How Much to Pay Pet Sitting Staff
If you decide building a team is the right move for your company and you take the time to prepare before you hire your next staff member, you can grow your company to new financial heights while gaining the freedom most business owners dream of.
Getting your pricing and sitter pay set correctly is key to building a profitable business which will be sustainable for years to come. In this article we will cover how much to pay pet sitting staff, specifically, how much to pay employees because their pay is more complicated than independent contractors.
If you are still working on building your company, you may want to consider reading a few of our other very helpful articles:
So, How Much Should I Pay My Staff?
It is important to seek the advice of a licensed HR Professional, Certified Public Accountant, or an Enrolled Tax Agent before hiring any staff.
The first place to look place to look to sort out how much you should pay your staff is the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Pet sitter and dog walker hourly pay is reported by the BLS under Animal Caretakers, occupation code 39-2021. You can view the (rather interesting) full data here.
As of 2021 the:
- Average pet sitter and dog walker hourly wage is $13.65
- Median pet sitter and dog walker hourly wage is $12.54
Here is how pay breaks down by percentile:
As you can see from the table above, pay for pet sitters and dog walkers ranges quite a bit:
- $9.29 on the low side
- $19.33 on the high end
This data from the BLS should only be considered a starting point. If you are in a more urban area where the cost of living is higher, you will need to pay closer to the 75% and up percentile.
If you are in a more rural area where the minimum wage and cost of living is low you might be able to pay closer to the 25% percentile. You will also need to research pay rates in your area for similar jobs to get a good idea of what you should pay your staff.
Research Local Pay Rates
To get an idea of what you need to pay in your area, search local ads for relevant jobs on Indeed, Craigslist, and other job boards, and make a list of your competitors advertised pay.
Jobs with similar pay are:
- Other pet sitters and dog walkers
- Kennel technicians
- Vet technicians
- Shelter technicians
Be aware, some employers will fudge their pay numbers way up. For example, one local pet sitter in my area always advertises $14-21/hr + tips. While it may be the case that a sitter could make $21/hr if their visits are short and very close to one another (and the employer pays a flat rate per visit), their average pay per hour is sure to be closer to the lower number.
An Example Pricing and Pay Spreadsheet
The free downloadable spreadsheet below is the one I use in my pet sitting company to set our prices and pay for staff. It calculates the cost of:
- Pay for time at a visit
- Average pay for drive time
- Average pay for mileage reimbursement
- Employer paid payroll taxes
- Worker’s compensation insurance
Above are all of the expenses that go into the cost of paying an employee to do a visit. Obviously, you will need to update the numbers in this spreadsheet to match your individual situation.
If you are not sure what numbers to put in for employer paid taxes, etc, be sure to seek the advice of a CPA or IRS EA in your area. Click here, to skip ahead to the section where we cover what professional and legal advice to seek when you are planning to bring on staff.
If you want help using the spreadsheet itself, book an hour of coaching with me, here. I would be happy to help.
Download your FREE Pet Sitter Pay Spreadsheet!
How Many Hours to Offer
One thing that keeps many sitters from hiring is the fear that you will not be able to keep an employee busy. But in reality, You do not need to guarantee full or even consistent part time hours to dog walkers and pet sitters. Many people will be happy doing this job just a few days per week or even just a few hours per day.
Hiring someone to help out can give you days off and keep you from getting burnt out. Also as you build up your team you can bring on more clients to grow your business.
Our busiest sitters and walkers average 20-35 hours per week. Our slowest sitters and walkers are around 5-10 hours per week.
Example Pay Breakdown for a Set of Visits
Let’s take a look at this example to show all of the components of a pet sitter’s or dog walker’s pay.
In this example, the sitter has three visits. Here is how the pay breaks down for someone receiving $15/hr for their time and $0.25 per mile for a mileage reimbursement.
Time at visits:
- Visit #1 = 30 minutes
- Visit #2 = 60 minutes
- Visit #3 = 40 minutes
- Total time at visits = 2.16 hours
- Total pay for time at visits = 2.16 hours X $15 = $32.5
- Drive #1 is the commute. No pay or mileage reimbursement
- Drive #2 = 13 minutes
- Drive #3 = 5 minutes
- Drive #4 = 8 minutes
- Total paid drive time = 0.43 hours
- Total pay for drive time = 0.43 hours X $15 = $6.45
- Drive #1 the commute. No pay or mileage reimbursement
- Drive #2 = 4.5 miles
- Drive #3 = 1.6 miles
- Drive #4 = 3.8 miles
- Total miles driven = 9.9 miles
- Total mileage reimbursement = 9.9 miles X $0.25 = $2.47
Total Pay for This Set of Visits:
- Pay for time at visits = $32.5 + Employer Paid Taxes + Workers Compensation Insurance
- Pay for drive time, one way = $6.45 + Employer Paid Taxes + Workers Compensation Insurance
- Mileage reimbursement = $2.47 (Tax free)
- Total Cost = $41.42 + Taxes + WC Insurance
How Much are Employer Paid Taxes
I recommend you get advice from a CPA or IRS EA in your area to calculate your exact employer paid payroll taxes. This number will vary from state to state and country to country. However, if it’s helpful to you, a ballpark estimate for Colorado, USA (where I live) is around 13-15% of the taxable portion of an employee’s pay.
