Regular walks are essential part of day for dogs
Regardless of the high proportion of flat-dwellers in Hong Kong, not to mention the long working hours demanded here, a large number of individuals in this city enjoy the company of their four-legged friends.
However, with the best will in the world, taking Rover for his daily constitutional can be something of a challenge for most city-dwellers.
According to Rebecca Ngan Yee-ling, the public relations and communications manager at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Hong Kong (SPCA), taking dogs for regular walks is utterly essential.
Not only does exercise help canines avoid ill-health, including obesity and diarrhoea, and maintain healthy joints, but also it provides them with an essential dose of socialisation.
'Dogs also need to meet with people [and] other dogs and sniff the environment to give [them] adequate stimulation,' Ms Ngan said.
In addition, 'Dogs [who are not] walked become bored very easily and can develop all sorts of behavioural problems, such as destructive behaviour, soiling, barking and aggression - we call this 'kennel stress',' she said.
As a result, growing numbers of owners who are pressed for time are turning to the services of professional dog-walkers.
According to a dog-walker based in Discovery Bay who preferred his name not be mentioned, successful dog-walking depends on a clear understanding of canine behaviour and needs.
For example, 'You can walk different breeds of dog together - it all depends on the individual dog's temperament and personality,' said the person who has been running a part-time dog-walking and sitting business for two years.
In addition, Cara Ng, the owner of the DB Dog Dayz, a dog-walking service in Sai Kung, noted that it was important to know the dogs very well first as some personality combinations worked better than others, irrespective of breed or size.
Elements of the job that require special attention include cleaning up after each and every dog and never letting hounds off the leash.
'Safety and alertness - not only to the dog's safety but that of the public, including children, senior citizens and other dogs - [is essential],' said the Discovery Bay dog-walker.
Ensuring that dogs are walked properly and get enough exercise is another must, according to Ms Ng.
'In order to do this, they get longer walks in the morning and evening when it is cooler.'
Thanks to the activities of the Bowen Road poisoner, not to mention individuals laying out rat poison, dogs should be prevented from eating anything untoward.
'You must be extra cautious with hunting breeds, as these dogs are used to following scents and, once on a trail, may become more difficult to handle,' Ms Ng said.
Building good relationships with the animals is one of the most important factors of this business, according to both dog-walkers.
However, 'the only way to [do this] is to spend a lot of time with them.
'You must establish the fact that you are the pack-leader; if you do not do this in the beginning, it will be impossible to control the dog. Some owners forget that dogs are animals first, then breeds, then pets.' Ms Ng said.
Aspiring dog-walkers should note that there are no rules or regulations currently surrounding the dog-walking business.
Winning long-term custom is firmly based on a passion for dogs and the job itself in the dog-walking business. 'You must have good [powers of] observation, good physical condition and good dog handling experience, and be responsible and honest,' the Discovery Bay dog-walker said. That said, Ms Ng also noted that the best training was experience.
Although the need for dog-walking services is fairly constant in Hong Kong, the business' peak times include Christmas, Lunar New Year, Easter and the summer holidays, with bookings arranged far in advance.
While locals certainly feature among the clients of dog-walkers, the expatriate packages that allow some foreign workers longer holidays, as well as their desire to keep their dogs in a home rather than a kennel environment, mean that Westerners tend to use dog-walkers' services more.
'When they need to go away, their dog comes to live with us as part of our family. There are no kennels, [which] is what makes our service attractive,' Ms Ng said.
At present, in addition to exercising their charges, dog-walkers find that other services are in high demand from owners.
The majority of the clients at DB Dog Dayz, for example, come not for dog-walking per se, but to use its boarding service.
'Other services on offer by dog-walkers include behaviour modification, such as unwanted chewing or car-chasing,' said the part-time dog-walker.
Despite this plethora of activities and a growing need for such services, the dog-walking business is relatively unstable, with a large number of walkers jostling for clients.
'Indeed, it is quite competitive [and there is a] price-war.
'I just do it as a part-time job as the income is really unstable; the major motivation is the job satisfaction from delighted clients,' he said.