How the Dog Became a Pet

From Wolf.. to Toby

Evolution of Man and Dog

Enlightened evolutionary thinking puts behaviour as the driving force that changes the relationship of a species with its environment. What then follows is an evolutionary adaptation of anatomy to conform to this relationship. To be clear then: it is an animal’s ability to change its behaviour that determines whether or not it lives or dies in an ever changing world. So, have you ever wondered how the dog became a pet?

Anatomically modern humans, Homo Sapiens, began speciation from other archaic forms, in Africa around 300,000 years ago. (Schlebusch et al 2017). From that era forward, slowly at first, we began the migration that would eventually see us colonise almost every part of the globe. However, we were not the first on the move and it is likely that we met, mated with and eventually supplanted earlier forms of hominin along the way.

First Canids

The first canids probably evolved around 6 million years ago from the ‘borophagine’, a large, scavenging, hyena-like mammal. These first evolved canids were lighter on their feet and more intelligent than their borophagine ancestors and out-competed them to extinction. Early successful canids then spread around the world and split into many types. One such type gave rise to wolves and jackals, (Bradshaw J. 2011).

Evidence of the emergence of the Gray wolf, first appears about 500,000 to 300,000 years ago, (Sotnikova M. 2010). There is evidence of bones of wolves associated with archaeological sites dating back as far as 400,000 years, (Boxgrove, Kent, England). Importantly, it is thought likely that the hunting grounds of species of early wolf and archaic hominin overlapped. At this stage however, there is no evidence of social interaction between the two, (Serpell J. 2017).

Early ‘Flight’ Response

Observers of modern wild wolves report on their highly atuned flight response. Flight response can be broken into two distinct parts followed by a third ‘corrective’ action. Firstly, wolves are innately very nervous in the presence of humans, unable to tolerate much human proximity before the flight response takes over and they run off. Secondly they are likely to continue their flight much farther than is necessary for their own safety. Finally, once the perceived human threat has moved on, wolves are slow to return to the location where the encounter took place. (Coppinger R. & Coppinger L. 2001).

As early migrating humans learned how to work together to bring down larger prey, despite being nomadic they would naturally have settled periodically in good hunting grounds to exploit them before moving on. In such scenarios they would likely be competing for prey similar to that of their wolf counterparts. It is a mistake to think that wolves are genetically bound to coalesce in packs. In adverse conditions, maybe a lack of large prey caused by human over-hunting (?), a wolf pack might disperse in favour of hunting individually for smaller animals.

Camp Followers

Under such adverse conditions the ‘leavings’ of a recently moved on human encampment may have offered our paleolithic wolf a foothold in its struggle between life and death. If this was the case and some wolves took up this option, they created a mortality differential between themselves and those who stayed away from the camps. An engaging example of differential mortalities can be seen in the Coppingers’ studies of village dogs, (Coppinger R. & Coppinger L. 2001). Wolves, like dogs, are remarkably cooperative and sophisticatedly exploitative of niche opportunities when they arise, (Budiansky S. 2000). Here then is a hint that the behaviours of an ancient wolf population are beginning to diversify.

Now we must speculate on the possible evolutionary path from wolf to dog. Despite, or more probably ‘because of’ the vast and growing volume of data from archaeological, archaeozoological, ethnological, genetic, chromosomal and mitochondrial studies, we do not have a definitive answer as to when or how the divergence occurred.

Population bottlenecks, extinction events, interbreeding, introgressions, admixtures, evolutionary cul-de-sacs and migrations combine to serve us with a most confusing map. It is difficult to know whose theories to follow.

An Analogy

So instead, try to picture this: A twig falls from the branch of a tree at the source of the Amazon River, this is the old gray wolf with its 78 chromosomes, (39 pairs), as it begins to latch onto the new niche opportunity presented by migrating hominims, say 100,000 years ago, (give or take a pinch of salt). Now somehow, without getting trapped against a rock or snagged in weed, our twig makes its way down one of the longest rivers in the world. Following the path of least resistance, it negotiates the sprawling options of the Amazon River Delta until it finally arrives, bashed about a bit, at the Atlantic – the Epipaleolithic era – but now in its new form it is a village dog with its lazy ways and its own brand new set of 78 chromosomes. (See illustration: Bradshaw J. 2011, p27.)

