There is a spot on 14th Street NW in Washington, D.C., that is often littered with the remains of takeout chicken. In the text vernacular of dog walker Perry Edon III, it is a “bone zone.” A pooch sniffing fire hydrants in San Francisco may appear to be dillydallying. But in the prose of walker Christy Griffin, the dog is “checking her peemail.”
And to both of them, a dog’s poop is not just a poop. For clients who want to know about it — and most of them do — it is a very notable action, and sometimes a product to be described in great detail.
In a nation where people lead ever more busy lives and increasingly view their dogs as family members, professional dog walking is flourishing. And along with it is what might be viewed as the unusual art of dog walker communication. Many of today’s walkers do not simply stroll — not if they want to be rehired, anyway. Over text and e-mail, they craft fine-grained, delightful narratives tracing the journey from arrival at the residence to drop-off. They report the number of bathroom stops. They take artistic photos, and lots of them.
“For an hourlong walk, I send six or eight, depending,” said Griffin, 44, who holds a treat in her hand when shooting to ensure her charge is looking at the camera. “Then I give a full report that includes not only peeing and pooping but also kind of general well-being, and if the dog socialized with other dogs.”
After walking a dog named Stevie Nicks, Griffin’s blow-by-blow mentioned that the dog had collected a chicken bone from under a bush, then “crunched down on it and broke into 3 pieces.” At the end of another walk, Griffin related that she “picked the foxtails out of her little beard and mustache.”
Dog walkers’ notes are often more exhaustive than those parents get from the caregivers of their human children.
“I have a three-year-old daughter, and I’ve come to the conclusion that some people treat their dogs like kids completely,” said Henry Moraga, 37, who spends every weekday, from morning to evening, pounding the streets of Oxnard, Calif., with groups of dogs that vary in number from three to 12.
Natalie Lockwood, a former preschool teacher who walks dogs in Seattle, hesitated for a moment when asked to compare dog owners’ desire for detail to that of small children’s parents. “I would say it’s almost even,” she concluded, adding of dog owners: “Some will want to talk ad nauseam, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.”
When sending his monthly bill, Moraga said he always includes a handwritten note on custom stationery, telling a dog’s owner “what they’ve done through the month, what they’ve learned, what we’re planning on doing next month.”
Rover requires its walkers to complete a standardized “report card” that includes arrival and drop-off times, route and pit stops. But sections for adding photos and a written account are where “walkers can really shine,” said Jenna White, the company’s director of dog-walking operations. New walkers are shown examples of particularly strong narratives during training, as well as advice on photos, the best of which White said have good lighting and not too much motion. Shots taken at iconic local spots, like doggy senior portraits, are even better, she said.
“Ongoing, two-way communication is actually one of the most important components to a successful walk,” White said. “What we’ve heard from owners is the more details, the better. You can’t have too many details.”