The joys and challenges of dog walking for a living

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By Veronica Boutelle, dog*tec Dog Walking Academy co-founder and San Francisco Dog Walking Academy instructor

Gazing outside from behind the dreary landscape of our desks, few are the people who can say they’ve never given a thought to a career change that involved working outside–river guide, perhaps, or a rancher or deckhand on a luxury liner. For many dog lovers, those rosy-tinged, outdoorsy dreams concern dog walking. A life of easy days, surrounded by nature and happy pooches—but in reality, there’s much more to the job.

dog*tec runs a certification program for dog walkers, called the Dog Walking Academy, and over the years we have seen people from every thinkable vocation—lawyers and computer programmers, sales reps and accountants, nurses and writers, ex-military personnel and classical musicians—give up their previous, often very successful, careers to walk other people’s dogs. And yes, if you love dogs and worship the outdoors, if you yearn to be your own boss and don’t mind being your own office manager, marketing exec, and customer service representative to boot, dog walking just might be for you. That said, if it seems as easy as slapping a leash on a few dogs and going for a stroll you’ll likely be surprised.

In today’s densely populated, greatly regulated, and litigious world, in which people’s pets are integral to the family like never before, good, safe dog walking demands technical skill, physical stamina, and in-depth knowledge of everything from dog behavior and pack management to canine first aid and trail etiquette.

There are advantages, of course. The freedom, for one thing—a dog walker starts her day at whatever time suits her and doesn’t have to dress up for work. 

For another, there’s the daily shower of love. In each house on his route, a dog walker is greeted by his charges with an enthusiasm quite unequaled by anything known in the corporate world. And for the type of person best suited for dog walking, the time on the sidewalk or trail—or at the beach or dog park—is what makes it all worthwhile. Aside from the obvious physical and mental health benefits of fresh air, exercise, and being in a tranquil natural setting for hours every day, some walkers talk of the sheer pleasure of watching dogs sniff and romp. For anyone with an interest in dog behavior, dog walking is fertile study ground, whether it’s a single leashed dog navigating a busy street or unconstrained play and group interaction on a trail far from the city center.

That, however, bring us to what dog walkers often rank as the worst part of the job: the driving. The grind of going from house to house to collect dogs is fine at the outset, but it wears you down over time—how many happy taxi drivers have you met in your life? Most dog walkers keep the driving to a minimum by choosing clients within a limited geographical area and timing their driving cycles to avoid heavy traffic. Still, if you’re considering dog walking as a career, expect to spend at least as much time in the car as on the sidewalk or trail.

If traffic is impossible to control, so is the weather, and as with any outdoor work, bad weather brings its own set of trials for dog walkers. Soaked, muddy dogs have to be cleaned up before they can be let back into their homes, so count toweling off and possibly hosing down each dog plus washing loads of dirty towels as part of the job, too. And finally there’s the loneliness inherent in a job that comprises minimal human contact.

These are the pros and cons most people juggle when they consider dog walking. Freedom, exercise, and doggie love are the major pluses, and too much driving, occasional bad weather, and scant human contact are the minuses. That, however, is not all there is to dog walking. First of all, it is a business like any other and as such it involves paperwork, customer service, marketing, accounting, and so on, all of which the walker has to find time for outside of the hours he or she spends walking and driving. Secondly, it is a common misconception that dog walking is easy. It might be, if you are walking two arthritic dachshunds that you know well, but that won’t pay the rent. Or even buy the movie tickets.

No doubt this fallacy stems from the humble beginnings of dog walking. Once upon the 1950s and 60s we simply paid the kid down the street a dollar to get Fido out for us. As we have packed into tighter urban spaces, the risks involved in little Jimmy walking Fido no longer allow for that solution, but pet owners have even less time to walk Fido, who needs regular, vigorous exercise over and above what he can get in our smaller and smaller backyards. Hence the birth of professional dog walking. And a professional is what it takes to safely navigate dogs through densely populated areas and heavily used natural spaces.

As Mik Moeller, a Dog Walking Academy founder and instructor, puts it, “To manage and train a group of dogs–or even a single one– is much more difficult than people realize. Nobody is surprised that training a sled dog pack requires expert knowledge and skill. I don’t know why anyone thinks dog walking is different.”

Many walkers start out with just their outdoor dreams, a love of dogs, and the experience of walking their own pets, and soon realize the job is also about dog training and being responsible for the safety of someone else’s beloved companion. It’s about interacting with other sidewalk and trail users (some of whom are not dog lovers) in a responsible fashion and having the appropriate licenses and insurance, knowing when and how to say no to a client whose dog would fit badly into your particular group or service, knowing what to do if a fight breaks out on the trail or an unleashed dog rushes you on the street, structuring your route to cut down on driving time and gasoline consumption, and so on.