Maybe the twig broke in two and only part of it made it to the delta [some evidence points to an extinction of the original gray wolf haplotype, (haplotype: gene variant group)], which gave rise to our early divergent camp followers, (Wikipedia 2019). We might speculate that the wolves who exploited this niche opportunity – by scavenging from newly deserted human camps, clung onto life while, in a demonstration of evolutionary differential mortality, their erstwhile family members failed to thrive and died out.

Wolves Are Bright..

Wolves are much quicker learners than dogs. Indeed, to survive under difficult evolutionary pressures, they need to be on the ball and they are adaptive in both an evolutionary and developmental sense. Behaviour is a synergy of genetic nature and environment – this has been characterised as: ‘nature multiplied by nurture’, (Coppinger R. & Coppinger L. 2001). Wolves that survive and even thrive sufficiently successfully to rear offspring will teach their learned survival skills to the next generation. So it would have been with our speculative camp followers. And as humans multiplied and formed larger groups so too did the opportunities for wolves to express their newly acquired commensal niche behaviours.

But it takes a long time..

..for a twig to travel the Amazon – and things changed slowly in the olden days..

Over millennia natural variations in these divergent wolf populations selected for animals whose flight response to humans was lessened. A less intense flight response used up fewer calories and allowed earlier access to and therefore more time at the dumps of these migrant human encampments, (Coppinger R. & Coppinger L. 2001). Now we have an evolutionary selection path for wolves living in closer proximity to humans.

As I indicated in the first paragraph: Once selective behavioural changes have adapted an animal to its new environment, selective anatomical changes will surely follow. In their new niche as scavengers, smaller, less nervous specimens who expend less energy become naturally selected for because they now have a survival advantage over their bigger, cleverer, calory-expensive, large-prey hunting cousins. So here we begin to observe the changing morphology of wolf into proto or incipient dog.

This smaller species, ever increasingly isolated from its ancestral cousin loses not only its heightened fear of humans but also much of its instinct to hunt. (Indeed, a strong instinct to hunt would cause it a severe disadvantage at the dump of a human encampment, (Semyonova A. 2009). Without the need to hunt there is little point in retaining an expensive, large intelligent brain and their cranial length became shortened. Teeth became crowded into smaller, less powerful jaws, (Serpell J. 2017).

DNA & Fossil Evidence

At some point after 45,000 years ago the DNA picture becomes somewhat clearer again. Now that their progenitor direct ancestor is long extinct, proto-dogs form a sister wolf-like clade, divergent from the Gray wolf, (Serpell J. 2017).

Another 20,000 years or so pass before incipient domestication. This is indicated by evidence of modern village-dog-like featured remains at excavated cave sites dated at around 26,000 to 20,000 years ago, i.e. before the Last Glacial Maximum, (Serpell J. 2017).

By the time of the lower Natufian, an Epipaleolithic culture in the Levant, with the discovery at Ain Mallaha c.12,000 years ago, fossil evidence makes it obvious that dogs have now fully inveigled themselves within human society. The Natufian is important because it describes the transition from a nomadic way of life for humankind to the first known agricultural settlements, (Davis S. 1978). Note: Coppinger later puts the date of these settlements at 15,000 years ago, (Coppinger R. & Coppinger L. 2001).

Village Dogs

The Coppingers’ descriptions of village dogs in modern, (pseudo-Mesolithic) settings, are animals all of a small stature, unafraid although somewhat wary of human contact, who scavenge and beg for what they can get, (cleaning up the village waste). They paint a picture something like that which the Natufians experienced. When at one point, during their travels to study village dogs of the world, the Coppingers suggest to a local on the island of Pemba that he might pat the nearby village dog, they realise with a shock that what they were asking was almost akin to suggesting to a Londoner in Trafalgar Square that they pat the head of a pigeon! (Not quite how the dog became a pet!)

