Side Hustles for Pet Lovers: How to Become a Dog Walker
Brooklyn Tails & Trails
Imagine a side hustle that involves adorable clients, daily exercises, and flexible hours. Plus, it also includes helping out humans who love and care about their pets as much as you do. Sounds like an instant joy booster, doesn’t it?
It’s no surprise that dog walking has become one of the most popular and lucrative side gigs. The dog-walking business brings in around $1 billion in revenue, according to an IBISWorld industry research report. Three factors have contributed to this growing trend:
- Increased pet spending has helped the industry thrive.
- Pet ownership is at an all-time high, having steadily increased over the past two decades.
- Pet owners will have to leave their pets alone at home as they enter the workforce.
“When I moved to downtown Brooklyn with my husband in 2013, I was amazed to discover how many pet owners lived in my building,” says Nelli Rahman, owner of Brooklyn Tails & Trails (BTT), one of the NYC borough’s fastest-growing dog-walking and pet-sitting services.
Having grown up with dogs my whole life, I had plans to build a dog-walking business for years. Once I saw a need for reliable walkers in my neighborhood, the timing was just right.”
As more and more millennials in the U.S. postpone starting families, pet ownership rates have increased considerably. In fact, 60.2 million households in America have a dog, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
As pets replace children, dog walkers are becoming a fixture in everyday life, as much as babysitters have been for generations.
So if you’re looking for a lucrative side hustle, consider pet services. The ideal dog walker is reliable, friendly, and of course, loves being around animals. Here are some tips on how to become a dog walker.
1. Have a Flexible Schedule
One of the big appeals of working freelance is not having fixed hours and being able to make your own schedule.
“We typically look for candidates with great customer service skills, as well as professional and timely communication ability,” Rahman explains. “Since our clients request Monday through Friday daily walks, our walkers should be able to commit to a regular schedule.”
One of her walkers, a Brooklyn graphic artist who loves the flexibility of the job, says that, “I was able to set up a dog-walking schedule that worked for me, so I could commit to my freelance projects.”
2. Get Experience With Dogs
Whether you’ve volunteered at shelters, owned dogs, or trained them, it helps to have some prior experience with these animals.
“We love dog people. It’s a chemistry thing. If you’re comfortable around dogs, the dogs will be comfortable around you,” Rahman says.
“In fact, part of our interview process involves a supervised meet and greet with some of our dogs.”
In addition to chemistry, ideal dog walkers aren’t squeamish about picking up poop and communicating about it with clients. Finally, you’ll need to be at ease with walking dogs for several hours in all types of weather.
3. How to Find Dog-Walking Gigs
Throughout New York City, there are hundreds of dog-walking, pet-sitting, and dog-boarding companies seeking help. However, you don’t necessarily have to work for an already established business. You can create a profile on SitterCity.com, Rover, or Wag! to connect with clients seeking local sitters and walkers.
4. How to Determine Your Rates
To figure out what type of money you can expect to earn as a walker, you’ll need to do some research into the standard rate for walkers in your area. For instance, Rover charges $20 for a 30-minute walk in NYC and $30 for an hour-long walk.
The best move to make as someone just starting out may be to research the market in your area and offer competitive pricing.
“Undercutting the competition may not be a feasible long-term strategy, but it will quickly grow their book of clients (as well as reviews and referrals), which, in turn, will allow them to increase their rates and become more selective in the work they want to do moving forward as business increases,” says Melanie Lewis, a pet sitter for Rover.
5. Save Your Money
Working as a freelancer can be difficult if a gig like dog walking is your sole source of income. You have to put in as much work as you can during peak times like holidays and really plan to make your money last. You also don’t have as much control over your schedule as you might with other freelance gigs and side hustles, since your clients’ needs influence when you should walk the dogs.
“If you (and your family) rely solely on your freelance income, it really pays (pun intended) to think long-term rather than just short-term about the jobs you’re taking on, in order to protect yourself from running into financial trouble,” Lewis says. “My schedule as a sitter is very busy during peak travel seasons, including holidays and summer break. Other times throughout the year, however, such as right after the Christmas and New Year’s travel period is over, can be very slow.”
To ensure that your money lasts, especially if it’s your only source of money, keep to a strict budget and plan for future expenses, or take on additional freelance gigs.
6. Get Insurance
Not only should you be current on your vaccinations and have general health insurance if you’re going to be dealing with animals, but you should have some kind of insurance in case one of the dogs gets hurt. “If you work closely with other people or animals, it never hurts to buy additional liability insurance to protect yourself.”
You’ll need pet care insurance from a legitimate company like Pets Best, which offers various different plans, depending on your situation. Meanwhile, Pet Care Insurance offers dog walker insurance specifically, but there are many other types of insurances you can purchase to cover people who work with animals.
It also helps to be CPR and first-aid certified, though this isn’t required.
Final Tips on How to Become a Dog Walker
Dog walkers in large cities tend to make more than those in the suburbs, but there’s far more competition for business in cities. If you’re think you might want to be your own boss, there are a few questions to keep in mind:
- How much can you charge per walk?
- How many clients can you engage?
- How many walks can you fit into a day?
- How many dogs can you walk at once?
- Where are the nearest animal clinics or hospitals?
- Are you properly insured in the case that either you or the dog gets injured?
Finally, you can charge extra during certain times of year, such as long holidays. If you’re serious about becoming a dog walker, you’re going to have to put in the work. It’s not a small amount of work, but the market is only getting larger and freelance work can make you some serious cash on the side if you’re on point with your hustle!
Additional reporting by Jazmin Rosa.