When I found out about the burgeoning industry of on-demand dog walkers, I felt like my prayers had been answered. As a proud dog-owner of nearly a decade with a consistently inconsistent schedule, this was my ideal part-time gig.
If the idea of farming out your dog-walking needs to strangers through an app doesn’t freak you out off the bat and you’re considering using one of these services, here are some pointers gleaned from a summer spent on the business end of a leash.
How it works
On-demand dog-walking apps like Wag! and Swifto allow dog owners to schedule walks on demand, or schedule them in advance or on a recurring basis. They also connect owners with would-be dog-sitters and boarders.
When you—the owner—post the time and location of your walk request, it shows up in the feeds of would-be walkers within a certain radius, and they can chime in to ask for the chance to get the job. Owners get to scroll through a list of respondents and choose who to hire based on their profiles and ratings.
At the walk’s end, you’ll have receive a notification with the time and distance of the walk, pee and poop notifications, a picture of your pup, and a little report on how it went.
What your options are
In New York City, there are four major dog-walking apps Wag!, Swifto, Pooch Ventures, and Rover.
Wag! charges $20 per walk, Swifto charges $25, Pooch Ventures charges $20 for a scheduled walk and $35 for an on-demand walk, and Rover lets walkers set their own prices. Each company keeps a cut and passes the rest along to the walker.
The major differences between the companies are mainly in price point. Pooch Ventures justifies their relatively high on-demand pricing with walkers that the company says have 15 years of experience. Swifto is pricier than Wag! and requires five hours notice before a walk, which somewhat diminishes the on-demand feature, but a major plus for sick or elderly dogs is that Swifto guarantees complimentary medicine administration, in pill and shot form. Rover is also less truly on-demand as, rather than having walkers select ideal walks in their areas, it makes owners select ideal walkers in their vicinity. It is possible to get same-day or even same-hour service through Rover, but it’s not guaranteed.
Rover, Wag!, and Swifto are all national companies, whereas Pooch Ventures is just for New Yorkers. All of the companies are insured, all provide GPS tracking of walkers and walk reviews, and all have a flexible scheduling feature. Wag! is probably the most truly on-demand, though.
The benefits of using a dog-walking app
The major benefits of this compared to your standard dog walking company begin with the obvious: the on-demand feature. If your plans changed or you forgot to schedule a walk, you can do it from your phone—once you’ve figured out where/with whom to leave your keys, that is.
The tracking, ratings, photos, and personalized notes may also help assuage the fear of a crazed dog-napper making off with your pooch or a delinquent stoner phoning it in. It may also help to know that everyone at my NYC new walker orientation said they were taking this job because they wanted to spend more time dogs—they either owned dogs or missed their childhood pets and couldn't afford one of their own.
Have mercy on the new walker
The addictive quality of the app one day led me to schedule an hour-long walk at noon, a half-hour at 1 o’clock a few blocks away, and a half-hour at 2 a 20-minute train ride away. I was very new to the job at the time and was still learning my way around the logistics of getting from one walk to the next. Now, it wasn’t strictly impossible but—not a good idea.
At the noon job, I picked up a Basenji mix, and started getting stressed out about how closely together I had scheduled everything. So I gave the dog a few hard runs in the park nearby (a bonus, from my perspective) and ended the walk just a couple minutes early. The owner later texted me to notify me she would cut my tip.
This was fair, I suppose, but I explained my mistake to her, and she didn’t want to hurt my future chances, so she didn’t give me a bad rating. Thank you strict but kind dog lady!
Speaking of tips, please do
Uber (which only added a tipping option this summer in response to public pressure) is not the example to follow here.
In the course of my summer walking, I got everything from your basic $1 tip to a whopping $6. To put that in perspective, I personally earned $12 for each half-hour walk, so my tips were anywhere from 8 to 50 percent. Not bad!
Given the hard work the job entails, especially when your walker is doing multiple trips a day, it’s nice to get a sign that the client appreciates your work, even if it’s just a buck or two.
By the same token, don’t make someone bend over backwards—like I did waiting 30 minutes in an un-air-conditioned foyer for the keys an owner forgot to leave—and fail to reflect the favor in a tip.
Be clear when you have multiple rambunctious dogs
If there are multiple dogs to be walked, the walker gets $3-$5 per additional dog. I accepted one of these the morning of writing this, unaware before booking that both dogs were both labradoodles. For those who don’t know, the untrained labradoodle is a notoriously rambunctious dog.
Me, I’m a whopping 5-foot-1, so I found these dogs difficult to control and probably would have even if we weren’t near Wall Street at rush hour...and even if they weren't both on retractable leashes that couldn't be locked in place. (Sorry, thumbs.)
If you have more than one large, difficult dog, please be clear in the description so the walker knows what she’s getting into. It’s not fun for the walker, and potentially unsafe for the dogs if they’re matched with someone who can’t handle them.
Your foyer is an open book
The dog walker will see whatever is in the front of your apartment, and will be a stranger, so make sure you keep your BDSM equipment and evidence of your hoarding instincts out of sight—if you care about someone seeing, that is.
Oh, and one last thing
For the pitbull mix I walked one day after finishing the last of my own doggie bags, I was left with no other option but to rip out a page from the Spanish half of my voter guide. I did not feel good about that. Moral of the story: Don’t forget to leave doggie bags.