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11 Things Every Dogwalker Should Know in San Francisco

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Harry Potter playing a dog walker in the movie Trainwreck

By Max Silver

Here are some general guidelines for folks living in the city of SF who wish to get employed in the dog-walking industry. The author of this article walked dogs for a living in San Francisco, as well as in Chicago, for (ruff)ly two and a half years. Contrary to what most people think, this occupation is not as easy as it sounds.

1. Some owners know how to control their pets. Others don’t

Take for instance the time I took a pack of ten or so doggos out with me to a fenced-in area for dogs in Golden Gate Park. There were a few other walkers out there with their charges on that bright and cloudless day. Everything seemed fine and ordinary until this one guy shows up with his untrained Husky.

Huskies are cute, they really know how to vocalize, and who doesn’t love adorable hounds that resemble their wolfish ancestors? However, Huskies are also really big. They are strong and have sharp teeth. An untrained dog, no matter what breed, can be a threat to other dogs and potentially humans because they just don’t know any better. They have not been taught anything about social interactions. When this guy unleashed his animal in the enclosure, the Husky went berserk. When other dogs tried to play with him, he would bite aggressively. When they tried to leave him alone, the Husky gave chase, trampling and traumatizing the little ones.

The most infuriating part was the behavior of the Husky’s owner, who did not seem to understand that his dog was creating a problem, and that by refusing to deal with it he was putting the rest of us at risk.

After the first complaint, he apologized to that owner, and immediately turned his back on the situation in order to continue chatting with someone else. Meanwhile, the Husky went back to bedlam. Some walkers evacuated the enclosure immediately, as they wanted to make sure that none of their dogs ended up becoming the Husky’s lunch. Someone else tried to leash the irresponsible owner’s Husky, but the Husky was having such a great time tearing shit up at the dog-park that he decided it would be better to make the humans run after him in circles. It was not until we had to threaten to call the park-ranger for the safety of our pets that the negligent owner caught on to the disruption his Husky had caused, and thankfully they both left soon after.

Variables like the Husky will occur on random occasions, especially if you are taking your dogs out to a popular park with other walkers and owners. My best advice is that, while you can’t count on everyone else to control their animals around you, you can make sure you have control over your own.

2. Every dog, when given the opportunity to do so, eats shit

I do not care what their owner tells you, even if they insist that they have never seen their dog doing it. Either they are lying, or their dog is a sneaky scoundrel who is able to get away with it by taking advantage of their aloof owner’s lack of awareness as soon as they are left unsupervised. Dogs eat poop, whether it be their own or someone else’s. Every chance they get, if no one is around, even if everyone is around, dogs will scarf it down.

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"I'm in a pool and I don't give a fuck"

A post shared by Max Silver (@the_underhound) on

3. Others roll in it

Dogs are fearless where fecal matter is concerned. As a dog-walker, you will have to adjust. One of my Labradoodles, I forget whether it was Buddy or Kevin or some other ball of white-fluff, ran to the end of a dog-park to roll in some shit I had not yet identified the moment we arrived to the enclosure. Upon further inspection, the waste was not created by a dog… but by an inebriated homeless man who fell asleep last night under the bench. The dog had to be hosed down after this incident. Much explaining ensued when the owner asked why their pet was soaking wet.

3. Confrontations happen

For the most part, the people confronting you are not professional dog-walkers like yourself, but self-entitled locals or transplants who think they own the neighborhood. For example, there was this one greasy, long-haired old dude who brought his belligerent Golden Retriever with him to Corona Heights. This geezer frequented the park regularly for years. Another dog-walker who had been involved in the trade longer than I have once got in a confrontation with this same fogey, during which time the dog-walker reportedly got bit and told the scraggly man “you know your dog just bit me, right?” to which the scraggly man rudely smiled and said, “Good.”

The problem was that the Golden Retriever did not like getting humped. Dogs hump each other all the time. They hump for pleasure, and they also hump to assert their dominance. While the latter should not be encouraged, it is rarely perceived as a threat by the dog getting humped. If the dog does not like it, they might growl, perhaps even politely bare their fangs, but usually that is it. The matter is resolved. When one of my dogs, Mikey, tried to hump the Golden Retriever, the scraggly man’s monster tried to rip Mikey’s throat out. This was an unusual response. The old man should have warned me beforehand that his dog would snap and go straight into kill-mode if humped by another dog. Because he did not say anything, but rather blamed me for Mikey’s normal behavior, I got mad.

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Pack mentality.

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A few weeks later, we saw each other again at Corona Heights. There were many other people here this time, and subsequently a larger number of dogs running around, bumping into each other, barking at and peeing on everything. I watched his Golden Retriever lunge after an unsuspecting dog that had gotten too close to his hindquarters, and decided I was fed up. To spare you the details, let’s just say I cussed him and his dog out of that park and never saw nor heard from either of them again.