Despite the challenges, most dog walkers think they have the best job in the world. As one Dog Walking Academy graduate said, “My worst day on the trail is better than the best day in my old job.”

It is pointed out too rarely what a great contribution dog walkers make to the quality of life of the dogs they serve. Instead of being home alone all day, these dogs are given crucial exercise and social interactions, which isn’t just healthy, it keeps dogs safe and in permanent homes, too. Studies show that many dogs given up or returned to shelters are there because of normal expressions of boredom or lack of exercise: barking, chewing, excess energy, and so on. Dogs are doing their level best to fit into our twenty-first century lifestyles, the least we can do in return is to take their physical and mental health seriously. That means entrusting your pet to a professional.

If You Want to Walk Dogs

•    Get educated and certified. Learn dog body language, walk management techniques, building a strong recall, fight prevention and protocols, canine first aid, group composition, business practices, etc.

•    Start a legitimate business—get your business license and other necessary paperwork, obtain professional insurance, and research the rules for walking in your area.

•    Talk to other certified professional walkers to learn of their experiences and ask to join them for some hands-on experience.

This article was originally published on the dog*tec blog

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veronicaboutelleVeronica Boutelle is the founder of dog*tec, the dog pro industry’s leading business consultancy, through which she has been helping dog professionals create their dream businesses since 2003. She is the author of How to Run a Dog Business: Putting Your Career Where Your Heart Is and The Business of Dog Walking: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love, and the coauthor of Minding Your Dog Business: A Practical Guide to Business Success for Dog Professionals, and writes for many industry journals, including a regular business column for the Association of Professional Dog Trainer’s Chronicle of the Dog. Veronica is a sought after speaker at conferences and dog training schools across the country and internationally. She is former Director of Behavior & Training at the San Francisco SPCA.

How to choose the perfect dog walker

cog-walkingBy Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

Are you in the market for a dog walker? The good news is that there are a ton of options available these days; the bad news is that making a decision can be really overwhelming. But, if you follow these guidelines you’ll be on your way to finding the perfect pro for your pup!

Education. One of the most important things to look for in a dog walker is the training and education provided by the company. Do their new walkers shadow the experienced walkers before going solo? Does the company provide (or require)  first aid  & CPR training? Do they train their staff in basic canine communication and dog handling?

Tip: look for walkers and management staff trained with FetchFind Monthly Pro or  through dog*tec’s Dog Walking Academy program.

Reviews. Check sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, and the company’s social media pages before signing on. The reviews won’t tell the whole story, but they are good indicators not only of the quality of service but also how the company handles problems. 

Meet and greet. Always request a meeting with the person who will be your primary dog walker, and have a list of questions on hand for the first meeting. Both you and your dog should feel comfortable with the personnel; if you don’t (for whatever reason), request another meeting with a different person.

Reliability and availability. Every dog walking company has a different business model, and you’ll need to decide if you value flexibility (can you get a walker with two hours’ notice on the weekend?) or consistency  (will you have the same walker every day at the same time?).  Ask for references  – and contact them! Current clients will have the best take on the overall reliability of the company.

Tip: have two companies on speed dial if you need one for regular weekday walks and one for occasional last-minute requests.  If your dog is okay with different walkers, it’s a great way to have the best of both worlds!

This is just a short list of what to look for when you’re in the market for a dog walker. What are your must-haves? Let us know in the comments!

 

Fido of All Trades: How having so many pet industry jobs helped me fetch my calling

 

LyndaBy Lynda Lobo, CPDT-KA

Confession time. I started working in the pet industry by chance, not by choice.

I graduated from college in 2008. Needless to say, the job market was rough. I ended up as a bather at a small groom shop and, although I’d always dreamed of working with animals, I thought it was a temporary way to get by.

Things took off from there. My career has taken me from bathing and grooming to daycare to reception to walking to management to training. It took me a while to find my calling, but I’m grateful because all this experience brings a unique perspective to my role as Director of Education at FetchFind.

When I first started out, I was lost. I had four years of college under my belt, but I lacked canine knowledge, despite being a life-long dog owner and lover. To make matters worse, I was given conflicting information, and so was basically left to figure things out for myself.

Essentially, I tried it all. What consistently worked best to help me work effectively with the dogs in my care was using methods based on science, compassion, and a whole lot of patience. Through some research and lots of trial-and-error, I learned how to expertly clip nails, how to get 25 dogs to sit at once, nutrition requirements, what’s the very best gear for dog walkers, how to talk to a client about their dog’s matted coat, and how to train new employees.

I also learned where the gaps are in staff training. By helping to produce content for FetchFind, my goal is to bring awesome, relatable, and practical information to pet businesses so that everyone feels empowered to take the very best care of every animal (and human client!) they meet. More education means higher job satisfaction, lower turnover, and happy clients.

