When our club dog’s humans get home from work, they can see by their pups relaxed demeanor and the satisfied, lulling, wag of their tail that they’ve had a great time out on the walk with their Belly Rubber. Gallivanting about the park with their club pals. Catching up on the latest pee-mails. Destroying sticks, and zooming after the odd squirrel. All the top priority doggy business.
Playing with dogs all day long, sounds like a pretty sweet gig, right? But there are other important elements to the role. Being a belly rubber means being a confident, reliable, and dedicated dog carer. It’s way more complicated than just a walk in the park!
One Belly Rubber who understands as well as anyone, the rewards, challenges and ins, and outs of being a club dog walker is Lola Garratt. So we asked her to spill the beans on what being a club dog walker means to her.
First things first, talk us through a typical dog walk: The best bits. What are the challenges? Any tips or advice for fledgling BRs or anyone thinking of joining the team?
Hands down the best things about being a Belly Rubber is all the actual belly rubbing! The lovely welcomes I get when I come to pick-up my assigned dogs for walks always brightens my day. Even when I’m feeling a bit blue. Every one of them has their own idiosyncratic rituals. Some take the form of a “flop and roll”, or a “leap on my hind legs and wave my paws in the air” dance. Seeing the dogs out, socialising with their pals, sniffin’ around, and catching some zooms is undoubtedly another highpoint of belly rubbing.
In terms of challenges and advice, the first thing I would advise any new Belly Rubber is to always ask your new dog’s humans everything you can about their beloved pet – even the delicate questions such as, does their dog like a fox poo roll about? Do they tend to scavenge for food? Are there any types or sizes of dogs that they don’t get on with? What is their recall like? Anything that comes to mind, always ask. It is much better to be in the know.
On the first few walks, when a new dog is getting to know you, we generally keep dogs on the lead, even if we have the owners permission to let them off the lead. Going out with a new walker can be daunting and disorientating to some dogs, even if the environment is very familiar. They might be inclined to look for their humans, try to go home, or dash off after something more interesting than you. Keeping a new dog on the lead for a few walks is a great way to establish a strong bond, and let everyone know that staying with the group is very important.
Staying close to your dog on these seminal walks is also the perfect way to get to know their temperament and habits. But don’t just plod about the pathways, make sure you keep the pace up and take the scenic route where possible, to keep the walk engaging and enriching.
Has becoming Belly Rubber impacted your life in any unexpected ways?
The city, for all its wealth of culture and convenience, can feel imposing and claustrophobic. Getting out in green spaces everyday lifts my mood on the gloomy days, even if it’s raining outside all day long. I’ve now navigated every season as a Belly Rubber so I’m certainly no stranger to any and all weather conditions!
You should never underestimate the power that a pair of sympathetic ears can have; be they short and pointy, or long and floppy. Being out on walks with the dogs gives me the space to take stock, and the pooches make for very non-judgemental, compassionate, waggy-tailed counselors. From dreading my deadlines to recounting those terrible tinder dates, my canine compadres hear it all – plus their sanguine approach to every walk helps me to get some distance, and perspective, on my own woes.
Has becoming a Belly Rubber taught you any new dog skills?
I got my first dog when I was 8-years-old. She wascalled Mitzi; a chocolate cocker spaniel with ginger eyebrows. My parents told me that I had to walk her every single day. Clean up after her, and make sure she was always fed and watered. And I actually did. The first night we had her at home, I slept with her on a pillow on the kitchen floor. And again, each night for an entire week, until my parents begrudgingly agreed to let her sleep upstairs with me. I’ve always adored dogs. From as soon as I could walk my mum was forever running after me shouting “You have to ask the owners before you cuddle that dog!”.
But as a Belly Rubber, I soon realised that getting to know dogs in groups is a different ballgame. Quickly, I started to pick up on how dogs interacted in larger social circles, and what can trigger a conflict between dogs. But I also learned how to avoid those situations arising. As I built on my existing knowledge my confidence started to grow. I actually found that what I learned at work was also invaluable with my own dogs at home!
Do you see being a Belly Rubber as a career?
Since being a Belly Rubber, I’ve started to view dog care as a possible career avenue, yes! I also know I am fortunate enough to have a network of the best dog handlers, trainers, groomers and behaviourists on the team and ready to guide me along the way.