Some of you know me as a raw feeder, but did you also know I’ve been making my living in the pet services industry for the last 7 years?
It all started in D.C. suburbia when a neighbor offered me a job as a pet care specialist in her company Pick Of The Litter Pet Care.
That was back in February 2012 when I was raising my pups Missy & Buzz and had absolutely no clue that this sector of the pet care industry existed!
I remember how surprised I was when I found out that pet owners actually pay good money for people to go into their homes and care for their pets! Huh – who knew!!
I started out with 4 daily dog walks on a Monday thru Friday basis. It didn’t take long until I had a fairly full dog walking & pet sitting schedule. This also included occasional overnight stays at clients’ homes.
I thoroughly enjoyed my job at Pick Of The Litter Pet Care and learned a lot from owner Erica whom I’m still really good friends with.
When I couldn’t find a similar business that was hiring when I moved to North Carolina in late 2013, I was bummed. So when I got the opportunity to purchase a dog walking/pet sitting client list in early 2015, I jumped at the opportunity.
It was being sold by a lady who was moving out of state, and suddenly I found myself the proud owner of my very own dog walking & pet sitting business, K9sOverCoffee Pet Services.
That was 3 years ago, and let me tell you that I don’t regret my decision of going the self-employed route one bit. I love being my own boss and having the best clients I could ever have asked for, both human and four-legged.
But of course it’s not all sunshine and roses
On the contrary – the practical side of things brings along early mornings and late nights Monday through Sunday, walks in the rain, poop to be picked up every single day in a variety of shapes and forms, and muddy paws & slobber to be wiped.
The admin tasks can be somewhat tedious and include marketing efforts to bring new clients on board, scheduling new client meet & greets, invoicing, planning dog walks & pet sitting visits, coordinating routes, bringing the right keys, logging miles, making estimated tax payments…
…and yet I wouldn’t have it any other way! Welcome to my life as a professional dog walker & pet sitter!
A Typical Day for a Dog Walker
A typical day in my life as a dog walker actually consists of a combination of dog walking and pet sitting visits anywhere between 6:00 am and 10 pm.
During those hours I’m not only walking dogs whose owners are at work, but I’m also taking care of pets whose owners are out of town. 80% of my clients are dogs, and 20% are cats. I’ve also cared for the occasional bird, ferret, and bunny, but those pets are few and far between.
The daily dog walks are known as midday visits in our industry, although I also have a client who just recently switched to night shifts and needs me to let his pups out at 9:30 pm a few nights per week. So there’s nothing midday-y about those!
I agreed to help him out with his new schedule since it’s only temporary and doesn’t require late night visits every single night of the week. His particular needs are rare though, and midday visits are typically scheduled between 10 am and 3 pm.
In case you’re wondering how many dogs I walk at once – I limit it to 4, but that’s only for pups who live in the same home. Just like Erica at Pick Of The Litter Pet Care, I don’t offer group walks for dogs from different homes.
So here’s what a typical day looks like:
- Get up at 5 am. Take care of my own dogs or, as of recently, my K9 client guests who are staying with me for a few months while their owner is deployed.
- Leave the house at 5:45 am. Take care of pet sitting visits between 6-8 am.
- Come home and take care of K9 guests.
- Leave again around 10:15 am and walk dogs between 10:30 am and 2:30 pm.
- Come home and take care of K9 guests.
- Leave again between 6-7 pm to take care of evening/night pet sitting visits.
- Come home and take care of K9 guests.
- Have a glass of wine and go to sleep 😉
I use a specific pet sitting software called Pet Sitter Plus to help me keep track of my schedule. I used a hardcopy calendar for the first year and a half, and upgrading to this tool was one of the best business decisions I’ve made. It’s what I use to create client accounts, generate invoices & monthly reports, schedule services and accept payments.
The only reason I still use an additional hardcopy calendar is because it helps me double-check my schedule and acts as a backup plan in case of a technical problem with the software.
Example of my weekly dog walking schedule
Here’s a little peek into my schedule for the upcoming week of July 23rd. You can click on the image to view it larger.
I will say that I don’t have pet sitting visits to take care of on a daily basis; it really depends on my clients’ travel schedules.
Sometimes I’ll only have 6 or 7 midday dog walking visits, and no early morning or late night pet sitting visits. I welcome those days because they give me a little breather and time to catch up on admin tasks, blogging, and life in general!
