As a self-employed entrepreneur trying to get my coaching business up and running (which honestly requires a lot more time spent doing things beside coaching), I found myself with most weekdays wide open. It turns out most my clients have day jobs, and thus, do not schedule their appointments during the traditional work day. So, I decided to peruse the Internet for something to keep me occupied, active and to help pay the bills during my downtime. What I found was dog walking.
I’d initially balked at the idea of walking other peoples’ dogs (sometimes I barely want to walk my own), but when I stumbled upon a local, woman-owned business, I decided to give it a shot. I’ve been walking for about five months, and in that short time, I’ve learned a lot. And not just about the dog walking business (although I have learned some tips and tricks there: always carry spare poop bags and hand sanitizer, treats help everything, people love Corgis).
Here’s a list of the some of the most important lessons I’ve learned from dog walking, and surprisingly, they’re more about people than dogs:
Not every day will be perfect (and that’s OK)
I learned this lesson the hard way (isn’t that how it always is?). I was having a particularly rotten day: I’d gotten a late start thanks to a glitch in my dog walking phone app, which meant I was already stressed and scrambling to make up the missed time. Finally, I got to the second to last dog on my schedule and felt like I could almost see the light at the end of the tunnel when I attempted to take the dog back into her house. THEN. The key (which was usually hard to turn) wouldn’t budge. Like, at all. To make a very long (and very shitty) story short, I ended up being locked out of the house (with the dog) for over three hours because the lock had broken. How this happened is beyond me, but because it was an antiquelock we had to have a specialty locksmith come out and take it all apart. It was easily the worst day I’ve had dog walking. Luckily, the people in the apartment complex were lovely and helpful*, providing snacks and refreshments (and trying to help with the door!). Seeing how panicked and guilty I felt, the owner (who came to help oversee the lock repair), told me “Not every day will be perfect.” This simple sentiment helped me relax and stop being so hard on myself. It was not my damn fault the lock broke (really!). It was not my fault the lock was antique. The app glitch was not my fault. Mistakes happen. I know how to open a door (promise!).
Not every day will be perfect. We are all just trying our best. That’s all we can do. (Treats help.)
2. Making people smile feels good
I’ve always been motivated by the desire to help people, to be of service and to leave this world just a little bit better than I found it. (Hence why I coach!) So when I first started walking dogs, I was a little skeptical that I was actually doing any good. Obviously, it’s helpful for owners to that I take their dogs out to potty, and nice for the dogs to get a little break, but really, in the scheme of things, what was I doing? There are people out there curing cancer and evoking transformation and shit. Well, it turns out, walking dogs can actually be transformative, too, just in a different way. I’ve watched people’s entire faces light up when they see me and my pups stroll by. Literally, just yesterday I was walking one of my favorites, a Corgi (see above, people LOVE Corgis) and I saw a man eating alone in a restaurant. His whole demeanor changed when he saw the dog. A smile stretched across his whole entire face and he beamed. He motioned to the waitress who was filling his water glass, and she turned to look and laugh, too. The dog wasn’t even doing anything particularly cute or silly. He was just walking. It’s amazing how many times a day, whether I’m walking my own tiny pooch or one of my clients, “Ohmygod, that made my day!” People are drawn to pups and the positivity is infectious.
The other part of this is that every day I get to send pup parents a summary of their dog’s walk, complete with photos. Even though we technically just need to send a line or two, I like to customize my notes according to the dog’s (and parents’) personality. I have one pup mom who will often email me back with loads of smiley emojis and she told me she reads the emails about her dog’s adventures to her co-workers because it’s so cute. And that makes myday.
3. Don’t judge a person by their title
Because dog walking is my side hustle, but during slow coaching weeks it can turn into my main hustle, I am sensitive about still being viewed as a life coach. I am afraid of being judged for walking dogs—for being seen as “just” a dog walker, as if there is something wrong with walking dogs a profession.
One day recently, I unpacked this as I walked the Corgi. What is about dog walking that I feel ashamed of? I realized I feel like I’m not living up to my potential in many areas, career often being one of them. I feel like other people’s expectations for me aren’t being met. That mine aren’t being met. That I’m failing if I don’t become a high-powered business woman. That my income and success are directly proportional. I worry that people will think I’m stupid or incompetent if I’m a dog walker.
While I was thinking all these things—all these worries, I caught my reflection in the glass door. I looked at myself. I faced myself and forced myself to name my accomplishments. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from university, I have a Master’s Degree, I completed a prestigious fellowship which only admits 2.5% of applicants. There is no doubt that I am intelligent. So who cares if I’m a dog walker? I knew I was ruffled by a recent conversation where a new acquaintance asked me what I did for a living. After I explained I owned my own business as a coach, but I also a week walked dogs a week, he replied with a snarky laugh: “So you’re mostly a dog walker?”
No dick head, I’m a life coach who also walks dogs.
Real or imagined, I often find that people are dismissive when they view me as a dog walker. I’ve had apartment office management staff actually stare right through me for nearly 10 minutes without ANY acknowledgement, as if being there to walk a dog meant I was no longer a person. I’ve had dog walking clients speak to me in condescending tones – in a way I can’t imagine speaking to anyone, especially one with a key to my home. I’ve endured the fake enthusiasm masking disappointment and pity when I tell someone about my dog walking, and I’ve used fake enthusiasm to mask my own disappointment about my dog walking.
But just because I get paid to pick up poop doesn’t change who I am. Doesn’t take away my degrees or make me stupid. So next time you start to judge the person behind the counter, or bagging your groceries, making your coffee or picking up that poop—don’t. (It says more about you than them.)
4. If we were all as nice to humans as we were to dogs, this world would be a pretty good place
People are, overall, pretty freaking nice to dogs. The baristas at Starbucks offer dog treats and bowls of water on sunny days. When my clients beg (the dogs, not the owners) in front of businesses, more often than not, they get treats or at least pats from the staff. Walking down the street, people smile and stop to greet dogs in a way they just don’t do with other humans. It’s amazing to see. I wish we would extend this sort of love and affection to our non-furry friends. Can you imagine walking in the park and everyone you pass smiling, nodding and saying “Ohh, hi there”? We reserve this sort of unabashed kindness for dogs and babies, and that’s ridiculous! *Except for the people who live in the building where I got locked out with the dog. Those people were awesome, especially Doug. Thanks for the popcorn and sparkling h20. We need more Dougs in this world.
So while I definitely don’t think (read: hope) I’ll be a dog walker forever (read: much longer), I’ve enjoyed my time with the crazy canines (read: owners) and I’m glad for the experience. And who would’ve thought the hardest part of dog walking would’ve been opening the damn doors?