An Honest Look at Being a Dog Walker

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Life as a dog walkerI became a dog walker in 2009 and I still walk our client’s dogs five days a week. By 2012 I decided to start Rover-Time and within ten months of self-employment, I hired my first team member to support our dog walking service. Since that day, potential hires from every thinkable vocation have applied to open positions on our team giving up their previous, often much more comfortable and sustainable careers, to walk other people’s dogs.

 

But really, how hard can dog walking be?

Totally valid question. My honest answer: it’s pretty hard work. There’s an awful lot to learn (and unlearn) about the dogs themselves in order to keep both the dog and the walker safe. Careful, professional dog walking demands technical skill, physical stamina, and in-depth knowledge of everything from dog behavior to pet first aid to knowing and understanding city laws.

There’s no health insurance or paid time off. And to make extra money you need open availability to work evenings, weekends, and holidays. Chicago’s weather can keep you outdoors when absolutely no one else wants to be outdoors with you. And the driving between clients’ homes; all the unpaid time spent navigating through slow city traffic, searching for limited, legal (and free!) parking spots comes with the work as well.

So what are the other challenges a dog walker faces?

Time Management
Our days are really intense. We fit in a ton of work within three very busy hours of the day (not many need us before 11 a.m. or after 2 p.m.). Every client has a different routine, every dog a different need.

Patience is necessary always. You never know how difficult an old lock with its poorly copied key will be this time, or what sort doggie destruction you’ll walk into, or how easy it is to just blank on a alarm code. Wrestling an energized dog with his harness and winter dog boots and coat takes important minutes from the walk. And the little pups, every single one is always too excited to eat their lunch before you leave, but you need to stay put until they do, so they eat safely.

Stress
The truth is that in order to do this work well – to care for animals and people – the walker needs to be able to care for him or herself first. Just having the technical skills to do the job isn’t enough. It’s not enough to know how to walk a fearful dog or how to reinforce behavior you want to see more of. Or how to practice avoidance and redirections with a dog set off by bikes, kids, and squirrels.

All of those are skills we need, of course. But you won’t be able to practice any of that expertise if you’re falling apart mentally, physically, and emotionally. Stress takes away your ability to do good work. It takes away the skills to cope and impairs ability to connect with other people, think creatively, problem solve, and work well with others. As an employer, I dream of paying my walkers hundreds of dollars an hour because financial worries creates stress so easily. And stress creates burnout. The job has to continue to support the walker with their personal needs and dreams.

Loss
Circumstances that are within our control and out of it do not set us up for the amount of loss we feel when a client cancels service unexpectedly or when their pet passes on. We truly love these dogs; we connect with them as we connect with our own. We learn their quirks, passions, where the excellent spots are for scratching, their favorite treats, all the tricks for catching those good behaviors and stopping the ones we all find less desirable. We become one of their best friends and we look forward to seeing them on our schedule. When they disappear without notice, without an opportunity to say goodbye, it hurts. No matter the way the relationship ends, we feel a loss.

Then what’s the balance? What creates the job happiness? That’s a pretty simple answer: it’s our client’s dogs. Here’s what some of the team shared with me:

From Dennis… “Creating bonds with dogs that were standoffish with you at first, but now love to see you. I get to play with dogs. I mean how fun is that?”

From Brandy… “You get clocked when they (the dogs) kiss-attack you but they’re so adorable that you can’t be mad. They are so fun and funny. There’s a mountain dog on my route (Theo), and he loves the snow. It’s impossible to be miserable about the weather when he loves it so much. His joy is contagious.”

And from Andrea… “I really can’t think of anything that is “hard” about my job! I feel super fortunate to be able to say that. The best part is being able to spend time with dogs all day.”

Job happiness is how you define it and what you’ll accept in exchange for it. I remember my days of managing play groups out of Wicker Park dog park and taking moments to look up and just feel pure happiness (and I’ve written about this before). It was completely different from anything I ever felt at work for anyone else. Dog walking can truly be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have in your professional life. And it does make you a stronger and better person.

Whether you’re a client reading this for a sneak peak into our lives as your walker or you’re considering what it would be like to work with us, thanks for reading! In the comments below, I’m presenting a two-parter:

  • What do you realize now, that you didn’t before, about professional dog walking?
  • Why do you love your dog walker? What is it about them? (Nudge, nudge… say something below, and I will for sure direct that walker to your comment so they can feel the love.)

Next week I’m baaaack. I’ve got a good stretch of weeks that I’m your resident blogger. We’ll discuss why Rover-Time DOES NOT use GPS tracking with its walking team. I know… good stuff, right?

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Comments (31)

Sophie Phillips

Thanks a lot for this!!! I've had my own dog walking business for almost 2 years now and am really stuck between closing shop or growing it. I'm very busy and don't do group walks plus, have an evening job a few days a week so there's only so much more I can do on my own. It's rewarding yet hard but it's good to know I'm not the only one out there that understands how hard it can be!

Katy Alberti

As the marketing manager at Rover-Time, I'm not out in the field, but I get to hear many of the stories from our walkers - which dogs can't contain themselves when they walk in the door, which dogs start out shy but eventually come around, and which dogs can be a challenge. Before working at Rover-Time, I never realized how much knowledge they need to keep in their heads about each home, owner, and dog they deliver for. It's much more stressful than I had originally thought, but I also see how rewarding it is. I believe our walkers are the best because even though they spend much of their day around dogs (and cats!), they still get a glow when they talk about these animals. They really get attached and have so much concern & care for the furry little ones' well being. I have also seen how well our walkers support each other and care about every one on the team. Plus they have been total rock stars in the cold weather this winter!