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How Much is Workers Compensation Insurance?
This is another area where you should get the advice of a local CPA or IRS EA. Every state and country has different options, laws, and prices for worker’s compensation. But again, if you want an idea of how this works, In Colorado we have a state fund that is required to cover any business and it costs me about 5% of our taxable payroll. I went with the state funded option because it was the cheapest option.
Be sure to get professional advice when setting up your workers compensation insurance, don’t just go off of what an insurance salesperson wants to sell you. Travelers and State Farm were thousands of dollars more than our state option in Colorado.
Choose a Payroll Provider
Unless you have experience calculating and filing payroll taxes, I recommend outsourcing this to a payroll company like Gusto or Paychex. Yes, these services are expensive, but they will save you the headache and time of sorting through all of the ever changing and ever more complex payroll tax laws and employment laws.
If you are thinking of taking care of all of this yourself, keep in mind, if you make a mistake with your payroll taxes, you will be required to pay them back in full, and you could even end up in jail (however jail time is rare).
Personally, I use Gusto for my payroll service. They do a great job of:
- Filing all required paperwork for employees
- Direct deposit
- I-9 reporting
- W-2 forms
- Reporting and compliance
They also have helpful support and were my main source of HR consulting during the 2020 pandemic for all of the changes and stimulus money that was available during that time.
Get Professional and Legal Advice
We cover a lot of what you need to know in this article, but you will also want to reach out to professionals in your area to make sure you are following all of the employment laws in your region.
I also recommend you reach out to a couple of industry coaches to sort out the details specific to dog walking and pet sitting companies.
Here is who to consult to as you make your plan to hire staff:
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
- Will help you understand what taxes you need to pay in your state
- Where to find worker’s compensation insurance in your state and how much it costs
- How to manage your staff so you classify them correctly (Employee or Independent contractor)
- File any initial paperwork you needed set up payroll tax payments
- Good CPAs will usually will offer one or two hours of free consulting to new businesses, so you can get started for free.
- IRS Enrolled Agent (EA)
- An Enrolled Agent can help with much of the same items a CPA can help with, but are often much less expensive
- After I used up my free hours with a local CPA, I moved to an EA
- I found my EA to be more down to earth and helpful than my CPA
- HR Professional
- Will help you understand the details of your local employment laws
- Can offer you templates and advice for hiring, firing, and issues with staff
- Can write or review your employee handbook
- I’ve found HR Professionals to be more helpful than employment lawyers
- If you have trouble finding an HR professional in your area, SimplyHR is a great place to start
- Industry Coaching
- Pet sitting and dog walking staff is much different from a standard job most professional advisors are used to. An Industry Coach will know how to handle industry specific issues.
- While the professional team above will make sure you are following all the laws, they will not know what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to hiring professional pet sitters
- Can help you figure out how to pay drive time, what questions to ask in an interview, how to write a job description and application, how many hours to offer, what type of people to look for when hiring
Considerations Specific to Pet Sitting and Dog Walking
So far in this article we have covered the nuts and the bolts of setting pay for staff. The remainder of this article will cover specific topics that come up when a pet sitter or dog walker begins to plan how to pay their staff.
Let’s dive into the details.
Pay Per Visit VS Pay Per Hour
I recommend paying your staff by the hour, rather than a flat rate per visit. My company is currently transitioning from pay per visit to pay per hour. We originally went for pay per visit because it seemed like it would be a hassle to require each sitter to track their miles and drive time between visits.
Now, modern pet sitting software such as Time to Pet or Precise Pet Care can track actual miles driven, actual drive time in between visits, and time at the visit. These systems will also allow you to create a report each time you need to pay your staff to ensure you are paying precisely the correct amount.
How a Mileage Reimbursement Can Save You Money
If you hire employees, it is beneficial to offer a mileage reimbursement because pay for mileage is not taxed. Neither you or your employee needs to pay payroll tax on it. So, offering a mileage reimbursement is a way to get more money in the pockets of your staff.
I pay $0.42 cents per mile and I bring my sitter’s pay per hour down a little bit to cover the cost of the mileage reimbursement. I use the spreadsheet above to calculate these exact figures.
For current guidance on how much you can pay for a mileage reimbursement see the IRS Issued Mileage Rates.
