Practical Dog Walking and Pet Sitting Tips
So this is part 4 and there is only one article after this one. The first article covered determining the services you will offer. The second was about finding out who your competition is and to match their rates. In the third article, I cover how to get clients. The final article will be about all the management aspects.
This article is the most important part of a dog walking business: the dog walking and pet sitting. If you mess this part up, your business will suffer. Just think of online reviews with 1 out of 5 stars. Plus word will get around.
I could write a book on this part alone, and I do intend to write an ebook. I’m not giving away the best tips and tricks for free. Things go smoothly most of the time.
When I was a lifeguard, myself and my fellow guards goofed around a lot. However, I swore to myself that I would not let anyone drown while I was on the stand. Guarding lives is the most important part. Your focus should be on the safety of the pets that you are getting paid to walk and watch. If you keep that one thing in mind, then you will be able to handle any problem.
Dog walking Tips: Your First Walk
When you first meet the dog and client(s), figure out if the dog will be a problem or not. You may want to do a test walk to see if there will be problems. You also need to ask if the dog has issues with other dogs, people or anything else. Loud trucks can be a problem. Retrievers love pulling towards squirrels. You need to know all that stuff.
Pay attention to the first walk more so than you would with your dog. You have to learn what the dog is like. I’ve walked dogs that are easily spooked or distracted. I also know which dogs do not get fed in the morning because they will eat anything they find. Learn the habits of the dog right away and take control of the walks.
If the dog is uncontrollable you need the tell the owners right away. It would be better to lose the client than for an accident to occur later. You want to make sure the dog is okay, but you can’t risk your business name getting trashed.
Everything should be okay. Sorry if I’m making the job sound scary or overly difficult. It’s just that you have to be prepared for things in the beginning until you have a lot of experience and can spot problems instantly. You may want to read my article on the 5 dog walking dangers to avoid.
Concentrate on the dog, not your phone. You might also want to read my article on 5 dog walking dangers and how to avoid them.
Pet Sitting Tips: Your First Visit
If you have a pet visit for the dog, then all the walk stuff from above applies here. Some clients tell you to feed the dog after the walk. I always feed them before – it helps them “go”. If the pet visit is for cats or any other animal it should be even easier. Make sure that your client leaves you all the directions you need for feeding and every other duty. Some pets only get dry food, some only wet, some both, etc. You’ll also sometimes have to give medicine or insulin shots. Just follow the directions and you’ll be fine.
Contact the owners, if there seem to be any problems. But don’t be concerned if you never see the cats. I’ve gone for an entire week and have never seen the cat after I spooked them on the first visit. The only way I know that they are in the house and still alive is that the food has been eaten and the litter box used. It happens. And when it comes to cats, make sure they don’t get past you when you open the front or back doors.
Daily Dog Walking Tips
Figure out the best route so that you are not doubling back and forth. When you meet the clients, ask them what their ideal time is. EVERYONE wants around noon. That hour fills up fast so let people know what times you have available. My walks are 15 minutes and I average 5 minutes between dogs in drive time. I only drive a few blocks but you have lights, moving vans, etc. Plus you need to find a parking spot and all that stuff. Let them know what time range you can do the walk and stick to it. I believe a half hour on either side of their ideal time is reasonable. I know for a fact that other companies do not adhere to that guideline
I also bring a notepad with the names of the dog and the time I need to get to them. Write down the address for the first few walks, but after a while, you’ll recognize the house. You can be walking dogs from 10:30 to 3:00 on the busiest days, so bring water and snacks.
Pack Walks (walking multiple dogs together)
I don’t do it. You can make more money, but if one bad thing happens things can go bad really fast. You can have one of the dogs attack another dog for some reason. You could turn a corner and run into someone walking an aggressive dog. You might drop a leash. You might slip on snow or ice. If you want to do that, then go ahead but you have been forewarned. Safety of the dogs comes before profits.
I have walked two dogs together when both clients knew each other and the dogs got along. If you are going to walks together, you have to clear it with the owners. If you don’t tell them and something happens, you better believe you will have a lot of 1-star reviews online.
Pack walks make sense in cities like New York. You can go into a high rise building where you have a lot of clients and pick them all up at the same time. Some companies around me advertise pack walks with the line “It’s great for socializing your dog.” What it’s great for is lining their pockets. I don’t have experience with this, but I assume that all dogs have to be tested to see how they are around other dogs. You have to decline service to anyone who has an aggressive dog.