This might well have been the end of the story of the possible evolutionary route to domestication of the dog. However, there’s just one more modern yet ancient twist to the story. I want to roll back a bit to the nomadic hunter-gatherers we talked about earlier. To do that, I am going to send us once again, to the Amazon Basin.

Migration

Following one human migratory route, it is thought that proto-dogs probably followed Paleoindians into temperate North America. From there they migrated into South America. However, there is little remaining archaeozoological evidence of their geographic distribution in the Lowland Neotropics because of the notoriously poor preservation of bones in Neotropical rainforest settings. (Koster J. 2009). It is likely however that post Columbian (1492 onwards), dogs imported from Europe interbred accidentally or by design with these earlier American canis populations, leaving no clear ancestral lineage, (Serpell J. 2017).

And here, in our modern-day world we have it: Among the recently contacted semi-nomadic, indiginous Amazonian Awá-Guajá hunter-gatherer people, we come across not village dogs, lazily scavenging for what we throw away but tribally domesticated animals who play a key part in the various hunting methods of their human companions. Dogs here are crucial to hunting success and thus the survival of the tribe. In terms of return rates (kg hunted/time spent), the use of hunting dogs in combination with firearms yields by far the best results for the hunter-gatherer Awá, (Forline L. C. et al 2012).

Bradshaw’s Alternative

Bradshaw, (Bradshaw J. 2011), postulates, using as an example the same Awá-Guajá people, that early hunter-gatherers may also have kept pets for pleasure and status. (Awá-Guajá women adopt the young offspring of monkeys killed during hunting expeditions.) He suggests that some prehistoric wolves may have been much less wary of humans than their more recent persecuted descendants. As such, their litters were more available to humans for adoption as pets. It is from these early adoptions he suggests, that possible domestication progressed.

I find this Bradshaw view less convincing than the arguments of Coppinger and others, not least because taming and then breeding for tameness is a concept that our early ancestors were unlikely to have understood. And unfortunately, Bradshaw uses the Dimitri Belayaev fox taming experiment to back up his argument, (Belayaev D.). However, this does not alter the fact that some ancestors to our modern dogs were predisposed to living in ever increasing proximity to humans.

So Finally..

Through thick and thin across millennia, dogs chose us. Now you know how the dog became a pet: They followed on behind, clearing up our mess. They garnered the courage to scavenge and live with us in ever closer, commensal proximity. They domesticated themselves. Finally, we learned that we could exploit their trust and engage them in a symbiotic relationship, working together to assist each other in our struggles to survive the ruthless vagaries of nature.

References for article: How the Dog Became a Pet

Belayaev D. video 2013, Fox taming experiment, with Coppinger R: narration (link checked Mar 2019)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jFGNQScRNY

Bradshaw J. 2011, In Defence of Dogs, Where Dogs Came From, How Wolves Became Dogs

Budiansky S. 2000, The Truth About Dogs, Introduction

Coppinger R. & Coppinger L. 2001, Dogs, Natural Breeds, Introduction, Wolves Evolve into Dogs, Village Dogs

Davis S. [7 December] 1978, Nature, Evidence for domestication of the dog 12,000 years ago in the Natufian of Israel (link checked Feb 2019)
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232793024_Evidence_for_domestication_of_the_dog_12000_years_ago_in_the_Natufian_of_Israel

Forline L. C. et al 2012, Hunting practices among the Awá-Guajá: towards a long-term analysis of sustainability in an Amazonian indigenous community (link checked Feb 2019)
http://www.scielo.br/pdf/bgoeldi/v7n2/v7n2a10

Koster J. 2009, Hunting Dogs in the Lowland Neotropics (link checked Feb 2019)
http://webcentral.uc.edu/eProf/media/attachment/eprofmediafile_837.pdf

Schlebusch et al. [28 September] 2017, Science, Southern African ancient genomes estimate modern human divergence to 350,000 to 260,000 years ago (link checked Feb 2019)
http://science.sciencemag.org/content/358/6363/652

Semyonova A. 2009, The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs, Myth 5

