From Edinburgh to Vancouver: How Iain Simpson Became a Successful Pack Leader
Ever wanted to become a professional dog-walker?
We interviewed Pack Leader Iain Simpson from the Woof Pack to learn more about what life as a dog-walker is like. From starting a business in Vancouver, Canada as a Scottish immigrant, to managing a pack of pups on everyday adventures, Iain tells us the details of how he became a successful pack leader at Woof Pack.
Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?
There is no challenging part of working with the current dogs. We know our pack very well and can easily read how they’re feeling that day. However, not all humans are dog-friendly so dealing with that can sometimes be challenging. For instance, when you are walking your pack, coming across folks eating a rotisserie chicken at the dog beach on the ground from a picnic blanket is a recipe for disaster!
The other hard thing about being a walker is you only have a short period of time to work with a dog’s behavioural issues, and if the parents don’t recognize the problems or work on them then it’s impossible to help or work with that dog.
Q: Have you ever fired or refused to walk a dog as part of of your pack? Why?
Believe it or not, when we first started the company, we would end up with the dogs that weren’t quite up to standard for the other dog walkers in the community. We thought that everyone deserves a chance right!? Although working with problem dogs can be extremely rewarding, pack safety comes first.
We always trial walk dogs to make sure they fit into our pack. We also have a meet and greet process at potential client’s house interviewing both the hound and the human to make sure that we are a correct fit! It’s difficult to give examples but going with your gut instinct and knowing the look in their eyes has always worked with me.
Q: How many dogs do you have personally, what breed?
We do not have any dogs of our own, but I guess you could say they’re all ours! We build such a strong relationship with all of our dogs it’s sometimes hard to remember they’re not actually ours. Sadly, one of our pack member’s health took a sudden decline, and we were there with the family every step of the way. We like to believe we’re more than just ‘a dog walker’.
Q: Have you ever had to break up a dog fight? Any tips?
Usually dogs don’t want to fight and they’ll often give off enough warning signs that they’re uncomfortable or feeling threatened. It’s about knowing your dog’s boundaries and being confident as their leader.
We also find the deep Scottish tone helps iron out any squabbling.
Q: Where’s your favourite place to take your dogs?
No doubts on this one, Spanish Banks at low tide! One of Vancouver’s best kept secrets. Summer swimming lessons are in full swing!
Q: Describe your fit dog routine? Does it keep you fit too?
All our walks keep us fit! Clocking in at about 30,000 steps a day definitely keeps us healthy. The objective of all the walks are having the dogs exercise and get mentality stimulated so that they are tired out and happy at the end of the day.
Q: What about in Edinburgh, is there somewhere you wish you could take your dogs?
On a recent trip back to Scotland I took out my old pack for a one-off walk and I kept saying to my sister I wish I could bring my current hounds here. The place is called “the Hermitage”. It’s on the braid hills in Edinburgh and consists of an old golf course that’s closed down and overgrown! There is so much space for them to run and play.
Q: What is your favourite breed of dog?
Such a tough question! We love the look of hounds, GSPs, Vizslas, Bassets etc, but we fall in love with the personalities and the individual quirks of each and every dog we have. They’re all so different and unique. We are however a sucker for mutts and rescues, and they make up a lot of our pack.
Q: What are your favourite kind of treats to give your pack?
All of the dogs could answer this one for you. The strongest smelling, best tasting pepperoni treats you’ll ever have. The pepperoni treats we use are human grade pepperoni, so really just any strong- smelling pepperoni treat from a reputable pet store should do the trick! Unfortunately, some dogs are not food motivated so it always helps to have a squeaky toy just in case.
Q: What advice would you give to someone considering a career with dogs?
Be confident. Dogs like to have guidance in their day-to-day routines. They want someone to be in charge and to give directions.
Also, be prepared! You are outside in all types of weather: rain, snow and sunshine. For us, the dogs running around and getting outdoors make up for any kind of shower, and we get a lot here in Raincouver!
Q: Do you have any business tips for potential dog walkers? How did you get started, how did you get dogs to walk?
Starting any business is hard. When moving to Vancouver we didn’t have any clients or know any dogs. Hanging around the dog beach, without a dog, asking people “Can I walk your dog?” is the equivalent to standing in a play park without a kid saying “I’m a Nanny”. People look at you a bit funny!
We got our lucky break with a dog called Leo, who’s mum I met playing volleyball. Leo soon became the face of the Woof Pack, and we would walk and talk to as many potential clients as we could. There comes a point when walking 1 dog a day, while handing out tons of business cards and flyers, that you question your life choices! My main advice is be persistent and create a great brand which is true to you. If you love what you do the clients will come.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share about being a professional dog-walker?
I would say it’s honestly, for me, the best job in the world. If you’re unhappy with your current work situation or contemplating a career with dogs, then working with dogs is not only a comfortable living, but mentally and physically rewarding. I never wake up and don’t want to go to work. Even on the days when I might be feeling homesick or upset, I go to work and the energy and enjoyment of seeing my dogs always brings me happiness and picks me up.
The most important thing about finding a dog-walker, or becoming one, is making sure your dogs are happy, loved and well taken care of. If you're looking for a dog walker in Vancouver, Iain is your man! Check out The Woof Pack's website for more information.
About the photographer: Jane Thomson is a local Vancouver photographer who attended art school at Emily Carr College of Art & Design in Vancouver BC, and has traveled the world producing national and international television commercials. She currently focuses on dog portrait photography, creating stunning images that are timeless and classic and you can find her on instagram at @portraitsofdogs