How to Become a Dog Walker
Ever wonder what it's like to be a dog walker? Get the inside scoop on the business end of dog walking.
Lisa Gates |
Posted: September 3, 2014, 6 a.m. PST
First things first, is this job for you? In theory it sounds delightful, walking in the park with happy-go-lucky dogs on a sunny day without a care in the world. You visualize Snow White skipping along, singing to the birds. Well, the evil witch is here to rain reality on that parade.
Similar to television commercials selling medications to improve health, but with side effects causing sleeplessness, headaches, rash, high blood pressure, heart attacks, diarrhea, leprosy and possibly death, dog walking has an aftermath too. You won’t get leprosy but perhaps poop thrown at you from a crazy.(You can read more about having poop thrown at you here: Why Trail Manners Matter)
An advertisement for dog walking might go something like this:
"Love poop? If you don’t mind poop in your hair, poop on your clothes, poop on your shoes, poop on your hands, poop on every part of your body, occasionally being peed on, pee in your car, projectile vomit and diarrhea all over your car, washing dogs who roll in human poop from a person whose stomach had a fight with a burrito, bathing dogs covered in raccoon poop, deer poop and all wild life poop, being kissed by dogs who eat poop, then this job might be for you!"
What I am trying to say is if you don't have an affliction to poop, dealing with clients with an array of neurosis from OCD to Munchhausen, or clients who ask you to do everything but wipe their children’s butts and blame you for all that is wrong with their dog even though you only have the dog 2 out of the 24 hours then keep reading. If lifting a 100 pound Labrador into the car who can jump in but insists you do it since after all his parents are paying you, braving wind, rain, hurricanes and walking in dangerous conditions because like the mail, the dog must go out, being blamed for every missed poop in the park or someone’s bad day, falling face first into dirt or on your ass a few times a month, then you have found your calling.
You must love dogs. Not like dogs, not love your own dog but completely insane about dogs that annoys others but you don’t care because YOU LOVE DOGS!
Are you still here? Great! Let's talk business.
Walk Before You Run
If you aren't sure you want to let your life go to the dogs, considering reaching out to established dog walkers who may need assistance. You'll get to try it out before making any major commitments and you can get a feel for the how a dog walking business is run. If you decide dog walking is for you, but your not into the idea of owning your own business (like dog walking -- it's not for everyone,) working for someone else might be the perfect fit.
First, research local dog walking services to help formulate a business plan: where to build cliental and type of service. When I first started my dog walking business 19 years ago, there was a number of on-leash walks but not many off-leash adventures offering enough time for the Labrador to swim, play chase, and destroy picnics. I am joking about the picnics, but an off- leash extravaganza to exhaust the dog who usually spends his energy destroying your new shoes and anything not bolted to the floor. Some walkers specialize in small breeds, short walks, dog field trips and more.
Once you have the type of service and your targeted area, you can start on the details.
CHECKLIST OF ITEMS YOU NEED TO START:
- Business license
- Insurance: Pet Sitters International membership and Business Insurers of the Carolinas are popular among dog walking services.
- Business cards and flyers
- Dog walking certification: In San Francisco, you need a certificate from an accredited school for dog walking. Check with your local ASPCA as not all cities require this. The schools teach how to walk dogs, hold a leash and pick up poop. With no disrespect, I call it "Dog Walking for Dummies.”
BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS:
- Buy a Business: Acquiring a pre-existing service gives you a jump start. There is no guarantee the clients will stay with you but meeting each one will help ensure an easy transition for dog and owner. Plus this gives you a chance to weed out the nut cases.
- Distribute Cards/Flyers
- Vets, Groomers and Pet Shops: Drop off cards and flyers to local vets, groomers and pet shops. Offer an incentive like $50 for every client referred that signs up.
- Local Dog Parks: Early evening is the optimum time, when owners take their dogs for an after work walk. If you are uncomfortable approaching people find a friend to help. My friend Carrie assisted me in exchange for a burger and beer. This came in handy when she was hungry.
Contact Local Dog Walking Services: Introduce yourself to other dog walkers. This may lead to a service wanting to sell their business or refer dogs to you because they are full or do not service the area you have targeted.
- On Cars and Mail Boxes: Disperse flyers in mail boxes and on cars in your intended area, ignoring the man who tells his son, loud enough for you to hear, that you are a tree killer, littering the streets. Not sure if the kid learned about saving the environment or how to master passive/aggressive behavior which actually comes in handy when encountering a crazy. I distributed 500 flyers and gained two new clients from my tree killing, littering project.
Dog Sitting: This can lead to a regular dog walking client
Get a Part Time Job: Finding work at a restaurant, coffee shop, vet, groomers or pet shop may offer opportunities to secure new clients while relieving financial pressures as you build your business.
Most importantly, have patience. It takes a year to build a business. Ride out the feelings of discouragement and failure because next week you might get three calls!
Follow Lisa @BarSideLisa
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