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How to Become Certified Dog Walker

Introduction

If you’re curious how to become a certified dog walker, then you can yelp with delight at the prospect of pounding the pavement with pups very soon. For anyone who has grown up with dogs, worked with dogs, or just happens to love pooches, becoming a dog walker can be the ideal side-gig to earn extra income, or even support your life full-time! 

As much as becoming a dog walker may appear to be a dream position, it’s worth acknowledging the challenges of life as a dog walker; developing your own book of clients, maintaining relationships with pup owners, managing your schedule, and optimizing your revenues, you’ll be challenged to quickly acquire business skills, interpersonal skills, and organizational skills, which aren't so pooch-related. With that being said, taken in a positive light, not only could dog walking offer extra income, but the journey of becoming a dog walker can therefore be an extremely rewarding process that cultivates these traits witin you, whether you decide to make it a full time position for yourself, remain part-time, or eventually shift along to another path.

From a thousand-foot perspective, you can remember that being a dog walker serves a valuable purpose in society. Particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic, households are flush with furry friends, and with the decline of peak work-from-home days, folks in your cities (and their pups) likely need help, in some cases desperately. If dog owners don’t get help, they risk negatively affecting their own careers by being swamped with dog responsibilities, and their pups could be living a neglected life, or shelters could begin experiencing spikes in pup populations.

With that being the case, know that your services are indeed in demand, so feel free to confidently step through the doorway in becoming a certified dog walker.  Not only will you evolve from the experience as a better version of yourself, but you'll serve a key role in the community, helping local animals and aiding their pup parents thrive in their day-to-day lives.

The Day to Day of Dog Walker

What follows is an approximate sketch of the day-to-day of a dog walker. Without a doubt, this can vary depending on if you’re an independent dog walker, or work for a larger company, or if you already have a background in dog care. The daily tasks have been organized into three categories of office work, on the job work, and off time self-improvement work.

Beginning the Day

Rolling out of bed early, but not too early, in the day, you’ll know that your first orders of business will be reviewing your schedule of dog walks. You might have a single walk in the late morning, a gaggle of pup clients around noon (a popular time for dog owners to book), followed by a meet-and-greet with a client later in the afternoon, and a walk to close the day around dinnertime.

Until your first dog walk around 10:30am, you’ve got enough time to hop on the computer and take care of some digital to-dos. Your Craigslist or Kijiji listings could use reposting, a rescheduled walk for tomorrow should get updated in your phone calendar, and emails require answering for a couple prospective clients. Throughout the day, you might have some phone calls for bookings ring-in, and might need to run over to the print shop to get more flyers to leave in neighborhood mailboxes. If you’ve got a website, you might be slowly chipping away at your About Us page on Wordpress, aiming to tell a friendly story about how you got started in the dog walking business.

On the Job Work

After the clock has ticked away for a few hours, you can gather your walking supplies to prepare for your fleet of dog walks; an extra leash, water bottle, water bowl, treats, and runners might be a few of the supplies which you pack into your bag. 

Holstering your wallet into your back pocket, you’ll step out the door and zoom to your first client’s place. Those pup parents will be at work, so you’ll use their preferred method of entry, whether it’s a hidden key, lockbox, or electronic code, and carefully enter to retrieve the pup. Of course, you’ll want to be some surveillance. After ensuring the dog has drank some water, and has a harness properly attached, you’ll set out on the neighborhood walk, following the pathways which the owner has suggested to you via text and conversation. 

For the most part, each walk will largely be like the walk illustrated above. Meet-and-greets are another activity you’ll want to get used to, since they’re a key way to introduce yourself to clients and their pups. Being open to sharing your experience with dogs, maintaining curiosity to get to know the dogs, and asking questions about the dog’s behavior, your meet-and-greets are a handy way to ensure you and the dogs are compatible.

Off Time Work

To close out your day, you might watch some Youtube videos on dog behavior, first aid, or training. Similarly, you might use your free time to sharpen your business or interpersonal skills, listening to podcasts or audiobooks to forge ahead with progress in those directions as well. 

