The dog walking industry is changing as on-demand walking apps like Wag! are becoming a household name. For many, the convenience of these apps is worth any risk that comes with it — if you’re running late at work or just need a walk from time-to-time, you can simply pull up an app and “order” a caretaker. However, for those using this type of service, it is buyer beware.
In the case of Wag!, the company’s hiring process alone is enough to raise the hair on any professional caregiver’s neck. According to those who have applied to be a Wag! walker, the application process is quite simple: those looking for a quick side hustle can simply fill out an online app that asks the applicant about their experience with dogs and how they would handle certain behavioral and environmental situations. Once the application is submitted and references have been checked, there is a phone interview, followed by a group meet-up with all the other dog walking applicants. In the group setting, soon-to-be Wag! walkers practice fitting a harness on a stuffed animal, receive a free wag t-shirt and bandana…and they are good to go!
Once these walkers are released and officially Wag! representatives, most are eager to get started. Just like the on-demand car service, Uber, a requested walk is released to the nearby walkers, and whoever grabs the walk first gets the job. Seems easy enough, but what happens when something goes wrong?
Stemming from the pool of online reviews written by current and previous Wag! walkers, the biggest complaint is the inability to reach management in times of crisis. There is no office or home base to go to, and if a walker has a problem they are instructed to call the helpline and can wait a lengthy amount of time trying to get a hold of someone. If a walker does not reach a manager, they must leave a message and wait for a rep to contact them, which could be hours.
The number of situations that can go wrong in a set up like this is insurmountable. With an increasing amount of people becoming Wag! contractors, the competition to make money can be fierce. When the amount of available walks is not adequate to make the job worth it, and the management is near impossible to get a hold of, the likely result is an army of disgruntled strangers you are trusting in your home with your baby.
ProTip: Ask the company you hire how they train their staff.
Let’s compare that to a reputable dog walking company who vets their walkers. For Chicago Pet Sitters, for example, when we are looking for a new walker or sitter, we first put out an extensive search. While we of course want walkers with dog handling experience, we are specifically looking for people with a track record of honesty, reliability and a great work ethic. We conduct an initial phone interview, followed by a face-to-face interview, and a follow-up interview. We call and speak with all professional references and execute a background check. Once hired, our new employees can expect three days to a week of training, depending on their experience.
All staff members must read through our employee manual, which spells out in detail what we and our clients expect from our walkers and sitters. From there, new hires complete a series of dog behavior videos through FetchFind, complete a series of quizzes and practice putting on several harnesses on a live office dog, or if not available, our medium-sized stuffed dog named Gregory. Once the in-office portion is complete, our new staff members then shadow a few of our senior walkers who give the ins and outs of the company, what our new team member can expect, and how to further deal with specific situations.
A new walker is then assigned to specific clients, and those clients have the option to meet with our new team member before getting started. This allows the family and their pup(s) to get to know their walker, so we can be aware if anything seems unusual when we come to visit. Getting to know our furry clients’ idiosyncrasies helps us be the best providers for the companions in our care.
Once our staff is out in the field, our management team is on call and ready to jump into action if needed. Centrally located to our clients, our office provides the space we need for team staff meetings and one-on-one staff meetings with management. To best provide the best care for our clients, we are continually working to further our education. Our management team has gone through the three-month Behavioral Fundamentals course at FetchFind, and we frequently attend dog behavior workshops. That information is then passed on to our staff during our staff meetings.
Yet despite the work Chicago Pet Sitters and other reputable employee-based companies put into our companies and staff, on-demand walking apps continue to make headlines. Not only do we see these national start-up companies splashed across the pages of investment news sites thanks to million-dollar investments, but more importantly we see the horror stories that come from companies like these.
According to reports, one incident involved a Beagle-Labrador mix who went missing at the hands of a Wag! contractor. Buddy’s owner accused Wag! of misleading their rescue efforts and claimed the company offered her $2,500 and to pay for the Disney World trip her and her family were on during the time of the incident. The company’s response to her accusations was a cease and desist letter written by the Wag! company attorney:
“If your retraction and apology to Wag! are not publicly posted to each and every social media platform that you have used to libel Wag! within 24 hours of the time of this email, this office has been authorized to use all available means to bring as swift as possible an end to your lies.”
Beyond the position a company takes with their dissatisfied clients, how can these companies not have control over their workers, one may ask? The answer is simple; they cannot control what their walkers/caregivers are doing or how the work is performed because the people they employ are independent contractors, not employees. To understand the critical differences between the two, please see our recent blog post on independent contractors vs employees.
When considering whom to hire for your dog walking and pet sitting needs, it is imperative to look at the internal structure and organization of the company. Our advice is to choose a company that invests in its staff and one that takes responsibility when things go awry.
Here are just a few of the recent headlines about these on-demand pet care apps: