10 Ways to Become a Successful Dog Walker
How to start and grow your dog-walking business.
Being a dog walker and starting a dog walking business are not easy, but if you love dogs and have the drive and commitment to work toward building a business, it may just be the job for you.
Ted Terroux, owner of Ted Terroux Dog Training, and Sherry L. Suhosky, president of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) and managing and senior partner of Jack Rapid Runners, LLC, share tips on how to grow your dog-walking business.
Decide Your Goals
Like any big decision in life, choosing to start your dog walking business requires preparation. Suhosky recommends doing some background research. "Determine your expenses and how much income you'd like to make in one year. Then take a look at what other professional dog walkers are charging." This will help you develop a reasonable goal and the steps necessary to achieve it.
Make a Business Plan
While you don't need an MBA, a working knowledge of business is a must. Make sure you have knowledge of accounting and marketing, along with a functional ability to read and write a contract. It's not wise to jump in without establishing goals such as revenue projections, marketing strategies and hours. Many community colleges offer courses for non-degree seeking students. And if you want to dive deeper, top colleges offer free online courses to help you get your startup off the ground.
Be Knowledgeable About Dogs
Terroux, who has been training dogs for more than 30 years, says knowledge of dogs and dog behaviors is a necessity. "Becoming a dog walker requires a general knowledge of the most popular breeds and their specific behavior tendencies," Terroux says. "You should have good dog handling skills and a thorough understanding of dog socialization techniques. You should also know how to read canine body posture."
Know Your Limits
Just as some dogs are more comfortable around certain types of people, certain people are better with certain types of dogs. Before just going out and soliciting everyone with a dog for business, take some time to figure out if there are any breeds you are less comfortable around. "Some breeds tend to be territorial and some are predatory, while others are adventurous or independent," Terroux says. "Some breeds get over-stimulated more easily. Some breeds tend to be more fearful.
Toot Your Own Horn
People can't buy your product if they don't know about it. "To market any new business or service, I would suggest promoting through your website -- or creating a website if you don't already have one," Suhosky says. "Joining a professional organization will also help promote a new business because you'll be able to gain more insight into the profession while networking with others in the industry and exchanging ideas and business tips." Better yet: Create a profile on Care.com and start applying to dog walking jobs.
Suhosky cautions against taking your charges to the dog park -- because they're prime spaces for aggressive behavior. By knowing breeds, you'll be aware of the best places to take them on their walk.
Terroux recommends being prepared for aggressive dogs or wild animals. "I highly recommend that carrying a full canister of citronella spray at all times," he says. "It sprays 10 to 12 feet and will deter about 95 percent of approaching dogs or coyotes. It doesn't cause pain like pepper spray does."
Learn to Read Bad Situations
Every once in a while, you may run into a dog that's gotten off of its leash or your dog may get scared and try to run away or it may bite someone. Make sure you are able to read dogs' body language. "Be aware of your surroundings and be watchful by constantly scanning the area throughout your walk" Suhosky says. "If there are other people out walking dogs, don't walk beside them; simply adjust your path so the dogs aren't passing each other side by side."
All Walking Paths Are Not Equal
Although it may be easier to find clients in a bigger city, it may be calmer to walk them in a place that isn't crowded. The surrounding environment is important, and some cities are better for dogs than others. For example, if you're walking a dog in Phoenix, in the summer, midday is not a good time.
Set Your Boundaries
It's important to determine what you will and will not do. If you are strictly a dog walker, make sure that your clients know not to contact you for pet-sitting services. Make sure to discuss up front whether or not you will be willing to do other things, like taking the dog to the groomer. "It's always a good idea to diversify your business offerings, as long as you understand your overall business goals, direct [and indirect] costs and availability," Suhosky says.
It's common to see people walking multiple dogs, but when you're first starting out or getting to know a new charge, it's more realistic to take them out by themselves or in small groups. "I would always walk unknown dogs one or two at a time before I'd walk a larger group," Terroux says. "A good dog handler, with well-behaved dogs, should be able to walk six large dogs at a time."
It takes time and experience to build a repertoire. By knowing your goals, being patient and starting slowly, you can transition from office drone to successful dog walker.