Update on San Francisco’s Dog Walking Legislation

Many dog walkers and people in the dog community are applauding San Francisco Supervisor Wiener’s efforts to license dog walkers in the city. Some however, are not. Why should you care?

Forward thinking legislation in the big city may affect your city/national park eventually. Cities like Marin & Berkeley already have a limit of six dogs per walker.  Legislation in San Francisco may influence other regional parks (like the GGNRA) treat dog walkers, and affect other cities’ decisions on how to implement similar permits.  Supervisor Wiener told one of his colleagues, “Seven or eight dogs on a walk seem like a lot, but right now it’s infinity.”

This makes it easier for you, the dog guardian/owner to differentiate between the neighbor’s teenager walking your dog, and a professional dog walker. Some owners care more that the dog is getting out of the house for a good price than who is doing the walking. No problem. Don’t ask about a permit. Possibly, expect lower prices for non-permitted walkers. It would be like asking the neighbor with three children to take care of your child as opposed to going to a licensed daycare. Other owners may want to know more about how to differentiate various walkers in the area. With this new legislation, dog walkers will be required to carry the actual permit on their person. When you meet the dog walker for an interview you can ask to see their permit. The possession of a permit means that they will have had to fulfill a set of qualifications set by the city including:

  1. Certification including classroom and hands-on training or mentoring by a permitted and experienced walker or Grandfather Clause of three or more years of experience dog walking as a licensed business(as of September 1, 2012).
  2. $1 Million in General Liability Insurance (in the unfortunate event of a dog loss, accident, etc.)
  3. Safe vehicle with proper ventilation and non-skid flooring as set forth by San Francisco Animal Care & Control
  4. Consent to walking no more than eight dogs during a walk

Your dog walking prices may go up because obtaining a dog-walking permit will cost an annual fee and take time. Following the permit regulations will also change some walkers’ business practices. Some walkers already fall within these guidelines, but for the ones that do not, they will either have to hire more people, or change their own routine.  For example, a owner-operated dog-walker, who normally only walks one big group per day and takes 10 dogs at a time will now need to drive to pickup a smaller number of dogs, take them to the park (potentially for a shorter period of time), and then drive to drop off those first set of dogs while picking up the remainder of dogs, and then hit the park again. This will take much more time in his/her day, and in turn, s/he may need to raise your fees.  Even if you’re not in San Francisco, if the prices go up in the city, other areas usually are comparing prices to San Francisco and setting their prices accordingly.

Permitting helps you, the dog owner, evaluate which dog walkers have thought of the details such as liability insurance. Liability insurance is something that we hope we never have to use, however my boss likes to say, “Hope is not a strategy.” How risk-averse are you? I have a personal story with this unfortunate situation. My darling 10-month-old puppy was out being walked, on-leash, by a professional walker. The walker somehow lost control of the puppy, losing their hold on the leash.  The puppy ran away from the walker and into the street. Unfortunately, the puppy was struck by a hit-and-run driver and killed my puppy. The walker feels terrible, and what can they do? Nothing can ever replace that dog.  Liability insurance would offer a monetary compensation towards the loss of the dog. It may be a small amount if the dog was adopted from ACC and fed table-scraps, but in general, insurance will pay for “replacement cost” (adoption fee/price, food, training) of the dog.  However, note that the permit requirement in San Francisco is only required for professional walkers who walk four or more dogs.

Safety for your dog(s) while out with a dog-walker (i.e. group size, vehicle safety, etc.) The San Francisco legislation is requiring that Animal Care & Control publish a recommended guideline for dog walkers’ vehicles around ventilation and comfort of the dogs (non-skid flooring). Many of us don’t know what to look for; the ACC will set a standard.

A permit does not necessarily mean quality.  The SFDOG group stated in an email sent to their members, “We feel that, while there are some dog walkers who can control larger groups, there are many others who cannot. And those who cannot control groups (especially larger ones) cause problems in parks for all of us.” Just because a dog walker has a permit doesn’t necessarily mean that s/he is a good walker. You should ask about education and experience with dogs, and ask for references. You can also ask to go on a walk with the walker and their pack to see how  s/he operates in the field.

Having a permit or being licensed, insured, & bonded does not necessarily equal safe. “Licensed” simply means that a person has a business license. This is quite easy to obtain, and it does mean that the walker legitimately considers him or herself a business. Bonding implies that the customer is protected against losses from theft or damage done by a company’s employees. Most insurance companies will not “bond” a sole-proprietor because it doesn’t make sense that a business owner would want to carry a bond for theft from a customer. Insurance is necessary for not only operating the vehicle, but also should cover the safety of your animal while in the care of that dog walker or their employees.  Insurance is only good if something goes wrong. It doesn’t imply anything about whether the walker is safe, able to drive, practices safe walking techniques, etc.

The legislation is intentionally vague around training practices. It does not indicate any type of training method (i.e. positive reinforcement versus negative reinforcement) or types of collars (flat/choke/shock) allowed. This legislation will require all permitted professional dog-walkers to carry the permit with them when walking dogs. It will not necessarily be visible. It certainly will be hard to enforce by San Francisco Rec & Park. However, you as an educated guardian can start by asking to see the permit before hiring someone.

Up to the minute update: January 9, 2012 the SF Supervisors Land Use Committee approved the legislation to go to the SF Supervisors on January 10. It was passed, it will go into effect as of January 1, 2013.

Cathy Chen-Rennie created The Rex Center to bring the benefits of training and water work—separately and together—to Bay Area dogs in need of safe, nurturing exercise options or just a little work on basic manners.


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Main article photo by: Kiki Johnson, www.kikijo.com