The Shift Towards $15/hr
As of 2021, there is a major shift towards service workers demanding higher pay and I think this trend will continue. The cost of living has increased so much over the last 20-30 years, it is difficult for service workers to live off of a minimum wage. As an employer, you can’t expect talented workers to stick with your company if you do not offer fair and competitive pay.
In many more populated and expensive areas, $15/hr seems to be a magic tipping point that employees find to be a fair wage. There are many reports which show, if you can get above $15/hr, you will attract more talented workers.
In my company (located in an affluent area in Colorado, USA Front Range) I am starting sitters at
- $0.42 mileage reimbursement
- + tips
In the next couple of years, I expect I will still need to bring our pay up even more to offer a competitive wage. For context, (as of 2021) our minimum wage is $12/hr and rent for a two bedroom apartment here is between $1300-$1500.
Offer a Clear Path to Higher Pay With a Level System
Once we offered a level system with a clear path to higher pay and growth within our company, we started to see much less turnover.
Here are the details of our level system:
We have a level system for all team members. With experience and time, you can rise to a higher level.
Level One Requirements: Meets all of the requirements stated in the job description. Everyone starts at level one. If you have professional experience that merits you being promoted to level two earlier than one year, please submit a written statement of your related professional pet experience to your supervisor.
Level Two Requirements: Be with [insert your company name here] for 1 year or 1 year of professional pet experience. Be able to shape a new behavior with a clicker. Can complete visits and tasks quickly in the allotted time. Level Two Sitters are helping our company grow and are happy to help our clients. Has excellent pet handling skills, customer service, completes visit tasks accurately and has a great attitude.
Level Three Requirements: Be with [insert your company name here] for 2 years. Shows exemplary commitment to the team. Has exemplary pet handling skills, customer service, and attitude. Goes above and beyond.
- Level 1 Pay Rate: 15.50 /Hr.
- Level 2 Pay Rate: 16.50 /Hr.
- Level 3 Pay Rate: 17.50 /Hr.
Don’t Rely on Some Other Company’s Percentage to Calculate Sitter Pay
Some Facebook groups talk about how they use a percentage of the visit cost to set their pay. This seems backward because the cost for an employee or independent contractor is by the hour. Sitter pay should not be based on how much you charge. What you charge per visit should be based on what your clients will pay in your market. Sitter pay should be based on what you need to pay for talented workers + taxes in your market. These two numbers are completely independent of each other.
I would rather use the spreadsheet above to calculate the average cost per visit, then play with the numbers until you get:
- A price your clients will pay
- Sitter pay that is high enough to prevent turnover
- A gross profit margin you are comfortable with
Also, keep in mind, if your payroll cost is $100,000 per year and you decide to increase your pay by even 1%, that is $1000 out of your pocket each year.
Why Understanding Your Average Cost Per Visit is Important
One of the things that makes pay for pet sitters and dog walkers so complicated is that every visit has a slightly different drive time and mileage.
However, the numbers in this spreadsheet above are based on average drive time between visits and average miles driven between visits. This is because using an average allows you to simply calculate your average costs and average gross margins.
At the end of the year, your total drive time and cost per visit will boil down to an average anyway. So, to predict your costs, you can use an average drive time and miles per visit.
How to Find Average Drive Time and Average Mileage Between Visits
When you are just starting your company, it can seem difficult to get an average drive time and mileage to start calculating how much you should charge and how much you should pay, using the spreadsheet above. But it’s actually pretty easy.
You can just take a few of your client’s addresses and get the drive time and mileage from Google Maps. Start out with at least three addresses. That will give you a rough estimate. If you can get the drive time and mileage between 20-30 addresses, that will get you very close.
This article covered a lot, but if you take it step by step and find the right guidance you will be growing your team in no time. I thought I would end this article with a few hiring tips. If you want a full interviewing and hiring process, check out hour hiring course here.
So, let’s wrap it up.
Be sure to make it clear in your job description, that it will take 2-3 months to build a client base. (Be clear you will find the clients for them) I also tell every new hire the way to be successful in this job is to be available to take on new clients and do the visits when the clients book. Also, we are clear that pet sitting and dog walking schedules will inevitably fluctuate depending on the time of year, holidays, and peak travel times.
We only hire individuals who can work when we need them and we usually look for candidates that have another flexible side hustle to fill in the slower times. Such as, doordash, Uber or Lyft, and other online or freelance work.
Check out the schedule we use to keep coverage for all pet sitting and dog walking time slots while also giving every sitter two days off every week.
More hiring tips are available in another article of ours:
Training Your Team
Of course, once you hire a team member, you still need to train them. But don’t worry, we have already done the hard work for you and built the perfect training system for professional pet sitters and dog walkers.
With PetSitterCourse.com you can train your entire team with a single subscription to the online training and certification program. Plus, when you enroll, you get access to proven training that was developed by real pet sitters and based on real world experience. It’s much better than the old-fashioned way of doing all of it yourself.
To see what is in the training course go here: