On a recent walk to my local park, I counted six people who were clearly professional dog walkers. You can tell who the pros are because they walk three to five dogs at once while wearing several fanny packs, a shoulder bag, and headphones.
It got me thinking: Dog walking appears to be a job with high demand, flexible hours, and lots of outdoor time. For someone looking for a side gig, a transitional job while looking for something more stable, or just a change of pace from the corporate 9-5, it could be ideal.
I spoke with two full-time dog walkers in Brooklyn to find out more about their day-to-day lives. I learned that depending on your work ethic, stamina, and ability to establish relationships with both people and canines, you can make a decent living for yourself as a dog walker in a major U.S. city.
From Cab Driver to Dog-Walking Maven
Liz is a short woman in her early 40s with an infectious smile. Five years ago, she was going to grad school by day and driving a cab at night to pay her tuition. Eventually, she got burned out and realized she needed a change, so she paused her studies and reassessed her priorities.
The switch to dog walking happened almost on a whim. “I realized that my friend Greg was one of the happiest people I knew, and he was a dog walker. So I thought I would give it a try,” she says. And like that, she was off.
She worked for a dog walking company for her first year, but it wasn’t a good experience. They treated her poorly and stiffed her on a few paychecks. She even ended up taking them to small claims court. Fortunately, she’d established good enough relationships with the pet owners she was working for that she secured work from six of them when she decided to branch out on her own.
Through relentless networking at the local parks and by doing everything she could to please her six regulars, she grew her client base up to the 20 or so pet owners that she works for today. Surprisingly, she doesn’t use a business card or have a website. “Word of mouth has taken me this far, so I don’t see the need to change anything,” she told me. “Plus, there are three million dogs in New York City, so it’s not like there’s a shortage of work.”
Indeed, dog walking has taken her far. She was making just above minimum wage driving her cab. “Sometimes, I was scared to take a bathroom break because I’d be missing out on money,” she said. Now, she clears between $1,500 and $2,500 per week, she lives in a comfortable apartment, and she only walks from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m..
Her rates vary based on several factors, but she charges around $25 for a half hour walk and $45 for an hour. She told me that basic “surge pricing” applies — you can make a lot more walking on holidays or at odd hours. When you’re walking multiple dogs at once, this adds up fast.
Another way she brings in money is by boarding dogs when their owners are out of town or need some extra help. It was a natural transition, since she already had gained the trust of the owners and the dogs. For this service, she charges day rates around $50 and overnight rates starting at $75.
Liz is happy to be out of her cab, but she also didn’t sugarcoat the physically demanding nature of the job. She describes herself as being “like a triathlete, minus the swimming.” She also pointed out that, at least in New York, the weather is a big factor in who can cut it in the dog-walking world. “Everybody wants to be a dog walker in the spring and fall,” she said. “It’s the 95-degree days and the zero degree days that weed people out.”
All that being said, she has no plans to stop walking anytime soon. She hated sitting all day in her cab, so she really appreciates the outdoorsy nature of the job. She also noted that she is grateful that she can set her own hours and prices. With all those perks, she’s happy to continue walking dogs for the foreseeable future.
From Telemarketing to ‘Hanging Out with Awesome Dogs All Day’
The other walker I spent time with was a tall, bearded man in his early 30s named Charlie. Four years ago he quit his “soul crushing” job at a telemarketing firm, moved back home with his mom, and started trying to figure out what his next step would be. All he knew was that he didn’t want to sit in an office all day. He grew up with dogs and loved them, so he thought that he might be able to hack it as a dog walker.
It was slow starting out. As noted above, there was a lot of competition in the neighborhood, and he had to work hard to get clients that weren’t former acquaintances. He only made $150 a week on average his first year as a dog walker, and he was grateful to be able to lean on his family to get by.
As he kept at it, things got better. He now makes enough to “keep a roof over his head” all on his own. Given that the average one bedroom in Brooklyn rents for $2,500 per month, that’s saying something.
He told me that the main keys to his success are his genuine love of dogs and his attention to detail. “I make it a point to learn everything I possibly can about each and every dog I take care of,” he told me proudly. As if on cue, a man and his dog exited his apartment just feet from where we were talking. “That’s a client,” Charlie told me.
“Hey Steve!” Charlie bellowed. He bent down to pet the Golden Retriever that was now at our feet. “How’s Sadie’s eye doing?” He then chatted with the owner about Sadie’s eye troubles using the vocabulary of a seasoned vet. He later told me that his attention to detail helps him win the trust of dog owners, who are “very picky about who they let walk their dogs.”
He charges similar rates to Liz: $20 for a half hour and $40 for an hour. He emphasized that this can change based on the amount of dogs he’s walking at once and the unique needs of the dog. Sometimes, he’ll do longer, solo walks for dogs that have special needs.
Also, like Liz, he has started to board dogs at his apartment. For that service, he charges $50 to board a dog for the day and between $70 and $100 per night if it’s a multi-day stay. On average, he’s pulling in $750 to $1,000 per week. That’s not quite as good as Liz, but it’s nothing to sneeze at, either.
Unlike Liz, Charlie did not seem to mind the weather or the physicality of the job — but the stress of running his own business gets to him at times. If he doesn’t do a good job of rustling up new business when one of his longtime clients moves out of town, his wages can drop fast. He told me that he’d “never go back to telemarketing, but sometimes the security of a more traditional job sounds appealing.”
He doesn’t know how long he’ll keep walking dogs, but his upbeat demeanor and the fact that he clearly enjoys it makes me think he won’t be stopping anytime soon. He’s grateful that he’s making enough to get by in one of the world’s most expensive cities, and that he has the free time to think about his future.
“It’s not always easy,” he said. “But I also like hanging out with awesome dogs all day. It could be worse.”
A Note About Expenses
Charlie and Liz were understandably hesitant when it came time to talk about intimate details of their financial situation. But both said it’s prudent to get dog walker’s insurance, which they obviously pay for out of pocket. This costs about $300 per month, but covers them against fluke accidents and, as Liz put it, “protects us from crazy Brooklyn drivers.”
The Commitment Level
A tidbit I found fascinating is that neither Liz nor Charlie knew any dog walkers in the neighborhood who did it as a side hustle. They assume that part-timers exist, but they must be few and far between.
While there are services like Wag and Rover that offer the chance to find part-time dog-walking or pet-sitting work, Liz and Charlie don’t see them as credible avenues to gaining steady business. In our neighborhood, the owners want to meet the walker before they sign off on letting them take care of their pet all day, and they also like to use the same walker on a set schedule. Wag and Rover often fail on both those fronts, according to Liz and Charlie. That being said, those services are worth a shot if you want to walk dogs and don’t have many connections. `
While Chris and Liz prove that it’s possible to earn a living walking dogs, I thought it was interesting that they both had a rough time of it in their first year on the job. Their journeys sound a lot like the stories one hears about starting any small business: It will take a lot of sweat equity to get it off the ground, but it can be very rewarding once you do.
A word that came up again and again while talking to Liz and Charlie was “trust.” Once you win over the trust of the owner and the dog, you’ve pretty much got a client for life. So, if you’re both a dog and a people person and you’re willing to grind out a tough first year, dog walking could be an intriguing way to earn some decent money surrounded by furry clients and fresh air.