Salary

Your salary as a dog walker can range roughly between $15 an hour to $35 an hour. Nearby competition, your experience level, an ability to pitch to pup parents, among many other factors, will determine the hourly rate which you earn for yourself. Theoretically, as your own boss, and employing business strategies such as hiring other helpers, there's potentially no hard cap on your salary, so take those numbers with a grain of salt.

Further below in this guide, you’ll also learn about ways to maximize your earnings as a dog walker, so stay tuned for some salary-related tips in short order!

Preparing to Become a Dog Walker

It’s nice to mentally prepare for new things in life, and getting ready to become a dog walker is no different. Here’s a brief overview of items which you should become familiar with or mark as complete before wrangling your first pup parent clients.

Set Goals

One of the most inspiring activities which you’ll get to do is set your goals. Some people say that, “life is about having aims,” and goal setting captures that mentality in a bottle. To yank yourself up by your own bootstraps, it’ll be handy to have a list of aims or goals, so you can motivate yourself to key milestones and celebrate them as well!

Whether it’s your daily or monthly revenue targets, number of clients you’d like to have booked within the next week or month, or even the weight you’d like to shed by taking on this great form of exercise, having quantifiable goals with timelines will help you gain clarity in your next steps. For example, if you know you’d like to earn $500 in the first month of dog walking, and that your rate will be $30 per hour of dog walking, you know that’ll be about 17 hour long dog walks; over the course of the month, that might be 6 customers each with a few walks per week. Then, if you know that for every 20 flyers shared in mailboxes you receive 2 phone calls and 1 customer, you can plan to drop 120 flyers in the next week to veer closer to your goals!

Plan Your Radius

At first, you might feel like you’re ready to conquer your entire city, willing to drive to the farthest corners if it means another customer hires you; however, bear in mind that your time and transportation costs are vital factors which will likely mean limiting your travel radius. Be kind to yourself and promise that you won’t accept clients beyond a suitable radius, be it 10km, 5km, or 3km. Guarding your time and operational costs of travel, you’ll set yourself up for much more success and satisfaction over the long term.

Gather Supplies

No different from how carpenters have their toolbox, dog walkers also have their canine kit to perform their best work. Similarly, you can stock your supplies to ensure quality service for your pup clients. Here’s a quick checklist of items which you can consider stocking in the coming days:

  • Spare leash
  • Spare harnesses/collars
  • Various types of treats
  • Compostable dog waste bags
  • Water bottles
  • Backpack
  • Sunscreen & sunglasses
  • First aid kit
  • Smartphone

Physical Preparation

As leisurely and rosy as dog walking seems, at first, it’s a profession which will challenge your physique, particularly if you do it for a living. With that being the case, you won’t want to suddenly switch from sedentary habits to suddenly 12km of walking while managing 40 lb animals! Instead, along your journey in becoming a dog walker, invest in your own physical health by visiting the gym, jogging around your neighborhood, and stretching so that your health will withstand your coming dog walking work.

Mental Preparation

Your determination, planning, and commitment to execution via mental preparation is arguably the most important aspect of becoming a dog walker. You’ll be juggling the duel duties of actually doing the dog walking, and being a business manager; if you’re skilled at those different duties, and have the time to juggle both, then you’ll be a great independent dog walker. If on the other hand you’d like to rid yourself of most of the business sides of things, you could consider working for dog walking companies such as Spot, while remaining independent.

In addition to your actual walking equipment toolbox, you’ll want to cultivate skills in your mental toolbox as well. Even if you’re not confident in some of these items, by addressing them and putting in the time, you’ll emerge as a much more well rounded person as a bonus!

  • Self-motivation to create and nurture a book of clients & maintain good health
  • Love for dogs of all shapes and sizes
  • Attention to detail in ensuring the safety of the dogs you walk & the walking equipment
  • Communication and interpersonal skills to connect with clients
  • Problem solving skills in case accidents of any kind occur
  • Organization in managing payments, scheduling, and records of conversation
  • Technical knowledge for dog behavior and health

As a sole proprietor, or as your own dog walking corporation, the business side of dog walking might surprise you as one of the key components in becoming a successful dog walker. 

