Things I wish I’d known before becoming a dog walker

a red cocker spaniel in a field of bluebells

There’s nothing more satisfying than watching a group of furry friends wagging their tails and barking with excitement as they wait for you to take them out for their daily walk. However, I must admit that there are a few things I wish I had known before diving into this doggy-loving world.

So, let me share with you some insider tips that could make your professional dog walking experience even better. Trust me, you will love the job so much that you’ll forget you’re actually getting paid to do it, but there are still some things you may not have considered…

  • You haven’t got a real job
  • Some people don’t like pro dog walkers
  • Some dogs are complete knobheads
  • You will lose a dog
  • You still have colleagues
  • People think it’s an easy job
  • People will ask you for training advice
  • Dog owners can be difficult to deal with
  • You need way more towels than you think you do
  • You won’t earn a full-time wage straight away
  • Someone will always be cheaper
  • You will have to be strong enough to set boundaries
  • Your car will never be clean again
  • You do not need to be super fit
  • Clients will cancel walks without a second thought
  • You need to do your own accounts

You haven’t got a real job

People you meet, along with some of your clients, will assume you’re either doing this part time, short term or just for a bit of pocket money (pin money if you’re over 40…).

It’s not considered to be a long term business by most people however plenty of individuals have built their businesses up into something that gives them a full time wage, or an even bigger business with subcontractors or employees.

Even as your body gets older, it’s an ideal time to take on new walkers and take a percentage, or pay them a wage, continuing your business even as you take a step back from the walks (see what I did there?).

Some people don’t like pro dog walkers

They are few and far between but…

Some people you meet have had terrible experiences with dog walkers. Either they’ve encountered an unruly group of dogs at the park walked by less than capable people in it only for the money, or they’ve had negative experiences when they’ve hired a walker. We all know the stories of walkers who don’t show up, walk for 15 minutes despite being paid for an hour, or worse.

If they show up on your social media, don’t engage, just block them from your profile and page and ignore them.

If you meet them out on walks, be sympathetic and present yourself and your dogs in your best light, under control and calm.

Some dogs are complete knobheads

It’s clearly not their fault, because all dogs are perfect, but some dogs appear to be complete knobheads because they’ve not been trained or they’re allowed to behave in a way that doesn’t fit with your well controlled walks.

It’s okay to sack these clients. These dogs will make you look bad and have the potential to ruin your business reputation.

I took on a beagle, let’s call him…Buddy (because that was his name and quite frankly I refuse to change names to protect the guilty). Unbeknownst to me I was his third dog walker (he was 18 months old) and he was famous for jumping out of his owner’s car window whilst driving home from the park one day.

Buddy would excitedly run around the kitchen on collection, wee twice outside the house before getting in the car and then wee again once in the car. IN THE CAR! (He’s the reason I picked up so many tips about how to stop dogs urinating in your vehicle)

Buddy wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t eat treats, wouldn’t follow other dogs or me, and was chunky enough that he was close to impossible to manoeuvre in a direction he did not want to go. On several occasions, I would have to carry him back to the car at the end of the hour.

Buddy was a knobhead.

The final straw was during his collection one day, the owner was present and riled Buddy up into a frenzy before just opening the front door without Buddy having his harness on or lead. He ran out into the road, albeit a quiet one, and ran circles around the car.

I explained he was hard enough to control without the owner winding him up beforehand. They suggested that if I felt that way then perhaps I shouldn’t walk him. I agreed, handed the key back and drove away.

You will lose a dog

I’ve lost two. You look away for a second or two and they’re gone. It happens to the best of us and it will happen to you. You can read about how I lost a clients dog here. (There are also some tips in that article about what to do when you do lose one).

You still have colleagues

Networking with other dog walkers and pet sitters in your local area is highly beneficial to both of you and if you happen to be in a place where they all see each other as competitors then they’re losing out big time.

Being able to have moral support, practical support and a referral system between trusted fellow professionals can help grow your businesses. And when times are tough, they can help as well. When I gave up walking due to ill health I had someone from my network take over my walks until I recovered.

