If you like dogs and being outdoors or you are a student and you need some money or you like dogs but you are not in a position to own one full-time, dog walking and sitting can be an option for you.
Even though it sounds simple, it is not that simple as many people may think. It is a task that requires responsibility, accountability and presentability.
In this article, you will find tips that can help you start and maintain a good reputation of a trustworthy individual and it is something that has helped me a lot during the time when I worked as a dog walker and sitter in London, UK.
1 – Presentability and manners.
One of the anecdotes I remember from when I was a kid, says: “Order, tidiness and politeness look good even in a pig-shed.”
So this is important for this type of occupation, especially if you are a guy. (Our society sees men as potentially dangerous and women as safe and caring. That’s why criminals use women as accomplices for scams and assaults to relax the victim against any suspicion.) To do this job you need to be presentable and polite.
Whether you will host your client’s dog or you are going to stay in their house, you are a stranger to these people and you need to win their trust.
If you are going to sit the dog at their house, or even if you walk their dog on a daily basis when no one is at home, consider these factors. You are probably going to offer your service to middle and upper-middle-class families and beyond. So, understand that it is not only about the dog safety, these families may have a certain level of wealth and expensive possessions.
They will have to leave you the house keys and the burglar alarm code (if they have one). Until they get you to know, you are a complete stranger to them and they have a rightful suspicion of you and concern for their dog and house safety.
There are other things that can make them relax about you and we will cover that soon, but initially, your first impression is everything.
People judge books by their covers, so it is important that you are clean, dressed properly and speak and act politely.
You can be the most honest and polite person on this planet, but if you dress like a thug, people will assume you are a thug. If you put on a police uniform, don’t be surprised if people think you are the police.
2 – Passport and Criminal Record Check certificate.
I started working as a dog walker with a private company.
My employer requested my DRB check (UK criminal record check) and said: “In case you have minor criminal records, I do not care if you have been caught with pot on you or you’ve been arrested at a manifestation or whatever. What I am interested in is that you have no charges for theft or animal abuse.”
My DBR check was sparkling clean, and I am glad I have applied for that document. When I was advertising myself it was something I have never forgotten to mention.
When meeting new clients I wasn’t waiting for them to ask, I was offering to show them and giving a copy of both my passport and DBR check.
It is a good way to show personal transparency to your clients.
3 – Your reputation is everything.
You can put flyers around or have a website. But, there is no better advertisement than the word of mouth. I have been introduced to my first clients by a friend who was doing the job already.
My first clients started saying positive things about me to their neighbours. Consequently, when their neighbour needed a dog walker or sitter, guess who would they have asked first? That’s right! Me!
Even when you walk around, be polite and respectful. In the area, you will always find people that are your client’s neighbours or friends. They may not know you, but they may recognise their friend’s/neighbour’s dog. If they stop you, it is a good idea to introduce yourself to them.
The encounter with you can be a reason for them to talk with your client that consequently can give a good reference regarding your service.
The person may not have a dog, but some friend of his or her may do. If there is a need, the person knows that his or her friend (your client) is satisfied and trusts you. So, he or she can recommend you even if the person is not your client.
You understand the game. This method gave me enough clients to fill-up my entire day to the point that I was offering new clients to other dog walkers. And this takes us to the next point.
4 – Other dog walkers/sitters are not your enemies.
There is no point in resenting other people for doing what you are doing and seeing them as a threat to your business.
If you are doing a good job and you are reliable, your client has no reason to ditch you for another walker or sitter. Unless you own a company with employees, you cannot walk or look after the entire dog population of London or wherever you are.
It is a good idea to have cooperation between walkers and sitters. You will meet them around and probably have a short chat with them. By seeing them regularly you can more or less understand if they are good or not.
If you are overwhelmed with clients and a new client calls, don’t simply decline the offer, be a problem solver and offer them the number of another dog walker.
Or, if for any reason, you need to go on holiday or can no longer walk a dog, pass it temporary or permanently to dog walkers that you know. Trust me, they will appreciate it and do the same for you, I am saying this out of my experience.
Even your clients will appreciate your problem-solving skills. When I decided to leave London for good, I have arranged nearly all my clients with known dog walkers or freshly started.
5 – Learn as much as you can about dogs.
Loving dogs is not enough. I have met some self-proclaimed animal lovers that I would rather keep away from my dog.
Like with many other jobs, it is important that you know what to do. Read and learn more than you can about dogs (a start can be “Before You Get a Dog”, by Simone Burani, I’ve heard it is a good book 😉) and try to teach new things to the dog through fun games. If the dog does not know basic commands, you can teach them to him or her.
Having the dog focused on you and behaving even better than how he or she normally does with the owner, will surprise the owner and put you in a very good light.
6 – Be respectful.
- While sitting the dog in the owner’s house, treat their house with extreme respect:
- Maintain it clean.
- Clean before you return the dog and the house to your client.
- Do not cook smelly food.
- NO guests, if your partner wants to visit preferably meet outside and take the dog with you or at least ask your client permission to invite your partner in.
- No parties. This doesn’t need to be mentioned but you never know, sometimes common sense is not that common.
- Lock every door before leaving the house.
- No pictures of the house on social media.
- Avoid going to rooms that you don’t need to enter. Living room, kitchen, toilet and the room where you sleep are all go-zone. Remember, it is not your house or your family, you are offering a service, be respectful.
In conclusion, don’t assume it will be easy just because you have to look after a dog. Not all dogs are jolly easy-going pooches, some of them can be an overwhelming challenge.
When the dog is with you, you are legally responsible for him or her, so it is a good idea to have a dog walking insurance. Being outdoors is beautiful, but being outdoors all week, no matter the weather condition, and walking constantly for 8 to 10 hours a day 5-6 days a week is exhausting.
Once, on a sunny day, I stopped for a takeaway coffee at a stall near the park. The barista told me: “I wish I could do your job, you are getting paid to walk dogs and to drink coffee.” In Italian, we say that “not everything that shines is gold”.
A few days later, when the rain was pouring down like crazy and I was soaking wet, I asked him: “Would you like to come with me to the muddy park?” He kindly declined my offer.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and if you like to learn more, please, feel free to subscribe to this blog.
Also, if you like the topic of dogs, please check my book ‘Before You Get A Dog’ by Simone Burani. You will find the essential knowledge written in simple language to have a great time with your pet.