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Dog Walkers - what do you look for?

Discussion in 'Dog Walking' started by Sunderland Dog Training, Sep 15, 2013.


  1. Sunderland Dog Training

    Sunderland Dog Training PetForums Newbie

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    I've been running training classes and doing private training for a while now (over 10 years, that makes me feel so old!) and I'm getting very frustrated with my day job so want to take the leap to work with dogs full time.

    I've decided to launch a dog walking side of my business, because a) if you do training right, you don't get repeat clients and b) I always want to limit the number of training clients I see to maintain quality.

    I'm insured for dog training, and it won't be much extra to add dog walking onto that policy. I'm also trained in pet first aid, and have a level 3 qualification in dog grooming (I don't want to do that side as a business just yet, it's a future plan though), my question is, what do you think is the big selling point for a dog walker?

    I would hope that my years experience in dog behaviour would be a plus, because I'm obviously very adept at handling dogs, and able to make sure they're happy as well as incorporating brain games into the daily walk. Is this something the average client sees as a positive, or is it just for dog geeks?

    I assume the pet first aid training will be a draw, I would feel more confident with a dog walker who I know would be able to cope with an emergency.

    There are lots of courses on dog walking available, I'm studying at the moment, hoping to have a degree in applied animal behaviour by 2014 if all goes smoothly, so I'm reluctant to take on additional courses if they don't actually make that much difference to clients.

    I'm not that keen on paying a large membership fee to an association, which is one of the reasons I'm currently with the Pet Professional Guild and would preferably like to stay at just that one.

    A lot of forms of advertising give you very limited word counts, and as you can tell I'm a bit of a waffler.

    I live alone so can't afford to build up slowly, I need to hit the ground running!

    If you had to hire a dog walker (and especially if you HAVE hired a dog walker) what three things would you be looking for to help you make a decision?

    Thanks for reading :)
     
  2. BoredomBusters

    BoredomBusters PetForums VIP

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    Unfortunately dog walking is slow to build up - you have to wait for people's circumstances to change before they need to look for a dog walker. There's not much you can do about that, as even if you advertise you are setting up in the future to your current clients they can't always wait that long. And once people choose and get on with a dog walker they don't usually like to change. I would save up 3 months living expenses, and then at least you don't have to worry while you are working on it.

    Only you can decide your unique selling point, as it's got to be something YOU do better than anyone else (or differently) and only you can decide what that will be.

    I'd also disagree about training. I have to keep inventing new training as people enjoy coming and demand more to do with their dogs. I've launched an extra training course and two new workshops as people have been to them all and still want more. So if you aren't getting repeat customers, you might want to ask for some feedback about that.
     
  3. Stefx

    Stefx PetForums Member

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    I think your experience alone will give you a good push. If I ever hired a dog walker qualifications would be a bonus but, to me, do not mean half as much as 10 years experience and references that would come with it. In fact, very very little in comparison!
    I know waffling is tempting but when you're advertising it isn't always the place. You need to get key factors to jump out like your logo, what you do, your experience and contact details. The waffling can go on your web or facebook page!
    I think making yourself stand out from the rest is what's going to catch people's eyes. Look up your competition and see how they work and just basically try and excel!
    Little things make all the difference. Say, starting the allocated dog walking time ONCE you get to the destination, not including travel. Discounts for multiple dogs. Or you could try really going for it and having things such as GPS trackers to ease them worried minds.
    I would say things like mental stimulation games are always going to be a positive. Even if someone hasn't much clue, at the very least it sounds like a bonus and they can always opt out!
     
  4. Sunderland Dog Training

    Sunderland Dog Training PetForums Newbie

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    That depends what kind of training you offer though. I've only got one evening in my venue so I stick to beginner and puppy training. I don't want to spread too thinly and have several different classes, if you do too many hours a week you're not giving your best to everyone. I often get asked about follow on classes so I know the market is there, but I currently don't have the resources to provide it, or the inclination to spread myself too thinly. There's no substitute for a regular, guaranteed (as much as possible) income, and I wouldn't be prepared to take that risk with training. I think it's a nice balance doing dog walking which you don't have to think about as much, and dog training which requires lots of creative thinking and sometimes careful diplomacy. I'd consider putting on a second night at some point, but I'd rather concentrate on reducing my hours in my paid job first. I've only got my income to rely on, that means zero risk taking!

    I can't multi quote so in answer to Stef, I LOVE the idea about a GPS tracker, I'll look into that!

    I haven't mentioned the brain games or the fact I wouldn't count transport time as part of the walk. I'd assumed that was a given but you're right, I should definitely point it out. I also don't want to walk groups of dogs together, I'd rather give all my attention to one because I just think it's safer that way.

