Frequently Asked Questions
Who are you?
See the About Us section for more detail, but in short we are a small, local business specialising in dog walking and pet sitting. We are a one-man-band, and "we" refers to "Chris", an ex-IT manager who wanted a more rewarding line of work and started up Chocolate Tortoise in 2011. Whilst this website will often refer to "we", this is purely to avoid having to change all the answers if more employees, either temporary or permanent, are taken on - at present "we" means "I" which means "Chris" - the person you will be meeting and dealing with if you become a client.
What experience do you have?
Apart from experience gained as a child and adult owning a variety of dogs and other pets (see Dog Walking and Pet Sitting sections below for more detail), and experience obtained whilst running Chocolate Tortoise, I (Chris) have also walked and looked after dogs as a volunteer for the local RSPCA rescue centre and also as a volunteer at Wildlife Aid, to experience the wilder side of things!
The business has been running since February 2011 and in that time we have walked and looked after numerous pets of all shapes and sizes!
We live just outside the coverage area you indicate. Will you come out to us?
If we can find, or already have, another client in the same area, and are able to walk dogs together to make the trip more viable, and have the time available, we will happily extend our coverage area.
Do you have formal qualifications or accreditations?
At present, we do not have formal qualifications in animal handling. It is an aim of ours to obtain these, however, and we are currently looking into the best courses and accredited schemes available. Unfortunately the dog walking / pet sitting / animal training business is unregulated in the UK, so there is no single scheme to give universally respected accreditation. We would love to hear from you with what accreditation or qualification you would like us to have, as this will help to narrow down the options available!
Do you have any references?
We have a good collection of formal references. A number of our current and previous clients have kindly agreed to provide references for us and we would be happy to pass on their contact details to you upon request. Please also see our testimonials page for our growing list of 'thank you's from our clients.
We provide a feedback form for all clients and would act immediately on any problem or suggestion received.
Are you CRB checked?
I (Chris) do have a recent, clear, police Basic Disclosure Check, to put our clients' and potential clients' minds at rest over leaving their family members (as most pets are), and in some cases their house keys, in our hands. I also have a full and clear CRB check as a dog walker since some clients require my access to school grounds. Potential clients are welcome to see the paperwork for either check.
Are you insured?
Chocolate Tortoise has full Pet Sitting and Dog Walking insurance to cover any issues that may arise. Insurance covers third party liability, cover for pets in our care and replacement locks in the unlikely event of loss of keys. Note that this covers any issues with my provision of dog walking or pet sitting services - it does not replace any pet health insurance you may have.
Can I trust you with my house keys?
As mentioned above, we have a police Basic Disclosure Check and recent CRB check to put clients' minds at rest. We also take great care of client house keys, keeping them locked up when not in use, and not keeping them with clients' names or addresses at any time.
What is that "Client Login" button on your website?
When you make your first booking with Chocolate Tortoise, we will provide you with a personal login, where you can view your bookings, past and future, to check the details and any outstanding payments etc. It can also be used to view brief notes on walks or visits which may be of reassurance to you if, for example, you are away on holiday (with internet access). All information is kept securely. Note that in the unlikely event of your password being obtained or guessed by a third party, only booking data is shown, not personal data.
Can I expect your prices to change regularly?
Chocolate Tortoise has not been set up with the intention of making big profits - it is a labour of love. However it does need to pay its costs and for that the prices will need to be reviewed on occasion. Barring exceptional circumstances, prices will be reviewed annually, on 31st March (it would have been April 1st, but then you would think it was a joke!). At least 1 month's notice of price changes will be given to clients - i.e. they will be reviewed 31st March to come into effect on 1st May.
Do you provide a discount for regular bookings, or multiple pets?
We offer a reduction for multiple dog walking bookings paid for in advance. See our current prices for more information. Our intention is to offer discounts from time to time to our customers. Unlike some incentive schemes, all offers made to new clients will also be extended to existing ones, and there will be offers that are only available to existing customers (we strongly believe in looking after our existing customers before focussing on new ones).
