In 2006, after volunteering for many animal related causes, I made the decision to start my own off-leash dog walking and pet sitting business.
I now have contractor's who do most of the pet sitting and on-leash dog walking so that I can concentrate on the off-leash walking.
If you've ever thought about becoming a professional dog walker be prepared for a rewarding, but challenging career.
The things you don't think about when taking a group of dogs to an off-leash park for some fun:
1. The mud! Especially if you live in Seattle. Your clients expect their dogs to be returned cleaned. Depending on the dog it can take up to an hour to clean just one dog. Multiply that by several dogs and you've got a long day of work.
2. Training. The majority of people interested in dog walking services have puppies who have no training. Many dog walkers won't accept non-trained dogs but we feel that these puppies are some of the dogs who need it the most. We provide basic training and work with the client to reinforce the training.
3. Compatibility at the park! Some dogs just don't get along with others. It is up to the dog walker if they want to deal with this or if they decide to not continue to walk the dog. We work very hard to help these dogs learn to be compatible so they can enjoy the socialization and exercise of the dog park. Many times it is as simple as easing the dog into the
4. Compatibility in the vehicle. Most dogs do well together once at the park but putting several dogs in a compact area such as a vehicle can result in fights. To avoid this we have dividers in our vehicles to separate the dogs who don't do well in small spaces with other dogs.
5. Know your dogs! It is very important to know the personalities and behaviors of each dog in your pack. We know which dogs like to wander away from the pack, which dogs don't do well in the vehicle with other dogs, which dogs are toy possessive, which dogs like to head for the nearest mud puddle, which dogs like to fetch, which like to play tug-o-war, which ones like to wrestle with other dogs, which like to walk on trails, which like to run in open fields...knowing your pack is one of the most important aspects of successful dog walking.
6. Know your clients. Many people think that as a dog walker you get to work with animals all day, not with people, but to be an effective dog walker it is imperative to have a good working relationship with your human clients. Most clients view their dogs like they do a child so placing their dog in a strangers hands can be very stressful for some clients. We work with each client individually to help make them feel comfortable and confident with our services. Many times this means meeting with them before or after dog walking hours. Good communication, customer service, and availability to your clients is very important.
7. Be honest with clients. We all want our clients to be comfortable with placing their dogs in our care. While we work hard to make our clients feel confident with us we are also honest with them. We explain that dogs can get injured, dirty, and run out of the park no matter how diligent we are in caring for them. Our clients appreciate our honesty.
8. Know your limits. Frequently clients will ask us about training techniques, foods, illnesses, behaviors, etc. because they see us as "experts". We answer our clients questions to the best of our knowledge but always make sure to direct them to someone who specializes in their area of concern such as a veterinarian, dog behaviorist, etc. Having contacts in your area to refer clients to such as veterinarians, behaviorists, nutritionists...for their specific needs is convenient for clients, plus the people your refer to will appreciate having the referral and will hopefully think of you when they meet someone interested in dog walking services.
9. Legalities. Being licensed, bonded, insured, and having proper contracts with clients not only helps to legally protect you, it also shows that you are a professional in your field and helps to retain the integrity of the profession.
10. Keep learning. To be the best at what you do requires continuous learning. Attending seminars, networking groups, classes, and reading trade magazines are just some of the ways to expand your skills.
These are just some things I encounter as the owner of Dallas and Pals. Every day is a new challenge and for me, that is what makes it exciting. Seeing the happiness on the face of the dogs, and hearing the appreciative words from their humans are the best rewards of all.
Written by Elynn Clayton, the owner of Dallas and Pals-Professional Dog Walking and Pet Sitting (www.dallasandpals.com
), this article outlines some of the important aspects of being a dog walker and business owner.