Dog or Cat Boarding Tips
If you own a pet, this can be a problem. I have a dog and two cats so I always require people to bring their dogs by to test with my pets. Though, once they find out that I have cats quite often they say that it won’t work. You’ll have to contact me if this applies to you and I can give you important pointers on how to handle the test.
Another big help is that I have a back room that opens to my fenced in yard. I don’t like to separate the pet I am boarding, but I’ve had to on some occasions. If you do not have that option, consider getting a gate. That will help with a dog. You’ll have to get creative if you are boarding a cat that you want to be separated from your pets.
If you don’t have pets then this is simple. You take care of the pet you are boarding the same as for your dog walking and pet sitting pets. It’s just that you are doing more. You have 3 walks and feedings if you are boarding a dog. And it’s an all day thing while you are home regardless of the type of pet you are boarding. Look for things that can be knocked over or broken. Consider moving them so you don’t come home to a mess.
Gear and Supplies
Every day supplies
Poo bags – you’ll need lots of them. I buy a box of 90 bio-degradable rolls from Chewy. I leave a business card after every visit. You may want to do something similar.
It’s also wise to back a backup form of transportation. I use my bike if my car is in the shop.
Foul weather gear. It would be nice if you could also use an umbrella but some dogs are difficult and you need two free hands. So get a good raincoat. And you will want multiple pairs of shoes. It tends to take at least a day for them to dry out if it rains hard and long.
Then there is the winter time. Get the best thermal base layer you can. I sometimes wear three layers for my lower body and four for the upper body. I also double up on my head with a bandanna and a winter cap. I have a thin pair of gloves which is good for dexterity. They are thin enough to fit inside another pair of rugged winter gloves. I also use a scarf which I can use to cover my face for cold windy weather. The biggest problem isn’t the cold. It’s walking in and out of heated houses and sweating from all the layers.
This is huge. You will come home sometimes and it feels like your feet are on fire. My best footwear is hiking boots. I wear Keen Targhee II and they cost over $120. I’ve also found New Balance sneakers pretty comfortable. But you should do what I have never done: Research. Ask anyone you know who stands all day long what they wear. Just find what works for you.
Keys and Communication Tips
Managing all the keys
I have a rack with four hooks on the back of my door. I separate them by location and type of pet. I currently have a lot of cat sitting clients close to me. They are on the first hook. The next hook is for cats farther away. The third is for dog sitting clients. And the fourth is for “dead” clients. By dead, I mean rarely if ever do they contact me for sitting. I throw them out after 15 months of no visits.
To identify each set of keys, I use those colored name tag things. DO NOT put addresses on them. In the rare event, you lose a set, you don’t want them to be found by a thief or burglar. Write the name of the pet(s) on them and use the number “2” if you have any pets with the same name. You can also use different colors to help organize them.
Emailing Clients about Holidays
You will want to email all your clients a few weeks before major holidays. Send two emails: one for your dog walking clients and one for pet sitting clients. You will get a lot of new client requests before each holiday, so you need to know whether or not you will have availability before you can commit to taking them on.
You want to verify from your dog walking clients that they will NOT need a walk on the holiday itself. Usually, they don’t. But you also want to know if they will be canceling walks on days before or after the holiday. Just imagine the holidays that change days every year. If the Fourth of July is on a Tuesday or a Friday, most everyone will cancel the Monday or Friday walk to give themselves a four day weekend.
Then you want to find out from your pet sitting clients if they will be away and will need visits. Once you know what every client is doing, make a schedule for the holiday week. This will tell you where you have spots open and whether or not you can take on new clients. I’ve had as many as 19 pet visits on major holidays. That’s too much. I’ve reduced that to 17 max total visits per day with 3-4 max for morning and evening visits. To be honest, 17 is a little too high too but I get new clients and some decent pay. I’m just not going to enjoy the holiday like everyone else.
Emailing Clients about Your Vacation
I get one vacation per year. I take off a Friday and leave early on a Thursday for a camping trip. I return on Sunday afternoon. This means I’m not available for ANY walks on that Friday and no pet visits until I get back. My usual thing to do is give all of my clients at least three weeks notice with a reminder on the Sunday before the trip. Most dog walking clients are fine with it, but occasionally I have to ask another dog walker if they can cover me for a dog or two.
You could also put an online schedule on your website or use Google Calendar. You’ll want to do this for short weekend or days trips on a Saturday or Sunday. If anyone gives you a hard time, you have to look into giving them notice.
That should cover it. Let me know if you think I missed anything or if you have any questions. The next and final article will be on boring stuff, with the exception of asking clients for reviews and testimonials. I’ll be covering creating a spreadsheet for everything, collecting payment, regular client communication, rate changes, etc.