Do you provide a discount for elderly / disabled clients?
Please feel free to ask and based on your circumstances we may well oblige.
Do you ever refuse to take on a client or pet?
We are aware of the Animal Welfare Act in our business and will only take on clients that are caring owners to their pets. Other than that the only reason we are likely to refuse a client is if their pet is very aggressive towards other people or animals, as this would be a danger to ourselves, the pet, or others. Our tolerance level is pretty high, however - we are quite used to having hair pulled by gibbons (probably not a problem in Surrey), hands bitten by (non-venomous!) snakes and arms scratched by nervous cats.
Do you provide any other services, e.g. pet washing / grooming?
We would be happy to discuss any pet-based services with you.
Please feel free to contact us to talk about your requirements and how we may help.
Will there be a lot of paperwork to fill in?
We do have one form that will need to be completed and signed before we can undertake any dog walking or pet sitting services. You can view the form here. We can complete the form during our initial consultation and the questions on the form are the ones we would be asking you during the consultation anyway, so there is no extra overhead other than ticking some boxes! We would be happy to complete the form with you, for you to sign when you are happy with it. All information will be stored securely, and used only for the stated purpose - nothing will be passed to third parties, so you wont get any more spam than you usually do after you have given us your details!
What if I need to cancel a pre-arranged appointment?
If you give us at least 24 hours' notice of any cancellation, that would be very much appreciated. We do reserve the right to retain the full fee for the service if we get less than 2 hours' notice of cancellation, and 50% of the fee if we get less than 24 hours' notice. Any monies due back to you will be refunded immediately, or carried forward towards another appointment.
What are your Terms and Conditions?
The form completed at our first meeting has a few basic Terms and Conditions which you can view here.
How long are the walks you offer?
All walks are for a minimum of one hour in duration, from the time of pick up at your home to the time of drop off of the dog(s).
We will attempt to find a walk close to the homes of the dog(s) so that the travel time to the walk is minimised. Where possible, the dog(s) will get a full hour's walk. Shorter walks may be able to be accommodated upon request.
What vehicle do you use?
If we are taking the dog to his/her walk direct from your house, we may turn up in a van, a car, or even a motorbike. If we need to transport your dog to a nearby walk, we find a van is far better than a motorbike for this purpose! We have a specially fitted van, complete with two large and one very large dog crates to keep any dogs that we are walking together separate while they are travelling, and a dog ramp for dogs that are unable or reluctant to jump into the crate. Click on any of the pictures below for a larger version to see how our van is fitted.
Do you schedule the walk whenever I want it to happen?
We will try to fit around your required time as much as possible. Since we do not walk large groups of dogs, we generally arrange our day's walks around the client's requirements as best we can. The more flexible you are in your needs, the more likely we will be to be able to fit in a walk. Agreed timings are always +/- 30 minutes to allow for issues with previous walks, and to allow a degree of flexibility in shuffling walks around to fit clients in.
Can I set up regular walks (e.g. every day or every week)?
We are very happy to arrange regular walking times. Payment for this would generally need to be in advance. Note that we currently cannot offer regular walking at weekends - this is because we may not always be available at weekends due to other commitments. Weekend walks can however be provided on an ad hoc basis - please feel free to contact us to discuss your particular requirements and we will do our very best to fit around your needs.
How many dogs do you walk at the same time?
