How to Make Money as a Dog Walker (a review of my experience)

It’s 2020 and I know “dog walker” is a well known gig.

As a kid who was deprived of having the furry companion I so desperately longed for, I then proceeded to grow up and bring canines into my house as soon as I moved out (literally within weeks of moving out).

Fast forward about twelve years to now, and I have since left behind the 9-5 in search of literally anything that doesn’t make me feel dead inside and pays the bills.

Enter dog walking.

I have dogs of my own that I walk as part of the every day routine, so this doesn’t feel like “work” to me. One path is to form your own dog walking company, secure your own clients and own a business. This is a path many people choose to take, but is not the easiest route if you’re just starting out.

Both Rover and Wag are dog walking platforms that help individuals find clients in need of dog walking, dog boarding, and other various services. I have joined both platforms and have gained some insights worth passing along.

First – Wag or Rover? Are they the same?

Both Rover and Wag allow dog owners to find a walker or a sitter in their area on-demand. The main difference is that Rover focuses on developing a connection and relationship between the client and the dog walker/sitter and has you set up a meet and greet before booking any services. You have a chance to learn about the dog’s personality (quirks – both good/bad) and its owner’s personality as well as their expectations. As a dog owner and a walker, I find this model to be safer and leaves both parties feeling confident about the service.

Wag, on the other hand, is more like the Uber of dog walking/dog sitting. Need someone to walk your dog in less than one hour because you suddenly have to work late? Book it right now through Wag. Last minute girls’ trip that came up Thursday evening during happy hour for the day after tomorrow? No problem – book a sitter RIGHT NOW through Wag. That’s not to say that you couldn’t do the same through Rover, but Wag encourages these types of bookings because in a lot of cases you never meet the owner – unless they are there when you go to complete the service. It is convenient, but leaves me feeling a bit weary as a dog owner who also walks dogs.

The pay structures are also different – Rover allows you to set your own fee for services (I have mine set to the recommended prices Rover sets as a default) and then takes 20% of that fee. (i.e. one walk based on a $15 rate is actually $12 after fees – the client actually pays the $15) Wag charges a standard rate based on length of walk. The price the walker sees is after Wag has already taken their fee and they recommend that owners tip. (i.e. If an on-demand walk pops up and says pay: $12 – you actually get that $12 because it’s after fees +a tip if they leave one). I have found that the pay for services end up being similar across both platforms once you consider the client tips that Wag encourages. Not all clients tip though, since they pay a higher rate than the walker sees ($12 walk pay is a $15 walk for the booking client).

Despite the platform particularities, dog walking as a gig requires certain tools/supplies. Now that I’ve been walking dogs for nearly a year, I have a list of items that I now use that I would recommend to new dog walkers.

Recommended supplies

  1. A wearable bag of some kind – I use a Herschel fanny pack (the Herschel Fourteen) and have been very pleased with it. I am actually thinking of upgrading to the bigger size (the Herschel Fifteen or Herschel Sixteen) since you need to carry your phone for both of these apps as well as items like keys, hand sanitizer, extra bags, etc.
  2. Dog bags – I find many of my clients supply them but it’s better to find yourself with extra bags than without. I personally prefer stronger ones like the Earth Rated brand – the cheaper bags are often very thin and not a game I like to play).
  3. A carabiner or clip keychain – A lot of clients will give you a copy of their house key and/or have a lock box with a single key in it. I always lock the door and carry the key with me as I walk. I have learned it is safest to clip that single key on my personal keychain so that it doesn’t fall out of the bag. (It seems unlikely, but it’s happened to me and I had to ask for another copy of the key and felt pretty incompetent.) I have used the same one for years and find it helpful to clip my keys to my belt loop when I’m running errands, etc. The exact one I use is no longer available on Lowes.com but any of these would work.
  4. A good phone case- this may seem unnecessary but if you rely on your phone to run apps that bring in an income like I do and must use it to record the work you do (like dog walks), it’s important to protect your phone. One drop could result in you being unable to work for days or weeks if you have to get it repaired, it’s costly to repair it, etc. I like the folio cases when it’s going into a bag or being carried around anywhere.
  5. A cooling towel – my most recent purchase. In the Florida summers, there’s not really a time of day that is pleasant to be outside walking dogs. You begin sweating as early as 9 am and it lasts all the way until the sun goes down at 9 pm. There are many different brands of these type towels but I chose this one and have been so much cooler during my mid-day walks. I can’t believe I dealt with the sweat/sunscreen combo rolling down my face/into my eyes for the last two months without one.
  6. A stainless steel water bottle – I have owned many different kinds of reusable water bottles but have found that the stainless steel ones keep your water cold the longest. When you’re walking in 100+ degree weather, believe me – the water needs to be cold.

Beyond these items, I have also learned a few tricks that have led to increased bookings.

Tips/Tricks

  1. Fill out as much information on your profile as you can and include photos of all of your dogs. I have a few photos of some of my beloved pets who have passed on as well to show breed variety – I have a new client who specifically booked me because our dogs are clones.
  2. Make sure your profile is welcoming and details your experience and love for animals. I also think it’s important to express your desire to follow instructions as leaving your pets in someone else’s care can be stressful.
  3. Update your calendar [on Rover] a couple of times a week. You are merely confirming your open availability, but this highlights your profile in search and I believe causes the algorithm to push you up in searches as well.
  4. Provide stellar service and never make your clients ask for an update. I send photos and updates every day during boardings (sometimes 2-3 times per day) and after every walk. I also point out anything of concern that I notice (i.e. a change in bathroom habits, personality changes, etc.)
  5. Ask for reviews from happy clients if they don’t automatically leave one. Once I had a few five star reviews on my profile, I noticed an uptick in clients reaching out for services.
  6. Share your referral code with family, friends, and friends of friends
  7. Respond quickly to client requests on both platforms but particularly on Wag. Most walks/sittings are for a time that is very soon from the time it shows in the app (usually 30 minutes-1 hour). The fastest walker to click accept usually gets the gig.

Walking dogs makes up a substantial portion of my gig income currently, about 25%. If you are like me and don’t consider walking dogs to feel like “work” but rather a highly paid way to get your daily exercise – then I highly recommend signing up for both Wag and Rover. (It is worth nothing that both platforms require you to pay for a background check, though.)

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