Whenever I can, I enjoy mornings where I can sit on my lounge chair in the backyard, sip on a cup of coffee while blogging and having content pups lounge at my feet.
But I digress.
Supplies I use for dog walking
When I’m out taking care of pets, I make sure I have the following items on me or in my car:
- Client keys. I never leave those in the car by the way. It’ s too much of a liability should my car get broken into.
- My hardcopy schedule.
- Extra poop bags. Most clients provide their own bags, but some don’t and I’d rather be prepared and have extra ones on me.
- Additional leashes and collars. I always carry an extra large, durable chrome slip collar in my cross body purse in case a regular flat collar brakes. I’ve had that happen before! Thankfully the dog I walked didn’t take off and I was able to turn her leash into a slip lead and walk her back home that way. Important lesson learned! The reason I decided on an extra large slip collar is so I can use it on any size dog, from toy breed to extra large pup.
- A clip-on pepper spray for self-defense purposes.
- Towels for rainy & muddy days.
- Water to stay hydrated, coffee to stay alert (mushroom coffee as of the last few months, I highly recommend it and wrote about it on my blog), and snacks like raw almonds or bananas to keep me fueled.
- A loud whistle & a tick remover on a lanyard that I wear around my neck. The sound of the whistle distracts loose dogs and the tick remover comes in handy all year long.
- My smartphone. It lets me access my pet sitting software and communicate with my clients while I’m out and about.
- A charger for my phone.
- My mileage log. I religiously write down my business miles every single day because they’re tax deductible and definitely my biggest business expense.
- A doggie first aid kit that I put together myself. It holds Neosporin which is an antibacterial ointment, gauze, sterile pads, muzzles (you can also use gauze to make a makeshift muzzle), Benadryl and scissors.
- A sleeping bag in case I’d need to transport a large dog that’s too heavy for me to carry on my own. I’ve never had to use it, but you never know. Paws crossed I won’t need it.
- Bug spray & sunscreen.
- Business cards.
What I do during my pet sitting visits
When I’m at a K9 client’s home, I do the following:
- Disarm home and set alarm if alarm system is being used.
- Go for a walk in the neighborhood and/or a potty break in the backyard, depending on the specific dog’s needs and length of visit. It’s always a no brainer to pick up poop. Speaking of poop: I make sure to take a look at the pile before I bag it. Runny, bloody, or tarry poop is an indicator that something’s off. The same goes for ingested materials that come out the back way (I’m thinking socks, strings, toys, etc.).
- Provide playtime & TLC.
- Check water and refill if low or in need of refreshment.
- Administer meds if needed.
- Feed if requested.
- Hand out treats and/or food puzzles if allowed.
- Use training commands if requested.
- Clean up accidents or mischief situations if any occurred.
- Return dogs to crates or pens if they’re being used.
- Check mail & alternate lights/blinds/fans if requested.
- Bring deliveries inside that have been left by the front door.
- Turn on background music or TV if requested.
- Water plants if requested.
- Pull back emptied trash cans on trash days.
- Leave report card.
- Text/email owner pictures and/or videos of my visit.
When I’m at a feline client’s home, I do the same as above minus the dog specific tasks, and clean litter boxes instead.
Occasionally, I’ll get requests for overnight stays at people’s homes or “pet taxi” services. Usually the taxi service is to take a dog to the vet or groomer’s or pick them back up and give them a ride home.
Those make up about 10% of my overall revenue. I feel like I could increase the demand of both, but I’d need help in order to pull that off.
Future dog walking business endeavors
I’ve actually been toying with the idea of growing the business lately, especially in those moments when I’ve had to turn down requests because I was at capacity or I needed a little break. Obviously I can only do so much by myself, and unfortunately I haven’t been able to figure out how to clone myself yet 😉
I did have a part-time Independent Contractor (IC) who helped me out for 5 months last year, but unfortunately she ended up moving out of state and I was by myself again.
It’s tricky finding motivated, honest, reliable people who share my love for animals. The young woman from last year was the only one out of 30+ applicants who stood out. It may take a while until I find someone again, but I’m confident I’ll be able to bring another IC on board who meets my criteria. Once I do, I’ll let you know!
If you’re a dog walker or pet sitter, did I forget to add anything?
Anyone have any questions about getting into this type of work?
Let us know in the comments!
Barbara Rivers writes regularly for That Mutt. She is a blogger, raw feeder and professional dog walker and maintains the blog K9s Over Coffee.