I’ve been visiting with Luke Browne, a family member in San Francisco who has been a professional dog walker for almost eight years — “professional” here meaning that it’s how he makes his living. From our rambling chats over several days, I’m pulling together a variety of thoughts, useful if you walk others’ dogs for income or would like to. I’ll wrap up with some tips for anyone about walking your own dogs. Here’s a photo Luke took of one of his groups of dogs at the beach:
For Dog Walkers
Luke walks dogs five days a week, for two sessions a day. He takes his own dog and any boarders out for shorter stretch-and-potty walks a few times a day too. When he has boarders on the weekend, which he usually does, they get those two longer walks.
Luke is in his 40s but he knows people into their 60s who are dog walkers. It isn’t about age, but it is about stamina and endurance.
While his income does pay his basic bills, for him it’s more of a vocation, because of his committment and dedication to the dogs. You could compare him to a teacher whose salary is less important than the work itself. Luke really loves the dogs he walks. He says many dog walkers see it more as a business and may walk more dogs at a time than he would. He won’t include dogs in his groups if they are overly dog-aggressive.
He drives up to five hours a day to collect and return dogs around the city. Now he only takes new dogs (on the rare occasions when he has openings) in his part of the city, but when one of his favorite dogs moved with her family to a distant part of the city, Luke didn’t want to give up walking her. So he drove more. Now he and her owners have worked out an agreement. He picks her up on Tuesdays, boards her overnight at his place (hey, on his bed!) for a couple of nights at no charge, and takes her back to her family on Thursday.
Boarding is another part of his income. His partner (my stepdaughter) loves dogs as much as he does, and she does some of the work for the boarders, including feeding them. For safety and compatiblity reasons, he only takes dogs as boarders whom he knows and walks regularly in his groups. Usually it’s when the dogs’ people go away for a weekend or over a few nights. Rates for boarding in a private home are competitive with kennel rates, and where would you rather have your dog? I’m not giving exact numbers because it varies a lot around the country.
Luke and his partner have one dog themselves, and their dog goes out with some of the groups and gets along with all the boarders. As needed, it is easy to close dogs in the family room with a large sofa for dogs and dog-friendly people. I took a nap on that sofa the other afternoon, with two dogs curled up around me. French bulldogs do snore! Dogs can also be closed in the kitchen, where there is a comfy dog bed under the dining table.
Being in San Francisco, Luke has an unusually nice place to walk dogs. Fort Funston, on the beach, allows dog walkers to have dogs off leash, and that is where he goes twice a day, usually with 6 to 8 dogs. He lets them all off leash and they ramble along, the dogs having a lot of fun and getting good exercise. There are always a number of other dog walkers there too. This park may not be available in the future in quite the same way, but for now it’s great.
Luke almost never gets sick and when he does he still does the walks. He has had to take off a couple days for injuries. He doesn’t want to hand off repsonisbilty for the dog walking to another porfessional so if necessary he tells his clients that he’s taking the days off, giving them as much advance notice as possible. Luke thinks working outside and getting lots of exercise helps him stay so healthy.
Walking Your Own Dogs
Luke had some interesting things to say about how to walk your own dogs. How much walking any dog needs depends on the age of the dog, its breed, its health, its energy levels, and other factors the owners can assess.
Dog parks may or may not be appropriate for your dog, depending on the situation. Dogs of many breeds can get over-stimulated by that environment and they develop unwanted coping skills, and then you have undo the damage. If you do take your dog or dogs to parks, Luke advises being attentive to what is going on rather than seeing it as a time to sip your latte while on your cellphone or chatting with other owners. He has seen many dog fights that could have been averted if the people were noticing. He added that two dogs playing together usually goes well but that “two’s company, three’s a crowd” applies to dogs as well as kids, so watch if your dog is playing with two others.
One of the best things you can do for any puppies you have is to get them well socialized during the critical ages of about three to six months. He recommends puppy classes for this, where they can socialize with their peers. Older dogs may be more impatient with puppy behavior! If you have a dog who doesn’t get this socialization, you will need to manage his contacts with other dogs later in life.
As a general thing, dogs are in their peak playfulness times until they are around two or two and a half. Gradually, between ages three and seven–different for each dog–their interest in play will gradually diminish, and in their later years they may socialize less.
As I’ve been hurrying to finish writing this before Luke takes his first group out this morning, he’s continuing to tell me more dog stories! It’s great to have family and friends who share a huge passion for dogs!