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Starting a career in dog walking

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Call it the tale of two species. With harried Americans on the job longer and with less time at home, and with the number of pets growing by leaps and bounds, who can office-bound pet owners count on to keep their dogs fit and happy during the day?

Dog walkers, that's who.

The market for dogs has opened up a big market for walkers -- according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association's (APPMA) 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey, there are about 74.8 million owned dogs in the United States. On average, the average dog-owning household spent 38 percent more on the care of their pet in 2007 than they did in 1997.

To a growing number of "petrepreneurs,'' dog walking is a low-overhead way to merge their love of dogs with the seemingly never-ending stream of pet-related revenue. If you love animals, and like spending time outdoors, this just may be the perfect job.

Getting started

Jo Jo DeRodrigo has been a professional dog walker since 2003. The Los Angeles resident said he wouldn't trade the job for anything. "I love animals and I especially love dogs,'' DeRodrigo said. "I had spent some time down in Buenos Aires, which is full of dog walkers. Sometimes you see 30 or 40 dog walkers at a time. I figured I could do that.''

DeRodrigo started by posting fliers around his neighborhood and placing ads touting his fledgling dog-walking business on Craigslist.com. "I also went out and got bonded (insurance) and took some animal CPR courses with the Red Cross. I think having credentials is the key to getting a dog-walking business off the ground.''

DeRodrigo charges $20 per hour and averages about 15 dogs per week. Dog walkers in bigger cities like New York and L.A. can often get $30 per hour, with some clients paying double to have their dogs walked twice a day. "My main hours are between 10 a.m and 2 p.m.,'' DeRodrigo said. "It's a physically demanding job and you have to make sure the dogs are exhausted by the time the client comes home. They expect a tired dog.''

On Call

The job can be time-consuming, too. Dog walkers have to be responsive to the demands of their clients, which can mean no vacations, no real weekends off, and crazy hours. It usually takes some time before most dog walkers realize their financial goals and create a schedule that works for them. It is also a job that requires capital if you're going to strike out on your own with a dog-walking business. Commercial dog walkers are sometimes required to carry large insurance policies, and, like DeRodrigo pointed out, must be bonded. And it doesn't hurt to take classes and become certified in canine CPR and first aid.

The good news? You might not be earning a Trump-like salary while walking the dogs residing in Trump Plaza, but on the plus side there's no one looking over your shoulder while you work. You won't hear complaints from your charges, as talking is not in their skill set. And while most people are stuck in office buildings all day looking out a window from their cubicle and hoping they can get outside before it gets dark, as a dog walker, you'll be spending 95 percent of your time outside with dogs.

A key tip: carry lots of plastic bags. Picking up poop is a key part of the job. If you're squeamish about scooping up after dogs large and small, know that going in. "It doesn't take long to get used to it -- just part of the job,'' DeRodrigo said.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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