While she was a college student, Lauren Radke started a part-time job walking dogs so she could make some extra cash while having a flexible schedule. Plus, she missed her dogs.
“It was also a really good way to get around the city and just be able to get a little workout in because it’s easy to get caught up in your room and on campus when you’re a student,” the 22-year-old told TODAY.
Radke, who graduated from American University in Washington, D.C., in 2021, is still a dog walker but now works with private clients instead of using an online service that connects pet owners with caregivers. With three years of experience under her belt, Radke shares what she wishes people knew about part-time puppy work.
The job is more serious than you might think.
For Radke, the most frustrating thing is when clients aren’t prepared for their walkers and lack proper supplies, like leashes. Radke’s dog-walking shifts start with a fanny pack filled with treats, doggie bags and Band-Aids. Dogs have bitten and scratched her before, so she comes prepared.
Popular dog-walking services like Wag! and Rover don’t cover pet sitters' injuries while on the job, according to their online terms. When Radke first started as a dog walker, she had to take multiple tests about safety — for the dogs and for herself.
“It is not our responsibility to risk our personhood and our safety to walk their dogs,” Radke said. “And if they don’t have the supplies in order for us to do our job, I think that’s irresponsible.”
Don’t lie about your dog’s behavior.
Dog walkers must think on their feet when it comes to dealing with pup behavior — particularly with new clients. Though Radke said she could sometimes see notes through the dog-walking service she had previously used from other walkers or owners, the messages from owners weren’t always truthful.
“Pet parents can lie about how easy it is to walk their dog and you can get hurt pretty easily,” Radke said. That's why it's a good idea to inform your dog walker if your pet gets nervous around strangers or has behavioral problems that they should be aware of.
Besides biting, Radke says the most common bad behavior among dogs is pulling on the leash, which can be a painful burden on a dog walker’s shoulders. For some pets, it seems like the owners “simply do not want to deal with their untrained dog,” Radke said.
“We deal with a lot of different temperaments,” she added. “I understand maybe they have some reactivity issues, but it’s not on us to have the dog as a liability with what we’re doing and how they act.”
Agencies can take a big cut from dog walkers' pay, and the pandemic didn't help.
The flexibility of dog-walking services makes it an ideal opportunity to earn some extra cash. Still, Radke ended up switching to exclusively private clients after becoming frustrated by how much money she was leaving on the table.
After an estimated 40% cut that dog-walking agencies take from a contractor's earnings, Radke made about $12 for a 30-minute walk. Radke said she almost always got tips, which were around $15 a walk.
“It’s really not that much of a lucrative business (but) it can be enjoyable,” Radke said.
And the coronavirus pandemic may have also impacted dog walkers' income — something to keep in mind when it comes to tipping. Radke said she completely stopped walking dogs for eight months because of the lack of jobs.
Trust is everything.
One of Radke’s favorite parts of being a dog walker is forming connections with her clients and their furry friends. As a private dog walker, she said her clients are “some of my favorite people and animals.”
“It’s just nice to have that bond with not only the pet parents but the dog themselves and how excited they get to see you,” Radke said.
For pet owners in search of a dog walker, Radke recommended finding someone you trust to walk your dog.
“You are letting somebody walk up to a family member of yours and take care of your family member, and so you just want everybody to be set up for success,” Radke said.