Become a Dog Walker

Upper East Side Dog WalkerOne of the best things about being a dog walker is that just about anyone can do it. While dog walking can be taxing on a person’s legs and arms, physical fitness isn’t the most important requirement of a dog walker. A person must be passionate about animals.

Dog walking allows a person to spend time outside, set a schedule with as many or as little appointments as desired, play and interact with dogs all day, and make a pretty good wage.

If you are thinking about becoming a dog walker, whether it’s a professional career or just a temporary job, there are several things you must consider. Below is a list of things to take into consideration before you become a dog walker.

Become educated and certified.

A love of dogs is a great place to start, but you owe it to yourself, your clients, and the dogs in your care to become well versed in learning theory, dog body language, pack composition, leash handling skills, basic obedience, and a surprising number of additional topics. dogTEC’s Dog Walking Academy is an excellent program, with schools on both coasts.

Check with your city government to learn about licenses and/or insurance requirements.

Some cities and towns require that dog walkers have special licenses, and some even require dog walkers to be insured and bonded. More frequently than not, governments require that businesses are licensed, so even if your city doesn’t have special regulations for dog walkers, they may require some form of license to operate a business.

Learn about dogs.

You will need to know about dogs and dog care before you become a dog walker. Spend some time at a local dog shelter or rescue organization to learn about how dogs behave and interact with other dogs. See how dogs play with other dogs and humans, and learn about what can irritate and/or anger a dog. Speak with a veterinarian about what types of foods to avoid with dogs. The most important thing is interacting with dogs to learn how you can stay in control at all times.

Think about how you will find clients.

While word of mouth may be one of the best ways to find clients, that doesn’t necessarily help someone who is new to the business. Advertising on a site like DogWalker.com can help expose you to people looking to find a local dog walker. You can also check in with local dog owner organizations, pet shops, and even non-profits like the Humane Society. A nice looking website will also help you get noticed, and handing out business cards will keep you in the minds of dog owners.

Get references and recommendations.

Trust is a big factor for people when choosing a dog walker. Not only will you be looking after man’s best friend, but you may have access to private homes. Dog owners will want to thoroughly vet you before hiring you. Be prepared with personal references and recommendations, even if they aren’t pet-related.

Learn about the business of dog walking.

Dog owners will want to know how much you charge for dog walking, so it’s a good idea to research what other dog walkers charge for their services. Determine if this amount will be enough to cover your time and costs. You might also consider whether you can offer other services, such as dog grooming or dog sitting.

In addition to learning about dogs, successful walkers are successful business people. How you set your rates and policies and go about marketing yourself are critical components to financial success while helping dogs and their people. Here are two resources:

How To Run a Dog Business: Putting Your Career Where Your Heart Is, by Veronica Boutelle This comprehensive and easy to read book is available through Dogwise.

www.dogtec.org dogTEC specializes in helping dog walkers and other dog service providers start and grow their businesses. They have an array of products and services to choose from, as well as free articles on walking dogs for a living.

Get to know the area.

Before you venture out on your first walk, you will want to know the neighborhoods in which you will be working. If the dog owner doesn’t mind having his dog off-leash while in your care, find out where the local dog runs and dog parks are located, and learn the laws for taking dogs off leash. Some cities permit dogs off-leash in public parks during certain hours, and the fines can be pretty hefty if you are caught doing this off-hours.

Join a Professional Organization

Join a professional dog walking company organization such as the International Association of Canine Professionals, where you can network and chat with other dog walkers from around the world. Get tips from other professionals and learn how you can improve your business. See what’s working for other dog walkers, and make changes to your business. National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) is also an organization that has many dog walking services among its membership.

Own a Franchise

There are a number of well-established and successful dog walking and pet care companies that have franchise opportunities. For example, Fetch Pet Care has over 200 franchisees across the United States. By owning a franchise, you not only get to represent the established brand in your local market, but you also have access to the company’s business and marketing guides, helping you run the business successfully. You can flatten the learning curve that exists when starting a business from scratch.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miikka_skaffari/ / CC BY-NC 2.0