Serpell J. 2017, The Domestic Dog, Clutton-Brock J., 2.5, 2.3, 2.2

Serpell J. 2017, The Domestic Dog, vonHoldt B. M. & Driscoll C. A., 3.3, 3.6

Sotnikova M. [1 February] 2010, Quaternary International, Dispersal of the Canini (Mammalia, Canidae: Caninae) across Eurasia during the Late Miocene to Early Pleistocene (link checked Feb 2019)
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1040618209001712

Wikipedia 2019, Origin of the Domestic Dog (link checked Feb 2019)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_the_domestic_dog

Finally, now that you know how the dog became a pet – or rather how your dog became your pet: for positive training and handling methods and one-on-one dog-walking visit: https://ukpets.co.uk/pet-sitting/dog-walking/.

AAL Regulations and Matilda on Paws Indoors dog walk

What you need to know about Holiday Home Boarding..

New AAL Regulations – The Licence

When you fly off on holiday this year what arrangements have you made for the care of your dog? Are you considering placing them in a professional home boarding setting? If so, you should be aware that the Government is bringing in new and stringent animal boarding legislation (AAL Regulations), which is likely to affect your plans.

Animal Activities Licensing: AAL Regulations, officially the: “Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018”, come into effect on 1st October 2018. By that date providers of home, (domestic) boarding services will need to comply with detailed requirements of new regulations in order to apply for a Local Authority licence to continue offering their services.

The new AAL regulations will affect businesses involved in dog and cat boarding (kennels, daycare, home boarding etc). Actually, the aim is to introduce one ‘animal activities’ licence which will cover four areas of animal activities; dog breeding, dog & cat boarding, selling pets and hiring out horses for riding.

A Local Authority inspector must inspect any premises subject to AAL Regulations before a license is granted. A copy of the licence must be clearly and prominently displayed on any premises in which the licensable activity is carried on. The name of the licence holder followed by the number of the licence holder’s licence must also be clearly and prominently displayed on any website used in respect of the licensable activity.

Home Boarding For Dogs

Under the new AAL Regulations specifically for home boarders of dogs, service providers need to look closely at their set-up to ensure they are compliant:

Firstly under the description of ‘home boarding’ dogs must be accommodated within the home. Any outdoor accommodation comes under a separate subsection of the regulation and is governed by rules for kennelling.

The home must include direct access to a private, non-communal, secure and hazard-free external area, and at least two secure physical barriers between any dog and any entrance to or exit from it.

Dogs from different households may only be boarded at the same time with the written consent of every owner and each dog must be provided with its own designated room where it can, if necessary, be kept separate from other dogs.

Each dog must have a clean, comfortable and warm area within its own designated room where it can rest and sleep and each designated room must have a secure window to the outside that can be opened and closed as necessary.

Crating

A dog must not be confined in a crate for longer than three hours in any 24-hour period and in any case must not be kept in a crate unless:

(a)it is already habituated to it,

(b)a crate forms part of the normal routine for the dog, and

(c)the dog’s owner has consented to the use of a crate.

Any crate in which a dog is kept must be in good condition and sufficiently large for the dog to sit and stand in it at full height, lie flat and turn around.

Welfare

Each dog must be fed separately in its designated room unless its owner has given written consent to the contrary.

Before a dog is admitted for boarding, all equipment to be used by or in relation to that dog must be cleaned and disinfected. Any equipment that a dog is likely to be in contact with and any toy provided must not pose a risk of pain, suffering, disease or distress to the dog and must be correctly used.

Every dog must be exercised at least once daily as appropriate for its age and health. Any which on the advice of a veterinarian cannot be exercised must be provided with alternative forms of mental stimulation.

Written consent must be obtained from all owners (as the case may be) to keep dogs together in a designated room.

