How to Become a Professional, Independent Dog Walker

    I've been an independent, professional dog walker for nearly 5 years now. 
    So, in this post, as I offer you suggestions, I'm speaking from experience. -Let's go ahead and make that our first topic!

That's me, walking 2 dog customers and 2 pet dogs

    1.) Experience will set you apart from the competition in this field. But how do you get experience if you're just starting out? 
-Easy. -Volunteer at a local animal shelter as a dog handler/walker/socialization coach. Volunteering is a great way to get experience with all different sizes, types and personalities of dogs... and it's highly rewarding. With even an hour or two weekly, for several weeks, you'll get the ball rolling. This also looks great on your resume. -Have business cards handy whenever you volunteer; you just might pick up your first customer as you  volunteer! 
    You could also offer to do dog walking at a reduced rate for your friends and family members just to get some experience and build up a reference list. 

    2.) References are a must for many customers.  When I started out, in the spring of 2014, I had a reference list which I provided customers upon our initial meet and greet sessions. One customer (who I now also consider a friend) even had me bring a recent piece of mail to prove the address on my driver's license matched where I was living. She made copies of these 2 documents and, I don't blame her! I call that being smart and forward-thinking. And, gaining the trust of my customers, over time, has been one of the more rewarding aspects of being a dog walker. 
A couple of sweet customers (I love all my customers!)

    3.) Get the word out by creating a facebook page, creating cute graphics (I love typorama) to share on instagram and placing your business cards on community boards at local coffee shops, ice cream shops, small markets, vet offices and pet stores. Also, I do recommend listing your services on Craigslist under the "Pets" subheading in the "Service" category. There's a $5 charge for listing pet services but it's well worth it since your ad will be live for 30 days and, you'd be surprised at how many people still use Craigslist as a go-to site for stuff like this! 
    The Next Door app is another great place to create a free ad. Of course, be careful when you plan to meet strangers/potential customers. If anyone makes you feel uneasy via text, phone, email or in person, run the other way

Right after a walk in the rain!

    4.) At the meet and greet with your potential customers be sure to be polite and respectful. Make eye contact. Above all, be yourself! 
    Ask important questions, about the key (test it before you leave), whether they prefer you leave handwritten notes or text pictures of the pet each visit, whether or not you're feeding the dogs during your visits or just giving them a small treat upon exiting the home. Be sure you know how the leash systems work (gentle leaders or easy walkers can be tricky if you've never used one!). 
    Be sure you know where the poop bags are. 
    Discuss what weather you won't walk in, if any. Personally I walk in rain, snow, pretty much anything as long as I can make it there in my car. 
    Discuss your tentative schedule- will you walk Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 11:00-2:00 for example? 
    Discuss pay. Does your customer prefer to do direct deposit or leave you a check weekly for example?

Sweet Addie

    5.) Be prepared for your dog walking visits by keeping these items in your car at all times:
    -extra roll of doggy poop bags
    -an extra leash or two (you'd be amazed at how often leashes are left in owners' cars or the likes!)
    -an umbrella, sunscreen, hat

    6.) Take excellent care of your regular customers and you won't need to constantly seek out new customers. For my customers some of the extra little services I gladly provide are:
    -poop scooping the yard (on average weekly)
    -brushing the dog after the walk (put the brushed fur in the garbage)
    -straightening up the house a bit (folding blankets, watering plants if they're dry, lining up shoes, etc.)
    This may sound like a lot but it's not. You're already at the person's house and doing one extra, little thing will take you 2 minutes! And you'll be making your customer's day so much better.

Sweet Francis and Libby 

    Some big no-no things for dog walkers:
          Don't lose someone's dog or let it get killed on your watch. 
    Last year I had a great, young couple come to my home to meet a dog I was fostering. They were considering adopting her. As we talked I discovered their own dog had recently been hit by a car and killed. It was with a dog walker when this happened. -Horrific.
     The couple said they had told the walker he could let the dog off leash at a nearby park where they always let it off leash but, the dog was shy, got spooked and bolted at the wrong moment. So... it happens. By the way, they didn't adopt the dog I was fostering; they were still in deep mourning and needed to allow more time to pass.
    Don't lose someone's key or accidentally lock them out of their own home somehow. 
    I had this happen once when I had someone else walk my customers for me when I was out of town. -Not good.
    Don't take your young child with you to your dog walking appointments.
    I did this some when in a bind when my son was younger and, ended up losing a customer over it. I nearly lost my son over it! -He was 1 year old and broke a huge, leaning, ornate mirror as I filled the dogs' water bowl- in just a split second it happened and by the grace of God it didn't kill him. 

Sophie and Lola too!

Best wishes on this rewarding venture! 
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to email or leave a comment. 

Dog Walking is rewarding, fun and offers peace of mind as you stroll along with your pooch pals.
It's especially ideal for mothers not ready to work full time, college students or people that just love walking and dogs!

Lastly, Be Careful. Be Conscientious. And Be Smart. We're talking about someone else's pet here... that's a big deal. :)

Author's Footnote (1-5019): With the advent of wag and other dog walking apps I'll add, there's not enough money in dog walking to outsource it. That's my humble opinion. I would not walk for wag. They keep a good cut of your money and every step you take is monitored via GPS tracking. Something about this takes away from the peacefulness, the purity, the bonding time of the dog walk. If you do need to get started out with the help of wag or a similar app, use it only to get started! Don't stay stuck working for a robot that keeps 1/2 your money ;)