are left home during the day, anything less than an hour is usually insufficient, and it is best if at least part of that time is spent off leash.
Size of the Company:
There are three options – an individual dog walker, who does not work for a company; a small dog walking business; and a large dog walking business.
The advantage of hiring an individual dog walker is that you will have direct communication with the walker, and you only have to schedule and discuss details with one person. However, because these dog walkers work alone, that also means that they don’t have back-up if they get sick or go on vacation. This often puts a great responsibility on the owner to find a temporary replacement dog walker who has not established a relationship with the dog.
Small to medium sized dog walking businesses are a great option because, when well managed, they provide the owner with the same personal, trusted relationship that an individual walker offers, but also provide the flexibility of a larger company. These mid-sized services hire a select group of well-qualified dog walkers, one of whom will be your pup’s primary walker. You will also get to know the whole team so that when your regular dog walker is unavailable, a familiar face will be taking your pup out to play. The best small to medium sized dog walking services have cohesive, dedicated teams and are always in communication with one another, something I got to witness first hand during my law school days hanging out in the Washington Square dog run.
Large dog walking businesses offer flexibility and efficiency, but this is usually outweighed by the disadvantages. These companies often hire short-term dog walkers, who are not as carefully selected, and thus cannot provide the level of personalized service and consistency that a smaller business can. The relationships between dog walker, client, and dog are just not developed in the same way.
Extra dog walking perks:
When choosing a NYC dog walker, ask about additional services included in the walk. Some dog walkers will offer to brush your dog while at the dog run if you leave a brush by the door, and most should leave a note about the day’s walk. Also, if you send your dog for a hike, be sure to ask for photos and videos of the adventure so you can see what fun your pup had!
Whether you have recently moved to New York, just bought a puppy, or relocated within the city, finding a reputable NYC dog walker can be a difficult process. Hopefully these guidelines have provided a framework and helped to familiarize you with the main points to consider when choosing the best New York City dog walker for you and your puppy. We welcome comments regarding your experiences with NYC dog walkers, dog sitters and dog runs, as well as any questions!