People think it’s an easy job

You just pop a lead on and go for a walk right? You don’t spend ages getting to know new dogs and working out which group would be best for them, you don’t teach them to come back when they’re called, or spend the entire walk with an eye on all six dogs, where they are, have they pooped and fending off a random dog who’s suddenly joined in your group walk unexpectedly.

You don’t go through 3 pairs of boots each year and spend too often taking off wet underwear where your waterproofs have done their best but after 6 hours walking nothing was going to stop most of that weather getting through to your bones.

And you absolutely never spend the evenings updating your socials, washing towels, taking bookings, cleaning the van, arranging meet and greets, going out again to do cat visits

People will ask you for training advice

People will assume you’ve become an overnight expert. And in time you will know more than the average owner, but unless you’re qualified (and insured for professional indemnity) then be honest and suggest that they might prefer to book a trainer.

a sleepy cocker spaniel in a car with his head on the gearstick

Dog owners can be difficult to deal with

They’re way easier than cat owners (just kidding…) but they can still be tricky to navigate.

The most common gripe is clients who don’t pay on time, meaning you waste time chasing them up. Unpaid time.

The next annoying trait is the client who chops and changes walks with a moment’s notice, expecting you to rearrange your walks to accommodate them. I’m sure it’s a case of just not thinking but it’s annoying nonetheless.

Most of us get into this job because we love animals, but don’t be under the impression that you’ll never have to interact with people.

You need way more towels than you think you do

Just buy more. Charity shops and thrift stores are good for this, especially if you have a local one and you tell them that you don’t care if they have a hole or frayed edges.

Line crates, dry dogs, dry yourself, mop up all sorts of fluids in your vehicle. You get the idea, multi purpose.

You won’t earn a full time wage straight away

It takes time to build a business, and some effort with marketing to start with.

If you can find a part time job early in the day, or in the evenings, then it might be wise to keep hold of that until you’re up and running. Although there is a train of thought that if you don’t have a backup plan then you’ll put more effort into making plan A work. The choice is yours.

Just don’t expect it to be an overnight success. Our overheads are low (Insurance and a decent pair of boots) but it’s still going to take time for you to be able to cover the rent.

Someone will always be cheaper

Along the same lines, you may be tempted to charge less than anyone else in your area to gain business faster but you’ll need to ask yourself if it’s sustainable.

Someone else will always come along after you and charge less, so work out what you have to offer, what value you can bring, and make that your USP (Unique selling point). People buy people, especially when it’s an emotional decision i.e. hiring a dog walker for their new puppy.

You will have to be strong enough to set boundaries

Are you going to work weekends? Evenings? Are you happy to go and do that cat sitting job on a bank holiday weekend…or even over Christmas?

Do you reply to messages, emails and texts at all hours of the day or do you keep a set schedule? Will you answer the phone on your days off, weekends, or holidays?

Decide the kind of lifestyle you want from this job now and set those boundaries early on with all your clients. It’s tempting to take on every client when you start up but if they want weekend walks and you don’t want to work weekends then stick to your choices, set the boundaries, and have a happier business from the start.

Your car will never be clean again

You can pay for a top of the range full valet where the guys clean your air vents with a cotton bud but I guarantee you that by the time you get home you’ll have found a stray dog’s hair somewhere in your vehicle. Just accept it now 🙂

You do not need to be super fit

I lost a stone in my first 3 months of dog walking. I thought that for a dog to have a fantastic walk it needed to be fast and far. This is not the case.

Dog’s see the world through their noses, they love to sniff and explore so slowing down, especially near the end of a walk, will relax them and get them in a state where they can be dropped off at home and ready to sleep the day away, rather than in a hyped up adrenaline fuelled state after being out with their mates for an hour.

I’m not saying sit on a bench for an hour and let them run riot in the park, but I am saying you don;t need to walk miles with every group you have.

You need to do your own accounts

It’s not the fact that you have to, it’s the fact that it’s actually really easy to file your tax return as a sole trader in the UK.

They only ask for 2 figures, the amount of money that you took and the amount of money you had as expenses. You don’t have to list it all, just choose to enter one figure.

If you’re currently paying an accountant, you’re paying them to do this and to know what expenses you can and can’t claim, which, you can find out for yourself.

I promise you, it’s easier than you think.


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