Keeping Records

A register must be kept of all the dogs accommodated in the home which must include the following:

(a)the dates of each dog’s arrival and departure;

(b)each dog’s name, age, sex, neuter status, microchip number and a description of it or its breed;

(c)the number of any dogs from the same household;

(d)a record of which dogs (if any) are from the same household;

(e)the name, postal address, telephone number (if any) and email address (if any) of the owner of each dog and emergency contact details;

(f)in relation to each dog, the name, postal address, telephone number and email address of a local contact in an emergency;

(g)the name and contact details of each dog’s normal veterinarian and details of any insurance relating to the dog;

(h)details of each dog’s relevant medical and behavioural history, including details of any treatment administered against parasites and restrictions on exercise;

(i)details of each dog’s diet and related requirements;

(j)any required consent forms;

(k)a record of the date or dates of each dog’s most recent vaccination, worming and flea treatments;

(l)details of any medical treatment each dog is receiving.

When outside the premises, each dog must wear an identity tag which includes the licence holder’s name and contact details.

Finally..

If you find a home boarding provider who can demonstrate that they comply with all of the above even before the new AAL Regulations come into force in October, you are probably leaving your dog in good hands. You should also check that they are currently licensed under the existing Local Authority scheme and are properly insured by a specialist pet business insurance.

Paws Indoors does not provide home boarding services but in certain circumstances we will consider overnight house-sitting alongside our dog walking offer. If you think this would work for you please get in touch.

Matilda

Don’t lose that sparkle..

I have been following the arguments and writing about electronic shock collars since the Kennel Club, KC first campaigned to ban them. This was at the turn of the century. I also remember reporting on the formation of the Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association, ECMA (in 2004). This dubious bunch got together to defend their products against a general public outcry.

Eighteen years on and my country still allows their sale and use. Maybe now, after many false starts and following the Scottish Government’s announcement on 24 January that it would be instituting a “prompt and effective” ban, we may be about to see that implemented UK-wide.

Finally, A UK Wide Ban?

Last Friday two Scottish National Party, SNP MPs Tommy Sheppard and Deirdre Brock, joined SNP MSP campaigner Ben Macpherson to launch a Westminster public petition demanding that the UK Government ban the sale of shock collars and other harmful electronic training aids for dogs.

It’s time for England to join its Scottish and Welsh neighbours in their condemnation of these barbaric dog training methods. (The Welsh Government banned the use of shock collars way back in March 2010.)

What we need now is a UK-wide ban on their sale.

BVA Reacts To Sottish Ban

The British Veterinary Association, BVA welcomed the Scottish Government’s decision to ban the use of electric shock collars and other electronic training devices.

Melissa Donald, BVA Scottish Branch President, said:

“This is a real win for animal welfare. Electronic training devices have a negative, painful effect on dogs and, as the Scottish Government has now recognised, can cause unnecessary suffering.”

The BVA continues to push for a ban on the sale and import of electronic shock collars across the UK.

John Fishwick, BVA President:

“With effective bans on the use of these devices in Wales and Scotland, we want to see action taken in England and Northern Ireland, including a UK-wide ban on their sale and import.”

For positive training and handling methods and one-on-one dog-walking visit: https://ukpets.co.uk/pet-sitting/dog-walking/.

Skype at Christmas

Delivering a treat-free Christmas to ‘Skype’ the lop.

A pet hate for this pet sitter at Christmas are pet treats that clients leave to be unwrapped for their animals on Christmas Day. It is often the case that these festive pet treats contain ingredients that pets have not been served at any other time of the year. So I always advise clients to only give pet treats that their animals have had before or, preferably, not give them at all.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) , has published a report on the hazards our pets face at Christmas. It says that 81% of vets across the UK saw at least one case of toxic ingestion in pets during the 2016 festive period.

Chocolate poisoning remains the most common cause of toxic ingestion at Christmas for dogs, with 74% of vets seeing at least one case, according to BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey. There has also been a spike in raisin or sultana poisoning over the past two years, with 54% vets reporting treating a case during last year’s festive season.

Many cats also suffered toxic ingestion last Christmas, with a quarter of vets treating cats for antifreeze poisoning. Festive decorations, gift wrapping and seasonal plants like lilies and poinsettias are other common reasons for pets landing up at the vet’s:

“Presents, treats and decorations can often prove dangerous for our pets if we are not careful. Many pet owners are aware of the risks of chocolate or other festive foods being toxic for their pets but, as our survey shows, it’s easy to be caught out by a kind gift left under the tree or a treat left out on the table, which curious animals can find hard to resist. Our advice is for givers to tell, and owners to ask, if there is anything edible in gifts and to keep such presents safely out of reach of your pet. If you suspect your pet may have eaten something they shouldn’t, then don’t delay in contacting your local vet.”

