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On-Demand Walking Apps: The Cost of Convenience

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 help line 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 any money, and the management is near impossible to get a hold of, the likely result is an army of angry 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 Dogs Deserve It, for example, when we are looking for a new walker or sitter, we first conduct an extensive search. When we receive applicants, we vet all possibilities before reaching out. Once we feel that the applicant could be a good option, we conduct an initial phone interview. If the applicant passes the phone interview, then a background check is performed, upon satisfactory background check results, we setup an in-person interview. After that interview, we call all references and if we feel that they are a good candidate, we send an official at-will employee job offer.

Once hired, our initial training consists of review and quizzes regarding our 75 page handbook. Within the handbook, we review dog walking procedures, guidelines, emergency procedure, leash etiquette and other expectations and mandates that Dogs Deserve It sets for all employees. After this review, the trainee shadows managers through their daily routes. Walkers are then put into a permanent route once we feel they are ready.

We have a certified trainer that works with staff to provide any walker assistance needed in the field. DDI also has a robust management staff available 24 hours a day to help our clients and employees.

Yet despite the work Dogs Deserve It 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 disgruntled 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 http://dogsdeserveit.com/advantages-dog-walker-vs-independent-contractors/

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.

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