Dog walkers travel to clients’ homes
DEDHAM — On a cold late winter morning, Daniel Lombard walks around a quiet Dedham neighborhood trailing behind Penny, a golden retriever, and Sammy, a yellow Labrador, who excitedly sniff at bushes and telephone poles.
Penny jumps into a pile of snow, her pawing and digging showering Lombard with a wig of fluffy whiteness.
“Come on, Penny,” Lombard says, patiently waiting for her to finish her snow romp. “Good girl.”
Thirty minutes later, after a few more jumps in the snow, Lombard takes the dogs home.
Penny and Sammy aren’t his dogs. They’re just two of 17 dogs he walks this day.
Lombard, cofounder of Randolph-based Spring Forth Dog Services, is a professional dog walker. But unlike others who can be seen walking five or more dogs at once, the 24-year-old travels from household to household, tailoring his walks to the needs of typically one or two dogs at a time.
The company’s approach grew out of the experience of co-owner Katherine Ostiguy, 22. She was preparing to launch Spring Forth Dog Services in 2010 solely as a dog training business, but changed her mind when she had trouble finding a walker who would give private walks to her 11-year-old English springer spaniel, Tessie, who does not like interacting with unfamiliar dogs.
“I realized there was a niche we could fill,” she says. In addition to Lombard, the company also hired a dog walker and trainer who walks dogs in South Boston, Dorchester, Milton, and Randolph. They provide walking services Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
On an average day, Lombard provides walking services to seven or eight households. Most have two dogs.
He charges $14 for a 15-minute walk and $20 for 30 minutes, higher than most services. But he contends many other walkers don’t have the experience he has in handling the animals.
Ostiguy says what makes a good dog walker isn’t just being able to control a dog on a leash. Walkers have to understand dog body language, how dogs learn, and basic dog aid, she says.
“Dan is endlessly patient and naturally very quiet with unfamiliar dogs,” she says . “This allows shy and aggressive dogs to warm up to him quickly.”
Dog walking didn’t come easily to Lombard. He had a dog growing up, and admits his family didn’t raise it well, giving it up after a few years. But that changed when he met Ostiguy in high school.
They began dating in 2005 when they attended Norfolk County Agricultural High School in Walpole. Ostiguy had just begun competing in agility competitions with Tessie.
Three more dogs and still dating seven years later, they say, Lombard is officially a dog person.
To give dogs the best walk possible, Lombard observes how they react to certain things during their first few walks together.
Take Penny and Sammy. The dogs live off a main Dedham road along which Lombard used to walk them. But Penny, he recalls, would stop with her tail between her legs every time a loud vehicle drove by. Lombard realized she was afraid, and he changed their route to quieter streets. It calmed her.
Todd McCann, owner of Penny and Sammy, says he was impressed with Ostiguy and Lombard when he first met them.
“I like the way the dogs react to them,” he says. “They’re so attuned to the dogs’ needs.”
Most of the dogs Lombard walks are in the Norwood-Walpole area. When the business began, he advertised all over the south suburbs — a mistake, he says.
“There were already established dog walkers — we didn’t get a lot of calls,” he says. An Internet search for dog walkers south of Boston yields results for dozens of businesses.
Dog walking is an unregulated industry and anyone can work as a dog walker, Ostiguy says.
“We take our business very seriously,” she says. Spring Forth Dog Services is a limited-liability company, has a town business license in Randolph, and carries full liability insurance. The company’s dog walkers are employees and are fully covered by company insurance and bonding policies, Ostiguy says.
Most calls for dog walkers have come from potential clients in Dedham, Norwood, Westwood, and Walpole. Lombard only walks dogs in that area; he says most clients live along Route 1.
The walks don’t always go according to plan, even with his experience with dogs, he says.
Lombard once found himself chasing after Joey, a poodle, after accidentally dropping his leash. Joey had caught sight of another dog and took off after it. Lombard was able to catch Joey when he caught up to the other dog.
Though he’s never been bitten by the dogs he walks, he’s had to protect them from other dogs. He recalled a time he was walking Penny and Sammy when a terrier ran up to them and attacked Penny.
“It took a chunk of her hair,” he says.
But it’s not just dogs that can cause problems for Lombard. Getting into houses presents its share of adventures, too.
“I’ve set off a few house alarms,” he says.
He recalls one particularly stressful experience when he entered a former client’s Quincy apartment complex to walk an Aussie mix. Not paying attention, he entered the wrong security code.
As the alarm blared, Lombard attempted to muffle the sound as he waited — for 15 minutes. When the client and police arrived, Lombard went home, too stressed to walk.
But despite these bumps, he has hit his stride as a dog walker.
Ostiguy says clients appreciate Dan’s patience with their dogs, especially those with dogs that have special needs due to age or behavior problems.
“Clients often mention dogs are better behaved for Dan than for them,” she says.
Randolph resident Belynda Crick needed a dog walker in late 2011 when her job transferred her from Westwood to Boston, turning a seven-minute commute into an hour and a half.
“My dogs are very important to me — they’re my kids,” Crick says. Lombard letting her four pit bulls and fiest terrier out and playing with them allows the animals to socialize and interact with nature.
“Having more people in their lives helps with social skills,” she says . “I think they prefer him over me.”
Like Vito, a pit bull, who likes to show off his skills by playing with a rope tied to a treebranch .
Vito leaps into the air, biting at the knotted rope tied to the branch. Lombard stands by, watching Vito and cheering him on with shouts of “Good boy!”
The dog makes sure Lombard is paying attention, stopping and nudging him if he thinks Lombard is not looking.
For Lombard, dog walking isn’t just about making money. He says he enjoys being outside and getting to know the dogs he walks.
“Each has their own personality,” he says. “You have to get to know dogs to walk them best.”