In case you begin your own corporation, which you likely won’t have to since you can work as a sole proprietor, you’ll of course want to ensure that you’ve got the proper licenses and permits to conduct your work within the confines of your local government’s laws. For example, in San Francisco, special certifications are required to walk 4 or more dogs at the same time.

Similarly, if you’re hoping to drum up business for yourself, you might want to start thinking about promotions, package deals for walks, bank accounts for collecting revenue, and ways to develop a client base. 

Requirements To Become A  Dog Walker

Your education for becoming a dog walker certainly isn’t anything close to becoming a doctor or engineer. A high school diploma or GED is likely all that’s really required for becoming a dog walker. If your goal is to scale your business, eventually hire employees, and expand services, you might want to scour Youtube for free business development courses, or have a look at local programs in colleges or universities in your area.

Certifications to “officially” become a dog walker are, to be quite honest, optional. Unlike regulated professions like medicine or engineering, there aren’t any government-sanctioned regulating bodies for dog walking, probably because it’s not such a risky profession demanding careful oversight. With that being said, certifications do exist, and they certainly would only help your credibility in the eyes of pup parents; though, just remember that, especially given their costs, you shouldn’t feel pressured to pay for them, as on-the-job experience will likely go much further than these certifications.

Here are a few types of dog walking certifications which you might find by researching online:

Insurance

A key question which pup parents will ask is if you’re bonded or insured. For example, if you slip upon entering your customer’s home and damage their property, or their dog fractures their leg, liability insurance will allow you to professionally cover the expenses in full, without having to pay from your own pocket. It’s best to research local providers of professional liability insurance to hammer out plans that are good for you.

Once you’ve protected your client’s dogs and their property with insurance, you’ll also be able to use that fact for your marketing, as away to convert clients, but more importantly ensure their safety.

Working As An Independent Walker

Once you’ve imagined your day-to-day upon becoming a dog walker and have prepared your goals, supplies, and skills required to tackle the job, then it’s time to get started with building your dog walking business. To have a dog walking business, you really just need an address book of pup parent clients; it’s that simple. Then, to dig deeper and build that book of clients, it entails legwork like advertising to your neighborhood, possibly growing an online presence, and developing promotions. If you don’t want to think one bit about the business side of things, you can join services like Spot, which handle the business side for you, in return for a share of revenues.

If you’re hoping to become an independent dog walker, free from your 9-5 boss haranguing you day in and day out, then your main objective should be to build a reliable book of clients for whom you can walk their dogs. To do that, you might as well start from the lowest hanging fruit (namely, asking friends and family if they need dog walking assistance), and slowly work your way up the tree of prospects as you exhaust different possibilities.

Building A Client List

Your lowest hanging fruit clients will probably be close friends and family, or friends of friends and family. You can set a Saturday afternoon aside to “light the beacons”, so to speak, and shotgun messages to your friends; even a simple message could do the trick, such as, “hey, my time is freeing up and I’m hoping to walk dogs more! If I can help you with walking Debbie anytime you need it, please just let me know!” Even with 1 or 2 dog walks booked through your core social circle, you can start building valuable experience in becoming a dog walker.

After combing through your list of close contacts, you can reach a little further up the tree! Let your imagination run wild for prospect pools that you can explore. As an example, you can expand the search one level further to your neighborhood, tacking a homemade flyer on your apartment lobby billboard, or dropping printouts to mailboxes to any houses within a 1 km radius from you! In the flyer, you can offer, for example, free meet-and-greets, 50% off first walks, and discounted packages, among other ideas; experiment with what seems to work better; try a few different flyer ideas, and go with what seems to do best! Of course, you can try other locations for the flyers, such as stuck in car windshields, or posted in your local dog parks, with tearable phone numbers. Put yourself into the shoes of your customer and imagine the verbiage and discounts which would encourage you to take action.