    I'll have a look at the competition, there doesn't appear to be many from what I can see, but there are a couple of pretty successful ones with glossy websites and regular photo updates, so that's something I'll be looking towards.

    Thanks!
     
  5. Stefx

    Stefx PetForums Member

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    I started off just doing individual dogs but as time went on it really was the case of "why not?". I keep to small groups - usually 3 - and I can honestly say that if the money was the same I'd still do it. I genuinely believe they enjoy it more with other dogs. They burn more energy, the groups are easily manageable and of course socialisation. I'm no behaviourist but there has been a few dogs where the socialisation has greatly improved their lives with little effort on my part. It's the other dogs.
    If you do go ahead with the individuals then try not to make it a huge selling point as it may well change in the future!
     
  6. Sunderland Dog Training

    Sunderland Dog Training PetForums Newbie

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    Yeah I've thought lots about that aspect. Weighing up the benefits from the socialisation with the downsides of management. I just worry that if one dog runs after a squirrel at the same time as another dog sees one of his best doggy friends and they both take off in opposite directions, what would I do? Even if the dogs are really responsive with a fab recall, what if an off lead aggressive dog came up and started a fight?

    I'll have a rule that they're walked alone for 6 weeks to condition them to the whistle and get a guage of their temperament and behaviour before walking them with others. I may end up walking two together and alternating off lead and long line between them until I'm satisfied with their recalls around distractions.

    I might take some holiday next week to really do some intensive advertising. Should be fun, I hate all that side of things!
     
  7. BoredomBusters

    BoredomBusters PetForums VIP

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    If you need to replace an income you'll never do it walking dogs one at a time. :( Everyone wants theirs dogs walked at lunchtime, so you won't have much morning or afternoon, so max 5 dogs a day to be walked, if that. That's only approx £50 a day, less expenses. You would need to offer other services, such as cat sitting.

    As its slow to build up you get to know each dog one at a time so you know the ones likely to bother other dogs and can keep them on leads, and you can train them how to behave on your walks. Especially as you are a dog trainer.
     
  8. Stefx

    Stefx PetForums Member

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    You'd be bloody unlucky! But you can help yourself by being SUPER aware. 99% of the time I see the rabbit before my lurchers do, same with other dogs. You have to be one step ahead of them, almost like hazard perception! But it becomes second nature. Maybe just start with assessing the dogs and just walking two together.

    With the off lead aggressive dog - you're taking that risk going anywhere. MOST people are responsible and if their dog is aggressive it will be on lead (or will be when they spot you). I did start a thread on this section of the forum titled 'what to do if a dog fight breaks out?'. There are lots of tips and I feel a lot more comfortable with this info now. Saying that, I and I guess other dog walkers can too, spot trouble before it happens by their body language. Dogs will give warnings before something serious happens so its staying in tune with the dogs you walk and also those who you come across.

    Touch wood, nothing has happened to me regarding this yet!
     
  9. Sunderland Dog Training

    Sunderland Dog Training PetForums Newbie

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    Thanks both so much for taking the time to reply, it's much appreciated.

    Boredom Busters, you're right it would never be full time. I've got the intention to keep some shifts on at work (it's a 24 hour rota and home based so there's no problem with that clashing, well except being tired!) because I'm terrified of full time self employment. What if I broke my leg? I could still do my current job with a lot of illnesses, so doing it part time will probably always be the goal. Between my other sources of income I only need to make around £30 a day to make ends meet. I like the idea of having several sources of income because then if anything happens, it would hopefully not affect all of them. Hopefully.

    Stef, you talk so much sense with the multi dog situation! The thing that annoys me is that I wouldn't hesitate if it wasn't 'for work', I've frequently walked four when I've taken out my boyfriend's parents dogs, mine and a foster, I just seem to have a mental block about it when I'd be taking money for it. It's probably something I'd get over by the time it was an issue. There are a lot of places where it would be safer to take more than one dog out, and I could always take some time with each individual dog to condition a whistle and play recall games before introducing another. I guess I'd play it by ear, a dog like my current foster would only be suitable to be walked alone because he's pretty high maintenance (in an adorable way) but my own dog is very easy, doesn't really go far and would sell one of his legs for a piece of hot dog, so he's no bother at all. I guess I could easily walk 4 Pigbee's together, but only one Jet.
     
  10. lovedogs2

    lovedogs2 PetForums Newbie

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    I am looking at starting my own dog walking business I have a citreon relay what &where can I buy the leads that I attach to the roof of the van
     
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