I may have fallen into the pet industry by chance, but I choose it every single day. I love what I do and I want to help others do the same!

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Tell us your story!

How did you get started in the pet industry? What do you wish you had known when you started? What do you love about what you do?

Want to Be a Dog Walker? Here’s What to Expect.

Photo credit: dog walker by dee_dee_creamer@flickr.com

We know a lot of pet industry entrepreneurs who got their start in the biz as a dog walker, either as a side job or student employment. Although in most cases you don’t have to have previous experience as a dog walker to get a job as a dog walker, you do need to be able to handle a variety of responsibilities and “non-negotiable” job requirements, such as:

  • Be consistently available during one or more time slots every day (e.g., 11am – 2pm or 4pm – 7pm), and have good time-management skills.
  • Be willing to commit to a certain period of time in the job, sometimes as long as a year.
  • Be willing and able to take on a variety of assignments, from Chihuahuas to Pit Bulls to Great Danes. (Not to mention cats, birds, reptiles, and small mammals.)
  • Be prepared to go out in all types of weather, and be able to get around on foot, by car, by bicycle, or by public transportation.
  • Be willing and able to administer medicine, put on dog booties or coats, and put out food and water as necessary.
  • Be able to respect client confidentiality and privacy expectations, and be comfortable running into clients if they are at home; discretion is the name of the game.
  • Be able to use your smartphone to check in with the head office and inform clients when dogs have been walked, and be willing to take pictures and post on social media, as appropriate. Many companies also require a smartphone for GPS/time tracking purposes.
  • Be willing to develop and practice solid dog handling skills, and be able to exercise good judgment during walks. No one is expecting you to be a Grand Master of Dog Walking when you first start out, but you should know how to handle a variety of dogs on leash.

Jump start your dog walking career with dog*tec’s Dog Walking Academy – classes are offered worldwide!

Compensation: you can expect to get paid around $6-10/walk, depending on duration and time of day. Weekend, evening, and holiday hours tend to have higher rates of pay.

Equipment: a sturdy leash, treats, poop bags, a good pair of walking shoes, and some sort of all-weather coat. Some companies may request that you wear a company logo shirt.

Pros: lots of fresh air and exercise (no desks!) and the acquisition of an impressive array of dog handling skills. You will also get to meet like-minded people (staff and other dog walkers), and owners will absolutely love you because you are allowing them to own a dog and work without feeling guilty.

Cons: holiday and evening hours, no health or vacation benefits, and being outside in all types of weather.

 

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Top 5 Must-Have Apps for Dog Walkers


By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

When I started my first business, Out-U-Go, in 1995, we did just about everything on paper. It wasn’t all that common to even have a cell phone, back in the day. (It was a very long time ago.) Those of us who did have one of those fancy StarTAC phones tended to keep emergency numbers on a piece of paper taped to the back, because you could only store ten numbers in the speed dial list.

Now, of course, we’re spoiled for choice in the mobile phone and app department. I can’t help you choose the right hardware, but I can direct you to a few apps and bookmarks that I find particularly helpful (and not just for professional dog walkers).

Pet First Aid – The American Red Cross Pet First Aid app is my favorite; it’s pretty comprehensive and well-organized, and has sections for both cats and dogs. (Available on Google Play and iTunes.)

Hazardous Substances – The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center app is your best bet here. It has listings for dogs, cats, horses, and birds. (Available on Google Play and iTunes.)

Vet Locator – I don’t really like the vet locator apps for either iOS or Android. I do like the MyPet.com website quite a bit, and keep that one bookmarked.  VetLocator.com and WebVet.com are also pretty good.

Pet-Friendly – Find the nearest pet-friendly venues with BringFido, the #1 pet travel site on the internet (app available on iTunes). Android users, bookmark the website.  Don’t forget Yelp and Foursquare when searching for pet-friendly restaurants, pubs, and stores.

Lost Pets – Be prepared and set up pictures and info for all of your canine clients in your phone in advance. If the unthinkable happens and a dog does go missing, you’ll have all the information ready to deploy on Finding Rover. (Available on Google Play and iTunes.) Note: I like the facial recognition feature on Finding Rover, but depending on your location and even the age of your phone, you might get better coverage and functionality with a different lost pet app. There are a lot of options for both Android and iOS, and most are free, so try a few and see which ones work best for you.

And in the “Not Necessary But Fun to Have” category:

Dog Breeds – Because who doesn’t love a good game of “What Kind of Dog is That?” Download Petsie on Google Play and Dog Breeds A-Z on iTunes. Or skip the apps altogether and bookmark the AKC’s Breeds section.

What are your must-have pet apps?

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Do you have a fully-stocked Dog Walker’s Toolkit? Check out our recommendations on FetchFind Monthly Pro!