 

Keep Your Pets Safe This Christmas

To keep Christmas merry for the whole household, BVA is urging animal lovers to ensure their home is safe for our pets by following these five simple tips:

  1. Protect your pet from poisons – a number of festive treats and traditions, such as chocolate, raisins, xylitol (found in sugar free treats), nuts, grapes, liquorice, poinsettia, holly and mistletoe are toxic to cats and dogs.
  2. Keep decorations out of reach – ribbons, wrapping paper, baubles, tinsel and tree lights can all prove irresistible to cats and dogs but can be very dangerous if broken, chewed or swallowed. Batteries for Christmas gifts also need to be kept safe as, if ingested, they may cause severe chemical burns to the mouth, throat and stomach.
  3. Forget festive food for pets – we all enjoy a richer diet over Christmas, but fatty foods and Christmas dinners shouldn’t be shared. They can trigger, sickness and diarrhoea or other conditions from gastroenteritis to pancreatitis, so try to stick to your pet’s regular diet and routine. Bones including turkey bones should not be given to pets as they can splinter and puncture the digestive tract.
  4. Give toys not treats – we all want our pets to share the fun and many of us include a gift for our pet on the shopping list. But too many treats can lead to fat pets which can have serious consequences for their health, so consider opting for a new toy, or a long walk if you want to indulge your pet this Christmas.
  5. Know where to go – even with all the care in the world, animal accidents and emergencies can still happen. Make sure you’re prepared by checking your vet’s emergency cover provision and holiday opening hours.

 

Christmas Pet Sitting

We don’t spend Christmas in front of the TV

This Christmas (2017) will be the 26th Christmas Day in succession on which we have provided full-service Christmas pet sitting cover. It is by tradition the busiest day of our pet sitting year. For us, the advent to Christmas is as hectic as it is for anyone else. The traffic is snarled and steaming under the street lamps. Everything is last minute. Everyone is in a queue. And we join them but we aren’t queuing for the shops. We don’t need to buy anything. Instead, we are scurrying about the city picking up keys and taking late bookings from desperate pet owners. Just doing our best to keep on top of it all.

Pet Sitting on Christmas Day

Then with an early start, the busiest day is upon us. We fill our key-chains, gather up piles of Instruction Sheets and set off. And it is silent. The roads are empty. No one is going to work, no one is shopping, we have the city to ourselves. And so we go from house to house (discreetly – because we never advertise on our vehicles), quietly looking after our charges, reading your little Christmas notes and just enjoying the peace of Christmas Day.

By the evening, with only a few calls left to make, the taxis are out, the roads are a little busier – you need to keep an eye out for drivers who have had one too many. And then it’s done. Go home, prep down. Prep up for Boxing Day and pour out a big glass of wine. That’s Christmas, the same every year and, since the children have long left home – not even a tree.

If that all sounds rather bleak to you I am not about to help matters when I tell you that this busy winter workload continues until around the third of January. Only when the schools go back can we relax for a short time before the skiing season starts up.

Makers’ Day

Now, this will be news to you no doubt but the first Saturday after the schools’ Spring term begins is known as Makers’ Day. This is a celebration for those who have worked over the festive holidays to make Christmas happen. It’s non-religious, but in every other way it is the full ‘Christmas’ works, all of the presents and a banquet with family and friends gathered round. As a rule, I will book the day off – no pet sitting at all for me on that day.

Preparations for Makers’ Day don’t need to begin until the New Year. The pre-Christmas queues are now queues for the returned goods counter. Conversely, celebrators of Makers’ Day are now shopping in earnest. We have about a week to get ready. UPS isn’t run off its feet so online orders arrive in good time. No one is fighting us for the shelves – newly stocked with this season’s offer, (and still quite a lot of stuff in the sales).

