I've been lax with the Dog of the Month contest of late and I was surprised to see I had missed 3 months on the trot so it's definitely time to kickstart the contest. I am pleased to say that the winner for this month is April. April is a lovely greyhound and we have been walking her for several years now. Here is April's story...
April is a very well behaved dog these days but that wasn't always the case...as I am sure her owners will remember only too well when they first rehomed April she was a dog with a lot going on! She was and always has been great with people and kids but initially she would react badly to almost any dog she came into contact with so it was, to begin with, a challenge to get her used to pack life.
For quite a while she wore a muzzle but being an ex-racer that was something that she was used to and it was a comfort to know that any dogs we came into contact with were safe. In time confidence in April grew and April showed improvement so she was introduced to some of the other North Shields dogs. As with a lot of reactive dogs once you have introduced that dog properly in a controlled manner to another dog they settle with that dog very quickly. April was a quick learner so it didn't take long to get her into her own pack and from there her confidence continued to grow and gradually she would react less and less to random dogs on the street - this, as anyone with a reactive dog knows, is not a quick fix. It is no exaggeration to say this has taken a few years and improvements are gradual.
April is proof positive that a reactive dog can be rehabilitated and for a long time now April has been no bother at all. She is 100% with all the dogs she walks with and very rarely barks at another dog when she's out, in fact, I can't remember the last time that happened.
We genuinley love walking April and are grateful to have been walking her for the past few years through the pandemic as well as house moves and new babies. April has took it all in her stride, she's a really special dog (but it's no secret that I do have a soft spot for greyhounds).
Here are a couple of photos of April out with her friends in Whitley Bay and North Shields. I'll bring you your prize and certificate next time I have you out for a walk!
What is the best dog walking van?
So just what is the best dog walking van? The quick answer is no one vehicle will suit every dog walkers needs. The best dog walking van for you need depends on your unique business model and the services you offer. For example, if all of your customers live within 15 minutes walk of your home I would suggest you don't need a vehicle at all as you can arguably manage on foot. However, if you must travel more than a reasonable walking distance to collect your canine customers then you may want to look at purchasing a suitable dog walking van but where to begin?
If like me, all of your business is very local to you then the choice between petrol or diesel shouldn't be a one you should ponder over for long but if your service area is spread over a large area then you should consider a diesel vehicle as there are cost savings to be made when compared to a petrol dog walking van. Diesel vehicles are still road legal until 2040 (production of new diesels vehicles stops in theUK in 2030) so they are still a genuine option for the next few years. So once you've decided on petrol or diesel you then have to ask yourself whether you should use a van or a regular car.
Van or car for dog walking?
Our dog walking business relied on our own car, a Mini Countryman, for a few years but as the business grew a van looked like a better option for us. This was for 2 main reasons:
I don't regret using our car in the early years, it meant we could keep the costs down until our business was established. That to me was a safer option than committing cash to a van before our dog walking business was even in profit
You may find that kitting out your own car with suitable cages and restraints is fine, especially if you have a large SUV or similar. Just remember to inform your insurance company and they'll make a note of the change of use for the vehicle, we found our insurance didn't go up at all.
So as we have proved you can run a successful dog walking business with a car but the time came, after 6 years for us to finally buy a van, but which vehicles would make the best dog walking van?
The right van for the job
When you start looking around for a van for your dog walking business there are lots of choices available. All the major vehicle makers make a van. The variety of vans is overwhelming but we broke in down by size which is a good starting point.
We definitely didn't need something as big as a Ford Transit van as our business model meant that transport for a maximum of 3 to 4 dogs was all we needed. However, we didn't want to be cramped and we definitely didn't want to be tight on space for the dogs so we also ruled out things like the Citroen Nemo or a Peugeot Bipper. This left us looking at vans such as the Citroen Berlingo and Vauxhall Combo.
These would have been OK but aesthetically they just weren't doing it for us, they were just all a bit boring.
