How to Become a Dog Walker

There are three main ways you can become a professional dog walker or pet sitter:

  • Become an app based sitter on Rover, Wag!, Care.com, or Barkly
  • Get a job at a dog walking and pet sitting company
  • Start your own dog walking and pet sitting company

There are pros and cons to each path to becoming a dog walker, but no matter which path you choose, the first step should be gaining relevant industry knowledge and experience. 

Lots of people offer dog walking and pet sitting service without really knowing how to care for a pet in the client’s home. There is a lot that can go wrong. To keep both you and the pets in your care safe, I recommend taking a few courses and volunteering at a local shelter before offering professional service.

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Gain Relevant Industry Knowledge and Experience

If you are new to pet care it can be helpful to take a few courses and volunteer at your local shelter to gain experience and get caught up with the current state of the dog walking industry. 

Take Pet First Aid Courses

Be prepared in the case of an emergency by taking a pet first aid course. Two of the best options for professional dog walkers are:

Volunteer at Your Local Animal Shelter

Animal shelters are always looking for volunteers. The most relevant volunteer experience for dog walkers is a Behavior and Enrichment (B&E) volunteer. B&E volunteers are responsible for walking, clicker training, de-stressing, and providing overall care for cats and dogs in the shelter. A good B&E volunteer program at a shelter will teach you: 

  • How to clicker train loose leash manners
  • Proper animal handling skill
  • Positive reinforcement animal training 
  • How to work with stressed out animals
  • How to stay safe when working with all types of pets
Cute Dog With a big stick - Cute Cat - Pet Sitting and dog walking training

Get a Dog Walking and Pet Sitting Certification

Getting a dog walking and pet sitting certification is the best thing you can do to learn how to be a professional dog walker. 

Certifications will teach you the ins and outs of caring for a pet in the client’s home and will set you apart from the competition when you are taking on clients or looking for a job at an established dog walking company. 

Pet sitting certifications are offered through a number of organizations. The best and most affordable certificates are offered by:

PetSitterCourse.com This certification will teach you the hands-on knowledge you need to offer professional dog walking and pet sitting service. The self paced online course covers everything from what questions to ask at the meet & greet, to how to handle keys, to how to do the actual visits. The more advanced courses will even teach you how to interview and hire staff. 

NAPPS Certification The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) has been an industry leader since 1989. NAPPS is committed to supporting their members through education, resources to build a successful business, and certification. The NAPPS Certification covers a broad range of knowledge related to professional pet sitting. 

PSI Certification The Pet Sitters International (PSI) Certification is one of the most common certifications for pet sitters. While their website states having the only knowledge-assessed exam for professional pet sitters, knowledge-based exams are available through both the NAPPS and PetSitterCourse.com certifications. Although the PSI certification is exam only and does not require coursework to be certified, PSI does offer a number of industry leading online courses for pet sitters. 

Dog Walker and Pet Sitter Online Certification

How To Start Dog Walking and Pet sitting

Now that we covered how to gain the skills needed to become a professional dog walker, let’s cover the three main ways to become a dog walker or pet sitter:

  • Become an app based sitter
  • Get a job at a dog walking and pet sitting company
  • Start your own company
Fish Sitting Certificate

Become an App Based Sitter

The most common way to become a dog walker is to sign up with an app based service such as Rover.com, Wag!, Care.com, or Barkly.com. This is a good option for anyone who wants some extra side cash or if you are just getting started. 

Working through apps is a great way to see if you enjoy the work, but it’s not the best option for sustaining a full time career because apps make it difficult to work together as a team. 

If you continue to grow your client base to a full time salary, eventually you will be working on your own seven days a week and time off becomes very rare, leading to burnout. 

Also, these apps don’t offer much training to prevent problems or support if anything goes wrong. Further, when working through a dog walking app, you don’t have control over how you market and offer your services. 

Further, if the app developers decide to change their policies or the terms of service, you might be found to be in violation of their new policies – which could ruin your business model overnight if you do not conform to their guidelines. 

While app based dog walking or pet sitting is a great way to get started and gain some experience, it’s not for everyone and can be difficult to grow into a full time career. 

Get a Job at an Established Dog Walking Company

The next best way to become a professional dog walker and pet sitter is to get a job at an established dog walking company in your town. Dog walking and pet sitting companies are always looking for great people to add to their team.  

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How To Get Hired at a Dog Walking Company

I’ve hired a little over 30 pet sitters and dog walkers in our company, so I can share some tips with you about what we look for when hiring and some ways to find these jobs. 

Search Google for the companies in your area and reach out to them to see if they are hiring. If you have open availability and can be counted on to complete dog walking and pet sitting visits at any time of day, you will likely get hired. Here are some of the main things pet sitting and dog walking companies look for when hiring:


  • You have a reliable car
  • Completely open availability and willing to take on visits at any time of day
  • You are good at working with customers
  • You are great with animals
  • You are a skilled problem solver
  • You can be trusted to work independently
  • You are open and receptive to learning the company’s policies (you are not a know it all) 
  • Knowledge or experience with positive reinforcement training techniques
  • A track record of reliability and responsibility
  • Previous work experience / previous long term career 
  • Good references
  • You are a team player
  • Detail oriented 

Also, now that pet sitting and dog walking certifications are more widely available, having a certification can greatly improve your chances of getting hired. Most people do not know how to care for a pet in a client’s home, so getting a certification will get you a huge head start and greatly increase your chances of getting hired at a dog walking company. 

Cute Cat - Pet Sitting and dog walking training

The Benefits of Working at an Established Company

Working at an established company has many benefits:

  • A steady stream of new clients
  • A team to split visits with and cover you in case of an emergency
  • You get days off 
  • Experienced staff to help answer questions
  • Established processes to prevent problems

How Much Do Professional Dog Walkers Make?

Most full time pet sitters and dog walkers, who work at a company, make between $20,000 – $25,000 and part time sitters make between $5,000 and $15,000 depending on how many visits they take on. Sitters that take on more visits get paid more. Pay tends to range from $12 – $16 per hour plus tips. 

If you are in a more urban area you can expect to be paid more, if you are in a more rural area you can expect to be paid less because pay depends on the cost of living in your area and the amount the company can charge for visits.

How to become a cat sitter

Start Your Own Dog Walking Company

If you are great with pets and interested in business, starting your own dog walking and pet sitting business might be the right choice for you. Starting your own business is the most difficult way to become a dog walker, but it puts you in control over your life, income, and will allow you to quit your day job. Also, this is the most lucrative option, if you stick with it long term. 

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How to Start Your Own Dog Walking Company

There are many steps to starting a dog walking business, but it’s easier than ever because so many resources are available to this established industry. I recommend getting coaching and reaching out to local pet sitters and  pet sitters in other towns to ask for advice early in the process.  

Experienced pet sitters tend to be very willing to help one another and getting good advice early in your business start-up can save you months or even years of frustration. 

While every dog walking start-up is different, here are the general steps to take to get your company off the ground:

  • Shop your competition and decide on your services
  • Choose a name for your business
  • Get a dog walking contract / service agreement
  • Get advice from business professionals (lawyer, CPA, coaching, SBDC Mentors)
  • Decide on your business entity
  • Decide how you will track client details and visits
  • Decide how you will take payments
  • Set up business bank accounts
  • Decide if you will hire staff
  • Create a website
  • Obtain pet sitting liability insurance and bonding
  • Advertise your services

If you want to dig into all of the details of how to start a dog walking company, check out next week’s article: How to Start a Dog Walking Business.

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