As a gentle reminder at this point, it’s handy to consider a concept called MVP; no, this isn’t referring to “most valuable player”; it’s instead referring to “minimum viable product”, which is a common concept in the entrepreneurial world. In other words, especially while you’re working like a dog to get your newfound business up and galloping, you don’t need to seek perfection with every Facebook Message and flyer. Rather, just suppress your inner perfectionist and get something basic out to start soon! Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time in the future to improve upon your promotional materials, website, and messaging once you’ve done it a number of times. As you’re getting started, your main mission should be in acquiring a base of clients quickly and at least getting some monetary compensation. 

Advertising

Once you’ve worked through your social circle and tested some offline advertising (with flyers), then your next prospecting avenue can consist of free classifieds online, such as Kijiji or Craigslist. You can even try two types of ads; one which is very sparse, simple without much text, and another with lots of information (a bio about you, how the service can work, and so on). With these online classifieds ads, you’ll just want to periodically delete and repost them so you appear freshly at the top of the platform’s search results.

Those options above to start drumming up a client base should be enough to get started if you really work your tail off! Though, you can of course consider graduating to developing your online presence, on Google, Facebook, Instagram, and possibly having your own website as well. No matter the platform which you use, always just ensure there’s at least an easy way for prospects to take action and get in touch with you, whether it’s a phone call, email address, chat button, or more sophisticated online booking system. Typically, the areas you’d want to have profiles on would be those platforms mentioned above; it shouldn’t take more than a couple evenings to open a Google My Business page, Facebook page, and Instagram account, peppering the pages with your bio, services, pricing, and other information. By the way, congratulations! – if you’re here, you’ve already come a long way in becoming a dog walker!

Creating A Website

Having your own website, you may feel that you’d be much further along your way in officially becoming a certified dog walker, though it’s not necessarily the case. With websites, you’ve got yearly fees for 2 products: (a) the domain name, ie. Google.com, and (b) web hosting fees, which allows your domain name to be “live” and accessible online; typically, a domain can cost about $12 per year, while hosting starts at about $40 per year.

Though, it’s important to realize that website costs, in time and money, can quickly add up. From CMS’ like Wordpress or Squarespace that allow you to post content (which often have paid add-ons), web design work to weave a cohesive aesthetic together, and content creation, websites are like another pet which you need to feed, not unlike your pup, to keep healthy and alive. Therefore, it’s recommended that you only dig into having a website after you’ve successfully walked dogs for at least a few months and have decided it’s worthwhile to invest the time into growing your online presence.

If you do go ahead with creating your own website, just make sure you put your heart into it! You’ll hear opposing best practices for how to create a great website all the time, but this author’s opinion is that function beats form (AKA if the website works, it’s okay if it’s not as pretty as Tesla’s website), and honest writing is the best form of selling. Also, you can gather testimonials from your clients, so you don’t need to toot your own horn, alongside videos and images from past walks.

Working For a Dog Walking Service

Fortunately, there are alternatives if you don’t want to walk your own way as an independent dog walker. For example, with Spot Dog Walkers, the model is that you signup as a dog walker, and if you pass the background-check screening and walker qualification quiz, you can hand off the ruff aspects of running a dog walking business to Spot.

  • No need to make your own website (the Spot website is used)
  • No need to pay for advertising (Spot uses the fees to pay for Google and Facebook ads)
  • No need to manage scheduling (Spot organizes your schedule, provides your walk entry instructions, and is available around the clock to guide you via support chat and calling)
  • No need to worry about billing customers (Spot bills customers and sends you weekly payments for your dog walking)
  • No need to get your own insurance (Spot provides $30,000 of pet insurance and $5,000,000 of home and property insurance so you are an insured dog walker)

The main drawbacks of working for services such as Spot are that there are rules against poaching your client book within Spot, so that you can’t keep your customers if you decided to go independent, and there’s a 25% fee, which goes towards advertising, and salaries for Spot Support workers who help coordinate your schedule and manage customers.