Ideally the first walk (preferably the first two walks) for all dogs should be 1-2-1, i.e. a single dog taken out at a time (unless this cannot be accommodated). This is to allow time for the dog to get to know the walker, and vice versa. We do make an exception for dogs from the same home who are used to being walked together. After these initial walks, if the owners are comfortable with it, we are comfortable with it, and the dogs seem comfortable with it, we will take two, or at most three, dogs out at a time. More than two dogs at a time will only be done in exceptional circumstances, e.g. the dogs all know each other well and are all well-trained and good at the recall command! We do reserve the right to walk one or both of our own dogs with client dogs - in this case we would walk at most 4 dogs at a time (two client dogs and our own two). We deliberately do not want to have 6 dogs in tow, pulling in different directions, potentially not getting a good walk and having problems if one runs off, just so we can make more money. Other dog walkers offer this but this is not the way we want to work. Not only does this mean we can provide more individual focus and attention, but we can also accommodate requests for other services, such as spending the hour playing ball with the dog, or organising feeding after the walk. We do try to walk dogs with one or two others where we can, and where pre-agreed with the owners, to improve socialisation of the dogs (and to better accommodate timing requests).
Will you provide training to the dog while out walking?
We are not qualified dog trainers, though we have trained our own dogs. We will not formally train dogs while out walking, but as any owner knows, all time spent with a dog is training in one way or another and the challenge is to make it good training! We will endeavour to use the same commands that the owner uses, or is trying to train for, and will undertake some basic training exercises as part of the walk, with the agreement of the owner, to add to the variety of the walk. Positive, reward based training is used. A stern voice, patience, and some tasty treats are all that are usually needed for any dog. Patience being the most important of these!
Where do you walk the dogs?
We try to find walks local to the clients - this reduces travel time for the dogs and ensures as long a walk as possible. We do try to take dogs to places other than their regular walk, and where possible to a variety of different places if we walk them regularly ourselves, in order to give them variety. All walks will be on public land, or private land with the owner's permission, and will be away from roads and other potential dangers.
Do you walk dogs on or off the lead?
Our intention is that all dogs are initially walked on the lead. After a few walks, if we feel comfortable letting the dog off the lead, and, most importantly, the owner is also comfortable with this (we will ask the owner to sign a form to this effect) we will walk off-lead in safe areas. This will only happen after a number of walks with the same walker - although you may have perfect control and recall of your own dog, unfortunately that does not mean that he or she will perform so well with a stranger. We do use extender ('flexi') leads where possible, to allow the dogs some chance to run around.
What experience do you have with dog walking?
I (Chris) have owned dogs for most of my life, walking them first as a reluctant teenager, and now as an enthusiastic adult! I have also walked dogs as a volunteer for the local RSPCA rescue centre and therefore have experience with a number of different dog breeds. I have also volunteered at Wildlife Aid, giving some experience in the wilder side of animals! I have personally (or as a family) owned Alsatians, Collies, Border Collies, Mongrels and Labradors, and have experience in walking Greyhounds, Lurchers, Bulldogs, Staffies, Terriers, Dogue de Bordeaux.... Every breed is different, and every dog is different and it takes a while to know the tendencies of a particular pet. That is why the first few walks are ideally 1-2-1 and on a lead.
What does the client need to provide?
Providing the dog helps. A lead is also useful, although we do have leads and extender ("flexi") leads to use - often a dog is more comfortable with the lead it is used to. We never use 'choke chain' leads, so if this is what the dog is used to, we will provide our own collar and lead for the dog. We also have harnesses and haltis that we can use if needed, although generally we would ask that the owner provide these as we may not have the correct size / fit.
We provide small treats for the dog, but will only use them with the owner's permission, in case the dog is on a particular diet, in which case we would ask you to provide some small treats to aid with recall (if off the lead) or basic socialisation training (otherwise known as bribery!). We provide the poo bags and towels in case the dog gets wet or dirty. If the owner is not present in the house when the dog needs to be collected or returned, the house keys will need to be provided in advance. This will all be discussed and agreed on the initial consultation.
Do you clean up after my dog?
We clean up any dog mess left behind in public places (provided we can get to it!). There are a lot of dogs out there and children and other animals do not stick to paths, so cleaning up after the dog wherever possible is important. If a dog does his 'business' well off the path, in bushes or deep undergrowth, then we may leave it to decay naturally, rather than use a less ecological plastic bag
All dog waste is gathered in biodegradable bags, and disposed of in a council dog waste bin or other suitable refuse container.