Non-violent communication should be implemented first before profanity, but if all else fails you can always call the ne’er-do-well out in public. If the crowd agrees with you, as they did for me in this particular shouting-match, than they will cheer you on and for at least a day you will feel like the hero of SF’s dog parks… even though that is not a title the author remotely feels he deserves in any way, shape, or form.

Safest Way to Break Up A Dog Fight: Grab their Hindquarters and Flip ’Em Around

I do not understand these people who think they can prevent dogs from killing each other by reaching for the canines’ mouths. If you put your hands near or in front of their fangs, when they are using their fangs to rend another dog’s flesh, guess what? You are going to get bitten. If multiple dogs are attacking the same one, so you decide to throw yourself on the ground, wrap your arms around the defending-animal while you attempt to roll back and forth among the attackers, using your own body as a shield, guess what? You are going to get bitten and covered in shit. I have seen both of these methods applied by people who don’t know how to properly handle dogs fighting, and both of them failed to stop the brawl and resulted in people getting needlessly injured.

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Happiness is.

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Here’s how you stop a dogfight properly: Grab them by the butt and swing them around. It’s as simple as that. This movement will briefly disorient the animal. At first, the dog may think that another dog must have attacked them from the rear. When they look around, and see only you, the majority of the time that dog will relax. They recognize that you are human, which means they are in trouble, and the dog no longer has to improvise taking control of the situation, because they are now submitting themselves to your control. You are the master. They are the domesticated servant. You have the power to feed them. They do not want to challenge you, and they will stop fighting each other once they have assessed that the situation is being taken care of by the masters, rather than being left up to the responsibility of the pack.

6. Alarm systems

At some point, someone is going to make a mistake, and the alarm-system that should have been disabled will go off. Or, you will show up when the dog was not meant to be scheduled for a pick-up, and the alarm will go off as soon as you enter the family’s home while the family are on vacation. It could be a number of reasons. Perhaps there was a malfunction in the building. Perhaps machines just don’t like you.

No need to panic. Just call the owner, let them know that you accidentally triggered their alarm-system, and move on. If they are reasonable clientele, they will accept your apology and understand. If they are not reasonable clientele, tell them they can find someone else to walk their poop-eater.

7. People Do Weird Shit in their Homes, and Sometimes You Will Arrive Unexpectedly At the Worst Possible Time

This spectrum ranges anywhere from walking into someone’s living room to find the owner taking ecstasy and having a good ol’ fashioned orgy on the couch with their Yoga instructor…to walking in on someone who just died in their sleep, and instead of walking their pet you have to call 911 and perform CPR.

[Boudin, via Instagram]

8. Dogs Ruin Backseats

If you decide to use your own vehicle to transport dogs for this job, know that no matter what precautions you take, the dogs will destroy the interior of your vehicle over time. You can try putting protective-sheets and blankets over the upholstery. It does not matter. At least one dog will figure out how to bite or slowly gnaw through the material. That is all it will take. Even if you create a barrier, (and I highly recommend that you should,) between the front of the car and the backseat, dog-hairs will float to the front just as they stick to the back. Everything in your vehicle will begin to smell, taste, feel, and look like dog. Not to mention the dogs who might relieve themselves in your vehicle.

9. In the Event of Emergency…

If you have a dying dog on your hands, you need to rush that animal to the nearest vet or animal-clinic immediately. Do not call 911. Call the owner to let them know what is happening, especially if you think it might be from an allergic reaction or something to do with medical-prescriptions. Do not leave it entirely up to the owner to figure out what needs to be done in order to save their pet. Be a professional, do what you can and act accordingly. It is not your career that is on the line, so much as the creature’s lifespan.

10. Park Rangers

According to San Francisco Recreation and Parks’ website, dog-walkers are limited to leashing up to nine dogs at a time. Those of us in the business who have been living in this city from check to check know that nine dogs are not nearly enough to make a profit… let alone pay rent. If a park-ranger catches you walking more than nine dogs at a time, they could force you to pay a hefty fine.

So, what like-minded professionals have done to ensure that it is still possible to walk dogs in this city and survive, is to ignore this rule and create a support-system. Make sure you socialize with the other dog-walkers and exchange phone numbers. In the event that one dog-walker happens to spot a lurking park-ranger at a particular site, they can tap into this loose network and alert the others, so that at least nobody else has to pay an unnecessary fine. It is not a foolproof strategy, but it is better than staking it out on your own.

[Image via Instagram

11. Keys: You Will Lose Them

You will have multiple sets of keys for different buildings that you will be expected to carry around with you at all times. Some buildings may require more than one key to get in. The odds of perfection are not in your favor. At the very least, you will misplace at least one single key, hopefully before you have already picked up the animal from their apartment. If you are like me, you will lose keys over and over again. You may get locked out of your own car, or you may leave the keys inside someone’s house. Or, a dog might mistake your carabineer for an elaborate holder of exotic treats. Whatever the case, it is bound to happen. Accept that you are capable of human-error. It will be easier this way. Good luck.

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