Many people wish to become a dog walker simply because they have a love for dogs. Perhaps they have had dogs all their lives, perhaps they want to start their own business or perhaps they just want to do something that enables them to be active and outdoors.
Anyone can become a dog walker, so long as you know what you’re doing and are confident that you can provide a positive experience for the dogs. However, there are several things that you should consider before committing to becoming a dog walker. So whether you’re looking to do this as your full time job or just as a little something on the side, make sure you have a look at our tips.
For me personally, I’d like to become a professional part time dog walker one day. At the moment I use a dog borrower website called Borrow My Doggy to spend time with adorable pooches. The website essentially matches me with people in my area who are looking for people to look after their dog. It’s a great way to connect with local people and gain experience, if that’s what you’re after. I joined it simply because I cannot have my own dog, so it enables me to spend time with others.
I am not a paid dog walker but I do it voluntarily on a regular basis. Everything I share in this article is about my own journey so far as well as research that I have done.
So… how do you become a dog walker?
Get some experience
Those who will be paying for your services want to know that their dog will be in safe hands. They will want to know your worth and how good you can be with their pooch. After all, most people’s dogs are their pride and joy and allowing them to be with unknown people can be a challenge.
Due to this, you will want to make sure you have experience. This way you are able to let owners know what experience you have and why you can do a good job. Owners are far more likely to pay for someone who has regular contact with dogs and knows how to look after them compared with someone who has little to no experience at all.
I’m not saying you necessarily have to be the biggest dog walker in town to get clients, but what I am saying is that you need to be able to provide what the dogs need. Gain experience through friends who have dogs, borrower sites, local organizations or perhaps ask a local if you can come on some dog walks with them.
Don’t forget that as a dog walker, you will likely have to deal with a range of dogs. Sometimes this might be walking several dogs at one time if it is your full time business. So, you need to make sure you know how to handle it. The more experience you have, the better dog walker you’ll be and the more elaborate service you’ll be able to provide.
George loves being outside but he can be a little wary of other dogs.
Do your research
If you’re charging for your services, you need to make sure that your knowledge of dogs is as good as it can be. Dog owners want to make sure that they feel confident with you looking after their dog, so make sure you know how to deal with certain situations and breeds.
You might want to research:
- Different types of breeds and their temperaments
- Socializing dogs
- How much exercise different types of dogs need
- Where you can take the dogs on walks
- Dog rules and regulations
- Equipment that you will need such as poop bags, treats, dog wipes and more
- First aid for dogs
- Doggy body language
- Dealing with stressful situations
Doing research and getting experience come hand in hand really. If you have a good idea about what to do in certain situations, you will feel confident to handle it. Dog owners expect you to be able to keep their dog happy and safe, so understanding how to do the best you can to meet those expectations will allow you to feel at ease when dog walking.
Look into dog walkers in your area
When you’re starting out, it is difficult because it can feel like there are lots of experienced people around you. Use those people to your advantage.
Take a look at the dog walkers in your area to get a feel for what they offer and how much they charge for their services. Afterall, they will be your competition and you need to know what the ‘norm’ is for your area. Their success can be yours too, so take a few tips and tricks from their adverts or websites to better your own business.
You will also want to make sure that you are setting your hourly rate correctly in line with them. Overcharge and you will find yourself with few customers. Undersell and you might find that you either do not earn enough or that you are not taken seriously. Charge what you are worth but make sure that you stay in line with your competitors. As mentioned in this article already, if you are completely new to this and have little experience, it might be worth charging a little less to get clients and build up your experience.
We walk George on his extendable leash to make sure we can keep him safe when his owners are not with us.
Take a look at training and qualifications
Although it is not essential for you to have specific training and qualifications, it will boost your appeal to owners. Showing that you have had training and gained relevant qualifications gives them more confidence that you can do a good job.
Despite the owners, it will likely give you a boost too as it will mean that you have learnt ways of dealing with particular situations. This means that ultimately you can provide a better service for your clients and their pooches.
I voluntarily look after dogs occasionally and I have not had training and qualifications. Having grown up with dogs means I have a good understanding of them and I tend to look after dogs that I either have experience with or have spent a lot of time with first. However, if I were to make this a paid job, I’d want to gain a qualification for both my benefit and the dog’s.
You can get qualifications in topics such as:
- Animal first aid
- Dog walker specific courses
- Canine aggression
- Body language
You need to consider the type of clients you have and how much they are expected to pay. Obviously the more experience you have, the more you can charge for a quality service.
Gain confidence in building relationships
Imagine having to let your dog go off with a stranger. Imagine what you’d feel and what thoughts would go through your head before handing them over on their leash. You might feel a little guilty for not being able to walk them. You might even be worried that something could happen without you being there.
It’s hard to let your dog go with someone else, particularly when you do not know them. Building a good relationship with clients and their dogs is the key to making them both feel at ease. If you immediately have a good attitude towards their dog and show interest, you will likely start to build up a positive relationship with their owner. Over time, if you improve your relationship with their dog, you will have a happy customer.