Jenny

I love this :) It's so interesting because each job has it's ups and downs and we never look deeper unless it's our field. At one point, I was looking into doing dog walking as a part time job, but I'm so spoiled. My dog is the perfect gentlemen and I'm just not entirely confident that I would be working with other "gentlemenly" dogs -- it's such an interesting topic! Thanks for sharing :)

caitlin

i was a dog walker for four years during and after college and it's still the best job ive ever had!!!

Cherie

Great and informative, very insightful. Thanks Julia. A must read to really understand what goes into the time our walkers spend with our furry family members, as well as the purposeful time and thought and care that goes into their visits, even before they reach our homes. It is remarkable and sometimes unnoticed but it really shouldn't be.

Heather

I am NOT a dog walker (only to my own dog) but I have a very sweet, very cute 2 year old golden retriever, who is a TERROR with other dogs (the theory goes that he was attacked by another dog when he was a puppy). I am always looking for dog walking success stories, and yes, I have had my share of trainers try to help my dog work through his issues. The last trainer met me at a park with his three dogs and had me try and walk these dogs and mine at the same time, I now know that being a dog walker is a SKILL! I was failing miserably. I have a lot of appreciation for dog walkers!

Anne Omland

Great article Julia! I love a "behind the scenes" look at a new business. I have a new dog and this is so helpful as we look for a dog walker. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise!

Mariel Race

I can't wait for the day that my little one, Tess, begins to show lots of her love that I know she has to my walker, Rachel. I am SO SO grateful that Rachel takes the time to lure Tess into her leash or onto her lap. Her extra efforts are so needed with a skiddish dog like Tess who has had a rough past. I feel very lucky to read the step-by-step notes from Rachel about her daily encounters with a dog who most will write-off as "bitchy" - no pun intended! Thanks Rachel! Shout out to you and ALL the Rover-Time peeps!

Lynda

I always look back at this when we bring on a new walker. It's all so true! I love hearing about other peoples' experience too. Dogs. Love!

Susan DuVerger

I enjoyed reading your blog. I started my own dog walking/pet sitting service a year and a half ago and have all the same client's I started with with the exception of three. One dog passed away and anothers owner retired. The third recently let me go unexpectedly because I did not remind her of a vacation I was taking so I couldn't walk her dog. She said it was a strained communication and made it sound like there were others but couldn't tell me what they were. The dogs you care for absolutely become a very special friend and it is a huge loss when you are no longer able to care for them. This particular dog I just lost was very difficult to deal with because she has come so far from when I first started walking her. She has a lot of.Anxieties. Her owner had also recently told me that she has come out of her shell and accredited this to me. So it has therefore thrown me and I am very very sad that I will not be able to see her again.

Cheryl Aponte

I love reading the comments that Josh leaves following his weekly walk with our Cleo. It really shows the progression of her initial shyness with him to her total acceptance of him. She was a rescue dog who was afraid of men, so this was quite a breakthrough. Unfortunately, we will be cancelling our service due to having a houseguest for several months who will be walking Cleo. If and when our circumstances change, I hope that Josh will still be available -- he's been terrific!

Crissi Zito

This is a great article. On the flip side if this some of us couldn't even have our pets if it weren't for the walkers/sitters...I don't believe you will ever know the gratitude and respect I have for you and your team. We love you guys :)

Amanda G

As someone interested in the dog walking business, I'm curious as to how to handle situations such as vacations and other necessary time off when starting out on my own. Does anyone have suggestions on how to make this work along with the schedules of clients?? Also, do most clients generally have a set schedule for all 5 weekdays or is it usually like an every other day or so thing? I would assume most clients prefer to have their dogs walked every day, but you never know! Thought I'd ask. :)

Nicola

I found this a wonderful read! I am a dog owner (3) and have been approached by someone in my neighborhood asking if I would be their dog walker. I do have some questions for you, do you leave a note or log in a book about the walk and doggie business - I think I would want to know for health reasons? What would someone like me charge? I'm not crazy enough to try walking 4 at the same time - I do three now but they range from 16lb to 97lb. and they are mine and know what to expect from them.

elizabeth

I want to be dog walker i really dont no where to start can you help me

Lisa

I have had a desire to become an animal caretaker/walker for the past several years. Once I rescued my first dog, I am pretty well addicted to it.. Now that my real time job is coming to an end, I want to do something that I enjoy and can't help other's lead normal lives. Any advise would be appreciated. I have already looked into insurance, which is really not that expensive. I ultimately want to get my Vet Tech degree to bump up my resume. Thank you for posting this. Great insite.

John, the dog walker

I really needed this. I've a new dog walker, and I'm starting to have a lot of stress, even though I really do like my job. Sometimes it's just hard to just deal with it. I wish I had seen this post a year ago. Keep it up!

Emily DeFrain

I'm so glad I stumbled upon this article and the comments! I'm hopefully starting a (small for now) dog walking/pet sitting business soon and I'm just trying to get my bearings on where to start! I already have 1 client (for both services) and I love every second of being out walking this pup and watching him enjoy his walkies! So I know from that feeling this is what I want to do. Animal people are the best, and I hope that I can be as successful as y'all! Any advice is more than welcome. -Emily

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caroline

i've been a dog walker for 7yrs. i love being with my dogs but all said it is still a job. hardest part of my job is the public! my dogs are my work mates but they don't bitch about me, always happy to see me! i'm going to write a book 'tails of a dog walker' lol!

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Michael kucera

Fantastic Blog! I agree completely with you here. It is a very valuable and helpful collection of blogs. I am trying to gain information from all these. Really helpful post. Thank you..!! Dog Walking Kingston

Wendy Cuba-Danca

Good Article. Thx for your honesty.

Michael

I read the above comments and agree with Andrea's comment exactly. I am currently an independant dog sitter/walker with a local group of furry clients. At some point I will be seeking to expand.

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