The best dog walking van for ended up being what used to be referred to a micro-van - so-called because they were among the first of the mini-vans we regularly see on our roads today. When they first came out they were aimed at local handymen, florists and town or city-based small businesses. Their fuel economy, manoeuvrability and nippiness around town made them an instant hit.
We decided on a Suzuki Carry Van
One final thing to consider is leasing a van. We quickly looked at leasing but it wasn't for us, we didn't want a brand new van and we didn't want the commitment of a lease vehicle. Ultimately we could have carried on with our car but for these reasons, we decided to take finally the plunge and get a dog walking van:
Anyway, I have been waffling on a bit so here's a picture of the van:
We've had the van for about 3 months and so far so good, we really love it - it's super cute and more fuel efficient than the Mini - the fuel costs look to be approximately £500 per year as opposed to £1,000 (although the Mini was used for personal journeys too of course). The road tax for the van is higher at £260 per year and the insurance is similar and around £230 per year.
I mentioned above that we weren't looking for a new van and in the end we took a chance on an older van with low mileage based mostly on the Indiana Jones quote 'it ain't the years honey, it's the mileage'. We settled on a Japanese minivan, a 2005 Suzuki Carry with only 60,000 miles on the clock. For us, it's the best dog walking van, and I will update this blog with images of the interior at some point but the cab seats 2 people and there's lots of space in the back for 3 large crates. I could have easily fitted in more crates but we only ever walk packs of 3 or 4 dogs so 3 crates are sufficient. The van has a nearside and offside sliding door as well as rear access. As you can see we have had signage professionally fitted to the van which is something we never opted for in the Mini. It's a dream to drive and we love the high seating position but most of all now we've had the Mini cleaned we like having our own car back too.
Got any questions or want any advice about dog walking generally or this blog post? Feel free to leave a reply and I will get back to you!
Hot off the press!...Monty has been given the coveted Dog of the Month award for November 2020. Monty is a 5 year old Burnese Mountain Dog and he lives very near Coastal Dog Walkers HQ. He's a gentle giant and for his size he's very good on the lead. He's been with us for a couple of months now, he's settled in well and has met a lot of the other dogs we walk. Here is is with some of his friends on recent trips out.
Monty's owners approached us to help him socialise and make new friends in the local area. Monty's owners had only had him in their lives for a short while as he was rehomed with them via the Dogs Trust, he is a confident, happy boy who's eager to please and like a lot of dogs he does love a treat, cheese being a particular favourite. I shall present him with his certificate and cheese based prize when I see him next week. Well done Monty!
I am very pleased to announce that young Vinnie has won the coveted Dog of the Month Comp this month.
Vinnie is almost 11 months old now and he's been with us since he was around 16 weeks old. It was great to get him on the books as a young puppy as we did get a chance pre lockdown to start to introduce him to a few of our older, more sensible dogs. Hopefully this helped Vinnie get used to other dogs and now you can put him with any dog, big or small and he just fits right in.
As you can see he's a Bedlington Terrier. He has a lovely nature and for his age is very sensible as long as you don't take him to the beach! The beach sends him instantly hyperactive and he jjust wants to be off runing around having fun - who can blame him, I feel the same way myself about the beach!
Well done Vinnie....I shall fetch you your prize and certificate next week.
I am very pleased to announce that young Mousey has won the Dog of the Month contest for August 2020.
As you can see she's a brindle whippet and she's been with us for a just a couple of months, although she's a new dog to us her owner has used us before as they owned Dan the greyhound whowe walked for ages.
I know her owner won't beleive me but Mouse is the most sensible puppy we've ever had! - we made sure she was socialised early with other dogs and had lots of interactions with them even before she was able to join them properly on pack walks. Her owner is experienced with dogs too and she has put lots of time in with Mouse in order to train her and keep her mentally stimulated. All in all Mouse has had a great start in life and we hope to have her in our pack for many years to come.
Well done little Mousey :)
I've pretty much avoided wanging on about Coronavirus on my website and Social Media Pages but as I have a spare half hour I thought I would bring it up to brighten everyone's day! So anyway there's this thing called Coronavirus that's been kicking around for a while now, have you heard of it? I'm being irreverent of course because a/ that's just the type of guy I am and b/ if you didn't laugh you'd cry as it has without doubt impacted everyone's life over the past 6 months or so. Personally I'm now way past panicking about it and I will continue to adhere to the rules and just try and get on with things as best I can.
When we first locked down my thoughts were basically to roll with lockdown and deal with the potential financial mess later on. I still stand by that as you can't put a price on everyone's health and that has to be the priority. However I do think I under estimated just how long lockdown would go on for and just how long the ripple effect of lockdown would continue to affect business.
Like a lot of businesses we essentially put the shutters down and mothballed everything for about 8 weeks or so from the end of March until whenever Boris began to ease the restrictions. I think we've been back to work for about 12 weeks now but we are by no means back to being as busy as we were going into 2020. 12 weeks on and I'm essentially back to being a one man band, I have struggled to find any work for my trusted helpers Lynne, Graeme and Keith - they have had bits and pieces of work but business is 60% to 70% down every single week over the past 3 months and the work just isn't there to keep them going at this time. They all know I’m gutted about that and I am still hopeful that I can get back to somewhere near full capacity and find work for all of them soon. However I have revised my hopes and very much lowered my expectations for the business for the rest of this year.
Initially I optimistically thought things would magically return to pre-Covid levels once the restictions eased, now I need to accept that there will be a lot of rebuilding to do. I'm actually one of the lucky ones as lots of businesses will have gone under never to return and I feel that as of now things have probably bottomed out and come September I'll get my teachers dogs back and come November the Furlough scheme will end and hopefully that means the rest of my paused customers will return. What we obviously haven't had in the past few months is much in the way of enquiries, again I am hopeful that will change as we head nearer to the end of Furlough - I have and will try to remain positive and I stand by my initial thought back in March that everyone's health has to take priority and we'd pick up the financial pieces later on.
I've put a lot of energy into Coastal Dog Walkers since I started the business in 2015 and have made lots of friends, both canine and human! I am very proud of how we do things - we didn't just follow the How To Start a Dog Walking Business formula and have took a different path from most other dog walking companies; All of our dogs are walked on the lead at all times, our pack sizes remain small, we don't pile all of the dogs into a van and release them onto the nearest stretch of beach. All of our dogs benefit hugely from this and all of our customers will tell you that they love what we do and they have happier, healthier, more confident dogs that have great social skills and are generally better on the lead than they used to be.
Stay safe y'all.
coastal Dog Walkers
When we went into Lockdown at the end of March I suspended our Dog of the Month competition as we wouldn't actually be doing a lot of walking for quite some time. Now we've all come through Lockdown and we've been back to work for a number of weeks I thought it was a good time to bring back the Dog of the Month competition.
So without further ado the winner for July 2020 is the lovely Skye.
We have been walking Skye since November of last year and as you can see she's a gorgeous greyhound aged about 7/8 years.
Skye has genuinely been fantastic since day one. Her owners were very lucky that she settled in as quickly as she did as not only was Skye new to us but she was a new dog for them too, in fact they'd only had her for a few days before we began to help out with her walks whilst they were at the day job.
Skye is arguably the most laid back dog I have ever met, she's happy in the company of any other dog, she's great with everyone she meets and nothing seems to bother her. I've probably her her out with every dog we currently walk and she's brilliant with all of them. She's always very excited to see us when we collect her and is a pleasure to walk as her lead work is first class.
Her owners have work commitments elsewhere so Skye is taking a break from us for a while but I hope to see her again when she returns as she's welcome back anytime.
When I started Coastal Dog Walkers back in 2015 I looked around to see how other Dog Walkers did it, not to copy anyone but to get an idea for best practices and in some cases to see what not to do. If I was to follow the How To Become a Dog Walker school of thought it very much looked to me at the time like I would have to buy a van and operate my business over quite a large area. This all meant I would be on the road a lot and it would mean customers dog's (I didn't even have any of these at the time) would be in the van for what i considered an unacceptable amount of time. Hmmm I thought, there has to be another way....
