Side Hustles for Pet Lovers: How to Become a Dog Walker
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. According to an IBISWorld industry research report, the dog-walking business is worth around $1 billion and is growing at a rate of more than three percent a year. 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 re-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. 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,” says Nelli Rahman, owner of Brooklyn Tails & Trails (BTT), one of the borough’s fastest growing dog-walking and pet-sitting services. BTT serves several neighborhoods, including downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, DUMBO, and Boerum Hill.
As more and more millennials in the U.S. postpone starting families, pet ownership rates have increased considerably. According to a 2016 survey by the research firm Mintel, 75 percent of Americans in their 30s have dogs, while 51 percent have cats. In 2016, Americans spent $66.75 billion on food, veterinary care, supplies, OTC medicines, and pet services such as grooming and boarding, according to the American Pet Products Association.
As pets replace children, dog walkers have become a constant feature in everyday life, much as babysitters have been for generations.
In fact, dog walkers will be more in demand than teachers in the next decade, the New York-based Conference Board predicts. 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 for how to become a dog walker:
1. Have a Flexible Schedule
It’s no surprise that the life of a dog walker does not have set hours. “We typically look for candidates with great customer service skills, as well as professional and timely communication ability. Since our clients request Monday through Friday daily walks, our walkers should be able to commit to a regular schedule,” Rahman explains.
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! In fact, part of our interview process involves a supervised meet and greet with some of our dogs,” Rahman says.
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 or Rover.com to connect with clients seeking local sitters and walkers. You’ll need pet care insurance from a legitimate company. It also helps to be CPR and first-aid certified, though this isn’t required.
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. Ryan Stewart, owner of Ryan for Dogs in Long Island City, Queens, has three employees. Stewart told Marketwatch that he charged customers $15 per walk — the going rate in LIC — and the company walked about 40 to 50 dogs every weekday, mostly between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. He also said that he knew a solo dog walker in his neighborhood who was able to make $2,000 a week putting in 35 to 40 hours.
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 thinking of working for yourself, there are a few factors to keep in mind:
- How much you can charge per walk
- How many clients you can engage
- How many walks you can fit into a day
Finally, you can charge extra during off-hours, such as long holidays.