By Kim Reed
Pet owners may be surprised to learn that there are two types of dog walkers, hobbyists and professionals. Pet owners have different needs and values and there is a need for both types of walkers in the marketplace.
Which type of walker is right for you?
Hobbyists are the relatives, neighbors, and friends who love dogs and want to earn a little fun money.
Professionals have knowledge, experience, training, handling skills, background checks, proper vetting, proper licensing and insurance. Professionals may be sole proprietors or walk with a company.
Professional dog walkers share best practices with others and learn from previous experiences. If employees or contractors are present a local company will also be bonded. Professional walkers are often members of national associations and can be certified and credentialed.
If you need your hair cut would you push a button on an app and accept whoever is going to show up at your house with scissors? If you need your house painted would you hire the teenagers next door because they are cheaper? Would you trust them with your keys? Probably not. So why trust your pet to just anyone?
Accidents and emergencies happen
While it is true that almost anyone can walk and feed a dog, who would you want by your dog’s side in the event of an emergency? Emergencies that can occur on a dog walk include injury or illness, an allergic reaction, the dog may eat something inappropriate, suffer an attack by an off leash dog, slip out of a harness, or even be hit by a car. A professional walker would have a plan in place to deal with unexpected events.
If your sitter/walker is injured by your dog or falls down your stairs who is responsible? Health insurance doesn’t cover injuries that happen at work. If the sitter/walker doesn’t carry their own workers’ compensation insurance they may come after you for medical expenses.
Is your walker licensed and insured? How well were they vetted?
Certain app companies provide the convenience of pushing a button and having a walker show up at your door in 15 minutes. Local dog walking companies are selective when adding to their team and would never be able to compete with this convenience.
Local companies value quality over quantity in walkers.
Local companies weed out people who think dog walking will be easy money on the side or because they love animals. Handling experience is important. The reality is that dog walking is hard work. Many applicants are not prepared for the reality of dog waking that is cleaning up messes, commuting between clients, handling dogs that may not be trained, being jumped on, getting muddy, and walking over 10 miles per day. It takes someone with grit to be able to walk dogs and national app companies may not be able to identify this.
Professionals pay attention on walks.
Professional companies aren’t listening to music or talking on the phone. Professionals pay attention to how dogs act on their walk. Are they tense when they see people? Excited to see other dogs? Tired? Professionals work with them to make sure they are comfortable and enjoying their stroll around the neighborhood.
Professionals gets to know and love the dogs.
Professional walkers share notes and tips because each dog is an individual. The dogs become part of our lives. With apps your dog may be getting a new walker each day and neither side is given the opportunity to build a relationship.
Professionals are assigned to walks in advance and held accountable.
An app walker can just click a button to cancel a walk they are schedule for if it is rainy or no longer convenient for them. There is some accountability but not compared to those working for a local company.
Walks on apps may be requested for an ASAP time and go unfulfilled for many hours if nobody wants to pick up the walk. Some pet owners who use an app also request feedings after the walk so imagine if their walks aren’t picked up – the dog will go hungry and not get a walk.
Small businesses may be in danger of going out of business.
Small businesses cannot compete with million dollar advertising or PR budgets. It is similar to big box discount retailers competing with the local mom and pop shop. When you support local businesses you are keeping more money within your community and have more personalized customer service.
It costs a lot of money to be a local dog walking business so professionals often have to charge more to cover expenses than walkers who are doing it on the side.
If you need to contact customer service about a walk or your walker who do you think will provide a better experience?
App companies are national tech companies with call centers at their headquarter locations. What has your experience been getting support from any large national service company, for example your cable or cell phone provider? Are you just a client record in their database?
Will the leaders of an app know you and your pet by name? Your local company will.
There are some excellent walkers on apps.
Many professionals gain experience by taking on app walks in the beginning or continue to take on app walksfor years so that they can focus on walking and leave the business operations to someone else. A local company may have some bad hires in many years of doing business. But if I was going to take a gamble on anything it would not be on my pet’s safety and well being. Going with a pro is your safest bet.
Learn more about our dog walking services.
Learn more about the benefits of supporting small businesses at Think Local First DC.