For lots of dog walkers, the 25% revenue sharing is worthwhile, since it means you don’t have to deal with website upkeep, online advertising, billing customers, and managing your schedule. However, if you’d like to eventually, for example, run your own dog walking agency, then services like Spot would probably be better to temporarily use and learn from, rather than utilize permanently, so you can eventually work for yourself.

Tactics to Maximize Revenue As an Independent Dog Walker

Now that you’ve gained a better sense of becoming a dog walker, and the various substreams you can swim through, it’s worthwhile to cover ways in which you can maximize your earnings. The following suggestions are more tailored for independent dog walkers, where you would essentially run your own business, but certain ideas also apply to walkers employed by Uber-like services such as Spot.

Educate Yourself

Kknowledge is power, and arming yourself with intermediate or advanced knowledge of dog behavior is a way to add value to your clients and boost your own confidence in selling the service. Putting yourself in the shoes of your clients, if you had the choice between hiring a beginner walker, versus a walker whose consumed online course videos from veterinary schools, you’d probably choose the latter walker. Thus, by flooding your clients with bonus tidbits on dog behavior, your client retention, self-confidence in your business, and comfort with the dogs will get boosted, which will likely translate to an ability to increase your rates, and thus better your revenues!

Offer Deals and Promotions

Take advantage of the swathes of marketing and sales knowledge, for both online and offline channels, available on the internet for your business. Use your creativity in how you wrangle new clients, creating “pathways” for them to trickle into your business. As an example, one pathway can consist of substeps including: (a) flyer posted in 5 dog parks with tearable phone numbers, (b) offering a 50% discount upon chatting on the phone, plus a free meet-and-greet, (c ) presenting discounted packages upon meeting for that meet-and-greet. The variations on ideas like this one are endless, and you can partake in mental exercises where you imagine what it might take to sell dog walks to your best friend, grandma, or coworker. Fail fast, and keep trying until you begin zeroing-in on pathways which work!

Group Walks

As a dog walker, you’re taking on work which is very much a “trading time for money” type of operation. In other words, to earn dollars, you’ve got to spend fixed amounts of time, unlike an investment banker who might earn a windfall of profits (or losses) in one moment. One way that you can get around this is by doing group dog walks, taking multiple dogs for a walk at a time, thereby tripling and quadrupling what you could’ve made by walking just 1 dog at a time. In fact, many dogs (and their owners) like the fact that group walks are more social; the tradeoff of course is that coordinating group walks, monitoring each dog’s safety, and managing your own energy can be more challenging. Though, it is an option to consider as another way to run your dog walker operations!

Scale the Business

If you’ve experienced success in your dog walking, perhaps having a regular group of 20 customers on a biweekly or monthly basis, then you might be wondering what you can do to expand your revenues. In work-speak, you can either scale (meaning grow) your business “horizontally” or “vertically”. 

With horizontal scaling, the term typically implies that you’ll be doing the same amount of dog walks, but you might tack on new services which come to mind, whether it’s dog sitting, dog grooming, or dog training. By offering new services, you can reach out to new customers who may not have been looking for dog walkers, but would love help with dog training, and you can offer the new services to your existing dog walking clients as “cross-sell”s!

With vertical scaling, the term usually means you do more of what you’re already doing, which is dog walking in this case! To vertically scale the dog walking business, you can commit to packing your schedule with even more walks (perhaps by adding advertising spend on Google) or hiring dog walkers as employees, so you can focus more on the business aspects while still servicing clients.

Overview

In this guide, you’ve learned more about how to become a certified dog walker. In becoming certified, it might not just mean literally getting a certification from a dog walking association, but can, more broadly speaking, mean shaping yourself into a professional, business owning dog walker. That means gaining an understanding of dog behavior, business development, and how to better yourself as a person. Alternatively, many folks who’d like to solely focus on dogs, ignoring the business side of things, find services like Spot to be fitting. Regardless of your chosen path as a dog walker, know that it’s an extremely rewarding profession, where you get the chance to improve the happiness of pups and their parents in your community!

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