My solution was to build my business slowly by imposing a strict geographical 'zone' to work within. I'd say no to any potential new customers outside that zone. This was dificult beacuse I kept getting enquiries from just a mile or 2 outside my work area and although it was counter intuative to turn work away that's exactly what I did. Slowly I did get some customers within my operational area and I have more or less stuck to that ethos since then only expanding my area when I was able to take on some helpers after a couple of years.
I still see to this day new dog walkers who take on work anywhere they can get it and will travel miles out of their way chasing that next customer. They and their dogs must be forever on the road driving to be able to collect dogs for a group walk and that's fine for them but that's not the way I wanted to do things.
At this point in time, July 2020 we cover a small part of North Shields, all of Tynemouth, all of Cullercoats and a small part of Whitley Bay. It's not set in stone and we may expand again in the future but only if I have the staff to cover any new areas.
So the reason our dog walking area is small is this: We don't want your dogs to be stuck in a van when they could be getting walked! And 6 years in and I still haven't even got a van but that's a blog for another day!
Coastal Dog Walkers
Winner for Feb 2020 (Last one before lockdown)
Mr Oscar is our latest winner of our Dog of the Month competition!
He's a very lovable Staffy from Tynemouth and we've had the pleasure of walking him for almost 6 months now. He was rehomed by his owner a few months before we took him on as a walking client and we started helping out when work commitments got in the way of Oscars walks!
He's a lovely, lovely boy and we all love him dearly, the other dogs he's regularly walked with love him too. He's literally no bother whatsoever, and he doesn't even mind when the younger dogs decide they want to play and mess about. Oscar remains calm and relaxed in all situations. To be fair he does get a little excited if he sees a cat but it's fairly low level stuff, cats aside he's a very chilled out dog.
Give him a follow over on Instagram. He's @mr_oscar_the_carrot_eater
If like us you happen to own a dog that is reactive then you probably keep your dog on the lead when you’re outdoors. Our own dog, Buzz isn’t ever allowed off the lead on walks as he’s a reactive dog. Or he was…read on to find out just how much he’s improved.
We brought Buzz home in July of 2016 and although he was initially OK, he very quickly turned to the dark side and started reacting at any and every dog he spotted. He was ‘that’ dog that rages from the back of the sofa looking out of the living room window should another dog dare to come into view. On walks he would react to another dog on the street even it was 50 yards from us. And god help you if he seen a cat.
We did wonder what the hell we’d brought home from the RSPCA. We were told that Buzz was a Lurcher cross. Quite quickly we were pretty sure he was crossed with the Tasmanian Devil.
I would like to say though that he was a brilliant dog at home. He settled in immediately and there wasn’t a hint of badness in him, indoors there were no negatives, he was a lovely dog. Take him outside though and he’d turn into what the experts call ‘a pain the in arse’.
He was just a complete nightmare; I can’t emphasise strongly enough how stressful it was taking him for a walk. Whenever we’d go out with him there would be multiple highly charged incidents. He’d see a dog and he’d lose the plot.
He’d be tense throughout the whole walk; his lead work was horrific as he’d be pulling this way and that looking for other dogs and then once he had a dog in his sights he’d go nuclear. There was lots of lunging and barking and his behaviour was just horrendous.
We had to do something, we couldn’t give him back to the RSPCA, could we? No, we couldn’t, they knew him so they probably won’t let him back in anyway. Maybe we could try Dogs Trust, they might take him?... nah, only joking. In all seriousness we probably did have second thoughts, but he was our dog and we couldn’t just give up on him. We had to begin to break down what was happening and look to see how we could correct his behaviour.
As you know I’m a dog walker, not a behaviourist. Personally, I’m sceptical of behaviourists as I know a lot of people who’ve spent a lot of money on them to no avail. I now know one or two dog behaviourists that I would recommend but back in 2016 we decided to do what we normally do if we have a problem and need some help. We Googled it.