The conversion, some years ago, from Christmas Day to Makers’ Day was a painful one. The pressure to conform to the de facto commercial version of a celebration is enormous, almost irresistible. But once made, it afforded (my family at least), a wonderful sense of release. And so this year, and I hope for many years to come, I will be one of those who helps to make your Christmas happen. But once the Christmas pet sitting is done – boy will I be looking forward to Makers’ Day!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

dog walking

Single file traffic

A short piece about dog walking in Newcastle..

My attention was grabbed this week by an article headline in Pet Business World News. It read: “Everybody needs good neighbours!”

The article opens thus:

“Pets strengthen neighbourhood ties according to a new study conducted by the University of Western Australia in collaboration with the UK-based Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, part of Mars Petcare.”

Well to any dedicated dog walker, (and I’ve been professionally dog walking one-on-one for the last 25 years), this hardly counts as breaking news – I thought. When you are walking with a dog it is often much easier to break the ice and open a conversation with someone you meet on the trail than when walking alone. This to me is one of the great plus points to walking dogs for a living.

When two dogs meet, more often than not (once they have figured each other out), they too find companionship on this and all subsequent meetings. Whilst this regularly results in two very muddy animals chasing each other through puddles and over fields, it gives two people an opportunity to discuss their dogs and pass the time of day. A good thing surely?

The Dog Walking Pack

But recently I have come upon increasing numbers of professional pack-walking dog walkers on my regular out-of-the-way routes. This is new. I am used to seeing them in the distance, on the Town Moor or around the country parks and landscaped collieries. But now, on the old tracks and bridleways, I frequently find myself part of a dog traffic jam, having to hold back my own client dog from a maypole of leads and dogs dancing around their professional walker.

The reaction of individual dog owners to this type of encounter is, I observe, much less friendly than it should be between dog walkers. The owner’s main concern is how they are going to negotiate the situation without becoming embroiled in a bark-fest with the pack or getting tangled up in leads. And the experience of the individual dog – facing a pack of six strangers coming the other way, can only be very stressful.

Luckily, with one-on-one walking, I am able to constantly reinforce good walking etiquette and training, in my clients. With regular eye contact and a deep understanding of each other, I rarely (in the case of most of my clients), need to return my dog to the lead – even when faced with an oncoming pack.

Most people I meet are surprised when I tell them that I am walking a client, because I am not their picture of a typical professional dog walker. So, here’s my a plea to pack-walkers: Please keep your business to the many wide open spaces that we are lucky enough to have in and around Newcastle and leave the rest of us to enjoy a sociable, individual dog walking experience on the back roads and bridlepaths, with our dogs, acquaintances, friends and neighbours.

[The PBW News article was based on a study lead by Lisa Wood, School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia. Full details of the study can be found HERE.]

Marketing of Pet Sitting - A mountain to climb

Pink Rabbit’s stomping ground

Marketing of Pet Sitting: I am now an old school pet sitter..

..a bit of a man-out-of-time type when it comes to developments in the marketing of pet sitting services. My business, Paws Indoors arrived early into this new market in 1991. We were part of a small, pioneering cadre of businesses in the UK that had spotted a need for some new sort of holiday-care for pets, something which improved upon the existing offer from catteries and kennels.

By the year 2000 this service was commonly known as “pet sitting”.

The initial idea occurred over a quarter of a century ago and I remember submerging myself in the detail of how such a business would work. There was no template and no one to ask. No Internet to refer to. No guidance at all. There was also no belief in the proposal. Not from banks nor from local start-up funding organisations.

To be fair, I didn’t look like a great prospect. My background was in Land Surveying. I had spent my life up to that point travelling around the world making maps and I had no previous experience with animals other than my own pets, nor any concept of how to run a business.

Yet there was one person who seemed to get my idea.

Marketing of Pet Sitting: But some background first..

In the 1980s a pervading zeitgeist was captured by the comedian, Harry Enfield with his: “loads ‘a’ money” catch phrase. This, after Maggie Thatcher had announced that there was “no such thing as society”. It seemed to me that everyone was out for themselves. To me, scrabbling around for a business idea, I figured this meant that there was no such thing as community. I wasn’t right about that of course, but I ran with the thought that neighbours didn’t have as much time for each other anymore.

