Two Minutes With…Erin Freeland
Written by Steven King
· 08/21/2014 · 5:00 am
Erin Freeland is a professional dog walker, combining her love for being outside with her love for animals. While her background is more equine than canine, Freeland has found many behavioral similarities between horses and dogs. Freeland, a longtime Holden resident, has a bachelor's degree in Fine Art from MassArt. When off duty from dog walking, Freeman creates large-scale oil paintings. This week, Worcester Magazine takes a walk with Freeland and her canine friends to find out what it's like to be a professional dog walker.
How did you get into the dog walking business?
I absolutely love walking dogs and I owe so much to Heidi Frank, owner of Doggone Fit, who hired me and showed me the ropes. She has a degree in Canine Science and many years of experience working with dogs. I happened to meet her at a surprise birthday party for a mutual friend, and she pretty much played fetch with my German shepherd the entire time. She had to!
Tell me about a typical day with the dogs?
I head out in the morning, grab an iced coffee and pick up my adventure dogs. I like to put on some cool music on the way to get everyone jazzed up for our outing. We hit the trails and hike for about an hour or two, but sometimes we will go for a run or go swimming. The dogs spend the better part of the day with me, and may also come along for afternoon walk or a playgroup, then we head home. If I have time, I will pose them for a picture or take video for my Instagram where my clients follow me @erintookyourdog.
Is there training involved before a dog can be walked in a group?
We always meet dogs and observe their behavior prior to introducing them to the pack. Safety is our No. 1 concern and we want to make sure they will be a good fit. Some dogs are taken on as individual walks, but the adventure trip is the most popular service we offer. We are constantly training, and I've found that many dogs who are anxious or reactive can benefit from walking alongside a calm, focused pack. Their behavior eventually tends to reflect the energy of their peers.
Where are some of your favorite places around the city for walking?
Our favorite places to hike in Worcester are the Cascades and East Side trails. Once in a while we'll do a downtown walk.
Is this a rain or shine operation? Do you walk in the winter?
Yes. We walk dogs rain, shine or snow. Several of our clients are doctors, they don't get snow days so neither do we. We will, however, limit our time outside in cases of extreme heat or cold for the safety of the dogs.
On average how many dogs are you walking at a time?
My adventure pack typically consists of about six to eight dogs.
What’s the most difficult breed you deal with in the walking business? Why?
Beagles. [Laughs] Just kidding. Any breed can be difficult if not given proper boundaries and structure. I think this tends to happen more with very small dogs whose bad behavior persists without consequences because of their size. These are the ones you see riding around in a car on their owners' lap, climbing all over furniture, barking at everything. Yeah, those dogs will not be easy or pretty much anything attached to a flex leash, but I won't get into that.
What are some of the easiest breeds to walk that might surprise people?
Just as any breed can be difficult, any breed can be easy, as long as you are clear and consistent about your expectations. I have worked with many pit mixes and I have found that they have a capacity to change their behavior in a very short amount of time. The ones I've known have been very workable and eager to please, but I doubt that would surprise anyone. One of my favorite dogs is one cool cucumber who has been on my adventure team for years. I use him for training "dog-reactive" dogs because he remains calm and greets others appropriately. It may surprise people to learn that he is a chow mix.
Have you ever had a dog get off-leash or had a situation made tougher by the sheer fact that you have three additional dogs with you?
Oh dear. Most of my adventure dogs can go off-leash, but I do have a few that are considered "flight risks." I bring them along because they benefit from the exercise, but I always use extreme caution. One time I had a dog rip a leash out of my hand as he jumped off the trail and into a pond for a swim. He came out of the water and sheepishly trotted back over to "his pack." I was definitely lucky to have the other dogs there with me that time!
Does Worcester need a dog park?
I have to advocate for the safety of my dogs and unfortunately the unpredictable nature of dog parks rules them out as an option for my pack. Young dogs need socialization, and the dog park could be a great place for them, but it could also quickly turn into a very bad experience for them. It's so important that owners take an active role in behavior training. Learning about their dogs, their body language, etc. so that they can make a responsible decision about whether the dog park is an appropriate place for them.
— Steven king 8/21/14