Dog walking can be a surprisingly tricky business to break into. I'm sure you've often heard the phrase, “The only way to do it, is to do it”. Well, this is especially true when learning how to become a dog walker. It can be frustrating and intimidating to be told this, but it really is the truth.
I've been doing this for several years now and will tell you from personal experience that though important, no amount of research, reading articles like this one or planning can fully prepare you to be a dog walker. You need to find a way to get out there and start getting experience before clients will hire you, even if you're not getting paid. If you have a good deal of on-hand experience caring for your own pets and are familiar with dog behaviors, you already have a head start.
If you have volunteered at an animal shelter or watched a friend's dog while they were away, even better. A great start for most aspiring dog walkers is to find someone you know well and offer to walk their dog a few times a week. Offer to do it for free if you have to, and treat this as if it's your business venture. Be a professional before you actually are one.
Most people will offer to pay you if it becomes a regular occurrence. This is an ideal trial run, because chances are that you will already have a good relationship with the dog and you'll be aware of his temperament. This is a great starting point for anyone learning how to become a dog walker, but there's a lot more to this. Below I'll give you some more tips and explain how I've started, and what you can do as well.
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Ask a Dog Walker:
How to Become a Dog Walker?
Finding Dog Walking Clients
My very first clients were my neighbors. I stumbled into this on accident, but now realize that it's absolutely the best way for any aspiring dog walker to start – simply find a few free hours in your day, and reach out to people you know.
Additionally, to find your first clients as a dog walker, it's important to surround yourself with people who are likely to be in need of your services. Volunteering at an animal shelter or taking a part-time job at a vet clinic are both great ways to meet pet owners as well as gain experience caring for animals.
Picking up a part-time job at a local pet store or grooming salon would also be beneficial in your quest to learn how to become a dog walker. There are always dog owners there who may be interested in your services, and making friends with groomers and trainers who later will recommend you to their own clients is never a bad idea.
Most animal shelters are grateful for volunteers to come walk their dogs and help socialize the animals until they find forever homes. Vet clinics usually offer part time positions to help feed and care for animals that are being boarded or have an extended stay at the clinic. This is another way to gain some relevant experience and introduce yourself to dog owners in your area.
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Get Insured and Bonded
In America, you don't want to do any business without taking care of two most important aspects – taxes and insurance. Insurance and bonding are crucial to a successful dog walking career. Not only does dog walking often entail entering people's homes while they are away, but you are being trusted with their pet that they love dearly.
Because dog walking involves handling someones else's property, it's important that you take the proper legal precautions to avoid getting into a mess if an accident were to happen. These things will happen to you, so be prepared.
Remember that dogs are unpredictable, so at some point, at least a small accident will happen while you're working. When researching how to become a dog walker, look at organizations like Pet Sitters International (PSI), the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) and Pet Sitters Associates (PSA) as resources for walker insurance and bonding. There are also specific pet business insurance plans that you may want to explore, although they're not necessary and other options are good too.
Advertising Your Services
The only way to grow your business is through good marketing and advertising efforts. Word of mount is good, but extra attention to promotion will quickly expand your services, which means more interest and, ultimately, higher dog walking rates.
While you're walking dogs, be sure to make connections, network, market your services and actively advertise. There's no need to be aggressive about it. There are subtle ways to let people know about your dog walking services without even having to sell it to them. Most of my clients came from word of mouth, but I did advertise my services as well.
Here are some ways I did it and you can do too:
- Design and print distinct but professional looking t-shirts to wear while you dog walk. Include the business name and possibly a slogan and phone number. I have also seen people put their business name on bandanas for the dogs to wear. This will grab the attention of people in need of a dog walker. More often than you'd think, complete strangers will approach you and ask what you charge for your walks and if you pet sit. At which point you hand them your business card.
- Have business cards printed with your business name and contact information and carry them on you at all times, but especially during a dog walk. When someone asks you about your services, it's so much simpler and more professional to hand over a business card than to have to exchange contact information.
- Create a website for your business. Websites can be created for free with services like weebly.com, squarespace.com, among others. List your qualifications and the services you offer along with a detailed price list. Include decent quality pictures of you with the dogs that you walk. The more clients have a sense that they know you personally, the better. Include contact information and respond to inquiries from potential clients promptly. Create a page where clients can leave reviews. Nothing speaks louder of a business then customer satisfaction.
These are just a few suggestions for methods of advertisement. Feel free to get creative and do any combination of these and more. Unique ideas that you came up with are great for getting your business to stick in someone's memory.
Walking with an Established Company
If you're having trouble getting started or don't know anyone with a dog, apply to join a company like those Pet Sitting Services we know, like Wag, Fetch, or Rover. They will bond and insure you, as well as help you schedule dog walks. Companies like these generally handle much of the hassle of being self-employed for you.
The application process for these companies is quick and simple. They will run a background check and test you on your dog knowledge to make sure you are worthy of being bonded.
These companies will set your rates for you and take a percentage of your earnings from walks as compensation for the services that they provide.
While this is a draw back, it is worth it for many new dog walkers. Remember, you can start out with a company, but nothing is preventing you from ceasing employment with them and starting your own business if you decide that you want more autonomy.
In Summary: How to Become a Dog Walker?
Dog walking is an ideal career for animal lovers, or it can be a great and rewarding side gig to earn you extra income. Though it does come with a good deal of responsibility, you're getting paid to be best buddies with a dog. When you start caring for the same dogs regularly, they absolutely light up when you come to walk them.
It's adorable and I've never had another job where I felt as appreciated as I do when I'm dog walking. Learning how to become a dog walker can be hard, but once you can get your food in the door and start getting some good recommendations you'll probably find that you have more job offers than you can even handle.
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