When I first started walking Teddy the Miniature Labradoodle, their owners of course found it difficult to let him go. For several weeks I would walk him in their area and not go too far as this made them feel more comfortable. However, each time I went I built up that relationship a little bit more. Each time Teddy would be happy when he arrived home and eventually his owners were comfortable enough for me to take him to other places to walk. These things take time.
Present yourself as someone who really loves the company of dogs and is enthusiastic about what they do, and you will give off plenty of positive vibes to your clients. That, combined with your other experience and potential qualifications, can be the foundation of bringing in a long-term client.
Teddy is a gentle giant, despite being a Miniature Labradoodle!
Look into getting insurance
Insurance is not essential but is well worth doing. Imagine that something does happen while you’re out with someone else’s dog… Insurance means that you are covered if someone else’s dog causes harm to someone or something.
Pet Care Insurance describes this as cover that protects you from a ‘financial disaster’. Obviously you are in charge of the dogs you look after and all of the experience you gain will aid you in dealing with situations. However, there are times when things cannot be helped and so insurance covers you for things that are not your fault.
Decide your rate per hour
The best thing to do is to decide on how much you need to charge per hour and stick with it. In order to build up a good reputation in your area, you’ll need to ensure that you are consistent unless there’s reason to negotiate.
Deciding on how much to charge can be tricky, particularly if you are not familiar with how much dog walkers tend to earn. However, in order to do this you need to consider a variety of factors. These factors can change depending on whether this is a full-time business for you or whether you’re looking to earn a little extra on the side.
Things to consider when setting your rate per hour:
- The costs of equipment
- The amount of tax you will need to pay
- Travel costs
- Your house bills
- Your location – some areas are more expensive than others
- How long each walk is
- What your competitors charge
If you are just starting out, it might be worth charging slightly less than others in your area in order for you to try and build up your reputation. Dog owners want security and exercise for their dog and will likely be looking for reasonable prices, especially if they need a regular walker for their pooch.
Oz the Cocker Spaniel is still a puppy so he can be a handful!
Decide on what services you can offer
Two common services that dog walkers offer are individual dog walks and group dog walks. Walking more than one dog at a time means you can earn more money per walk. If you offer this service, you will need to make sure that each dog is not aggressive towards other dogs as this could cause an issue.
Make sure that you do not walk too many at one time, as you want to ensure the safety and care for each dog. Go with what you are able to manage.
If you are offering individual walking services, it would be worth charging more so that it is still worth your time. Some clients would be willing to pay this if they prefer their dog to be walked alone without others.
Besides that, think about whether you want to offer other services such as day care or overnight stays.
Create a list of questions to ask clients about their dog
In order to understand your client and their dog’s needs, make sure you have a set list of questions that you want to ask them. This shows them that you care about the welfare of their dog and it helps you to understand their dog too.
You could ask them questions such as:
- How old is your dog?
- How often do they need walking?
- How do they respond to other dogs? Do they like to socialize?
- Does your dog have any health problems that I should know about?
- Are they okay to be given treats or are they on a specific diet?
- Do they respond well to commands?
- Is there anything in particular that they do not like or that they respond negatively to?
- What does your dog like doing most?
- At what time of day would you prefer that I walk him?
- Are they good with travelling short distances in a car?
- Can your dog be let off a leash?
- Is there anything else you’d like me to know?
This is not an exhaustive list of questions that you could ask the owners. Go with your gut but make sure that you get any essential information needed for a successful dog walk.
Charlie is a rescue, so we made sure we found out as much information about him as possible.
In order to get yourself some clients, you’ll need to promote yourself effectively. It’s no use just telling a few people that you have started your own dog walking business – you’ll need to get yourself noticed by locals.
With the internet nowadays, there’s plenty of ways that you can promote yourself online. This includes social media and other websites that allow you to promote your services. Not to mention that you could also create your own website.
You could also:
- Hand out flyers or drop them through doors in the local area
- Ask your local shops if they will allow you to put a small advert in their window
- Go to community events that allow you to meet locals
Once you get yourself up and running, you’ll find it easier to get clients as you will have built your reputation. A few words from a client can have an impact on your business. In fact, once you have built a few good relationships, ask your clients for short testimonials that you can use to promote your services to others.
Becoming a dog walker can be an incredibly rewarding experience and if you love dogs, then it is perhaps the perfect job for you! So whether you’re looking to do it full time or just as a little extra on the side, make sure that you complete the steps discussed in this article to help you start your success.
George may not look happy here but believe me, we have a lovely friendship.
To summarize what was discussed in this article:
- Gaining training and qualifications can help to build your clientele
- Gain experience with different breeds so that you feel confident offering services to a range of clients
- Insurance is worthwhile as it covers you for damage
- Do your homework! Research doggy care and other dog walkers in your area
- Get to know each dog so that everyone feels safe and confident
- Do not offer more than you know you can achieve – be realistic
So, where will your dog walking experience take you?