Also, we were all much more mobile than we had ever been. We were commuting further, we were living away from family and we were holidaying abroad more than we had ever done in the past.

So, if you hate the idea of putting your pets into boarding, what were your options? No family around, no neighbours to call on. Everybody’s busy.

That was my argument. And the one person who seemed to get it was an advisor I met at the business start-up support organisation in Newcastle Upon Tyne: Project North East, (PNE). That person was Nicky Dickinson. Her particular interest in my business proposal stemmed from her background as a judge at Kennel Club pedigree dog shows. She also saw the sentiment and the need and she supported me through the first few years of getting established. A long time has passed since we last met but I will be forever grateful to you Nicky for grounding me and guiding me through those early years..

Marketing of Pet Sitting: Then technology..

When the Internet finally arrived in the UK: dial-up, Compuserve, Microsoft Windows 3.1, (remember any of that?), I discovered that pet sitting, (I had been calling my business idea a ‘neighbourly service’), was already at least a decade old in the States! Pet sitting it seemed, was what my business would have to become.

I used what I had discovered from the US to begin drafting a set of technical procedures, trying to encompass all possible situations that you might come across as a pet sitter; a missing cat, a burgled property, a delayed flight, and so on..

Without a standard insurance policy for pet sitting I sat down with a broker and within a few days we had one drafted and we put it to his underwriters. I needed legal agreements for clients and a contract of service with my pet sitters. All of this was brand new ground. And eventually, out of the unknown, our Paws Indoors pet sitting business was created. I was very proud of it.. And it has served me well – from the age of 30 to the age I am now (which, okay, is 55).

Marketing of Pet Sitting: I’m so far behind the times..

I recently joined a pet sitters’ forum on Facebook, a members only, pet sitters only, group. Its origins are American and it mainly discusses American pet sitting issues. In the short time that I have been in the group I have learned that pet sitting in the US continues to lead the UK version by a long chalk, and differs from the UK significantly in many ways. The US is always quick to embrace new technology.

The tech has raced ahead. I have a huge steel filing cabinet in my office in which are locked all of my clients’ (hundreds of them), details. I am a stickler for security and discretion where my job is concerned. But it’s all on paper, and that is not what the market expects these days. So my goal now is to get to grips with the new, smoother ways of providing this service, and at the very least, passing my old filing cabinet on to someone even slower than myself!

The market is also almost saturated now in the UK and I recognise I can’t stand still and watch it from the sidelines any longer if I want to remain on the inside. So my blog, at least in part, over the next year or so, is going to be the story of our transformation from a paper-based old hack pet sitter from the last century to something that can at least give some of our younger competition a cause for concern!

Thanks Kerren!

My daughter, Kerren has a Masters Degree in Marketing from Newcastle University. She moved me in this direction. She shoved a few times if I’m honest, trying to make me understand modern marketing of pet sitting. I have kind of got it now Kerren. That SEO lecture you dragged me to last week was well worth the effort.

So here goes..

© Steve O’Malley

(No animals were harmed in the writing of this post.)

Pink RabbitFollowing two weeks of learning, coding and re-writing, I believe I have finally managed to drag the old (1990s) Paws Indoors Pet Sitting website into the 21st century. I have checked it and checked it and checked it and can no longer find any errors in the pages. That doesn’t mean they are not there. If you spot one, please drop me an email, I’d be enormously grateful!

I have no fixed idea yet about what I’m going to post here. Maybe some stuff from my day to day pet sitting life. I might re-run some stuff from our pet sitters manuals. Also, I used to get published for my articles for and about the UK pet industry. I quite like the idea of returning to that – but without the daily deadlines. I guess I’ll just let it develop.

I’m not sure about what is the best way to allow comments either, so for the moment at least, I am keeping them turned off. Again, let’s see how it goes.

So, short and sweet – my first post. Here’s to many more.

© Steve O’Malley

(No animals were harmed in the writing of this post.)