What if my dog gets covered in mud during his/her walk?
Dogs seem to be attracted to mud. Their attraction to mud seems to be proportional to the amount of mess it will make - light coloured and long haired dogs especially! Whilst we will endeavour to clean off and dry your dog as much as possible following a walk, we cannot guarantee that he or she will be perfectly clean on our return. However, if you request us to, we will try to avoid walks which we know will be muddy, or potentially so. In addition, we can spend time giving your dog a more extensive clean after a walk, although there will need to be an additional charge for this.
Do you board animals in your own home?
We are asked this one a lot! Pet Sitting usually applies to us visiting your pets in your own home. Pet Boarding refers to us taking in animals into our home and looking after them while you are away. We are happy to offer Pet Boarding services for small, caged animals but unfortunately do not offer this service for dogs or cats. In this district you need a licence to board dogs in your own home and I have not applied for this since I am out all day walking dogs, so I feel I cannot offer a comprehensive boarding service. I do know some other local businesses who do offer this service though, so please feel free to get in touch if you want this service and I can pass on their details to you.
What experience do you have with pet sitting?
Other than the experience with dog walking and pet sitting a variety of animals, both as part of Chocolate Tortoise and in previous work as a volunteer for the local RSPCA rescue centre, we have experience looking after a number of our own pets. In the past we have owned dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, rats, snakes, lizards, tree-frogs, birds and even a chipmunk. Whilst our household is now reduced to a much more manageable two dogs, I (Chris) have also volunteered at the Wildlife Aid rescue centre in Leatherhead, looking after a variety of British wildlife - hedgehogs, foxes, badgers, pigeons etc, and in 2010 we have worked at a Thai wildlife and gibbon rescue centre, which had 60 gibbons and monkeys to care for, and a bear sanctuary which had around 20 large, Asiatic and Sun bears - although we don't expect to encounter gibbons and bears during our pet-sitting in Surrey / Kent! Whilst a vegetarian myself, I have no problem feeding meat to dogs and cats, mealworms to lizards and even small rodents to snakes (providing the small rodent isn't a pet itself!).
What does your pet sitting service cover
Pet sitting covers up to a full hour spent cleaning up after the pet, letting dogs run around the garden, if available, cleaning the pet's bedding area (potentially fully cleaning out caged animals) and some time is spent socialising with the animal, if they want this. Basic grooming etc can be provided if time allows. If the client is away, we will happily do some basic housekeeping tasks to help make the house appear occupied.
I only have a couple of small caged animals - why do I need to pay for a full hour?
Although some pets take less effort than others, we will potentially spend up to the full hour in your house, looking after your pet. Caged animals need cleaning out, which we will do daily if asked to come in that frequently, and all animals (even reptiles) benefit from a level of socialisation, especially if the owner is away.
Do you schedule the pet sitting whenever I want it to happen?
We will try to fit around your required time as much as possible. However, in order to fit in with other commitments, including other services for clients, walking our own dogs, and trying to reserve time for our volunteering commitments, we would ask that you are flexible in your time requirements.
Can I set up regular pet sitting (e.g. every day or every week)?
We are very happy to arrange regular pet sitting times. Payment for this would generally need to be in advance. Note that we currently cannot offer regular pet sitting at weekends - this is because we may not always be available at weekends due to other commitments. Weekend pet sitting can however be provided on an ad hoc basis - please feel free to contact us to discuss your particular requirements and we will do our very best to fit around your needs.
What does the client need to provide?
This will be discussed in detail on the initial consultation, but in essence the client will need to provide house keys, plus all replacement bedding and food required. Note that caged animals will be cleaned out regularly, and enough bedding will be needed to cover this. Although you may not currently clean out your pet with this degree of regularity, cleaning out does help us to see if there are any medical problems with the pet, so these can be caught early. In addition, a contact number and the name and number of your vet will be needed.