In the short term we muzzled him. This gave us some breathing room to be able to try and correct his behaviour whilst minimising the risk of him attacking a dog.
We then started taking him out when there were less dogs about, early mornings and later in the day. Other dogs were unavoidable (there are 9 million other dogs in the country!) but at quieter times of the day he wasn’t bumping into other dogs around every corner.
As mentioned earlier his lead work was very poor so we decided to try and tackle this issue at the same time. There are lots of great videos on YouTube that can help but in a nutshell we just took him back to basics and rewarded him with training treats when he’d walk well and we would stop dead when he pulled. Once we stopped we would only walk on once the tension on the lead had gone slack. Eventually he did start to get better, but this took quite a long time, we put months and months into this often taking half an hour just to get around the block.
To be fair we were a bit lax at times with this Stop and Go training method as we were often in a hurry to get from A to B so we’d sometimes just put up with the pulling just to get to where we were going as we were so often in a rush. I feel if had we had the time to properly use this technique every single time we went out he would have cracked it in less than a month.
Our mission was now to try and correct his reactive nature. He was definitely improving on the lead and on our walks his focus was on us because we were giving him lots of praise and lots of treats. It was clear that these 2 things (praise and treats) were going to be key weapons in our battle to recalibrate his behaviour.
What we did was actually very simple, but just like teaching him to walk nicely on the lead it took a long time to work effectively in every instance. What we did was to give him a nice treat every time we seen a dog relatively close by. By ‘relatively close by’ I mean close enough where he would be about to react – for Buzz that would be dogs on the other side of the road, dogs behind fences or gates and dogs heading toward him at a distance of about 50 yards or so.
The exact timing of giving him a treat was important. It was no use seeing a dog heading our way and giving him a treat and then expecting him not to react once the dog was passing by. The key to it was showing him the treat and tempting him with it, making a real fuss whilst the other dog was drawing closer and closer and then after the dogs had passed each other he got his reward. A lot of the time we’d get him to sit and almost hold the treat to his nose whilst the other dog got safely by and then he’d get the reward. If he reacted, he wouldn’t get the treat. We would try not to get stressed or animated about this. We rewarded the good behaviour and bit our lips when it didn’t go to plan. In time I believe we got better at timing the treats and this helped because giving the treat too soon or too late often led to an unwanted reaction from Buzz.
The only verbal command we’d ever really used was ‘leave it’. Perhaps this worked well on 2 levels. On one hand he was leaving the juicy titbit as he already knew that command and wouldn’t take the treat until you stopped saying ‘leave it’ and told him to ‘take it’. A by-product of him concentrating on leaving it was that this took his mind away from ‘I must react to the other dog’ which brough his tension levels down to a level low enough to allow the other dog to get past.
I have since read online that using higher value treats (cheese, ham, chopped up hot dogs) can work better than the stuff we used which was just shop bought basic training treats. Perhaps we would have had a quicker resolution had we used these higher value treats, but we were thrilled to be making any progress at all. It was clear to us that what we were doing was working.
We took treats on every single walk we went on and we continued to improve both his lead work and his reactive nature. It took many months but gradually he became less and less reactive and we now find that he’s still on the lookout for other dogs when we’re walking him but now when he sees a dog he looks at us for his treat. We are still in the habit of rewarding him whenever he sees or passes another dog but he’s at the stage now where he can walk past another dog without incident.
Buzz is now almost 8 years old and he’s just a great dog. He’s still not the best on the lead, sometimes he’s very good and sometimes he decides to be a pain but overall he’s significantly better than he was. In terms of his reactive nature I would say he’s entirely rehabilitated, he doesn’t even react when another dog reacts at him. Even his hatred of cats has gone. Now when he spots a cat he just looks to us for a treat!
Coastal Dog Walkers
Welcome to the occasional ramblings of a North Shields dog walker.