My dog chronicles: Becoming a professional dog walker
From Wag to Rover: Finding a way to make money with four-legged friends
This post was originally published on March 21, 2019 on Chicago Now’s “Message from Montie” blog.
You know what kind of day you’re going to have when a pit bull jumps up to your standing height and licks you on the lips. This is my life as a dog walker for Wag* these days, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Babies versus dogs: Lesson learned
While I leaned against the bathroom door for almost an hour talking to Ralphie, I wondered why in the world he didn’t like me. The same thing happened when I sat on the kitchen floor for 24 minutes hoping I’d have some luck with Clover.
I liked them. They are adorable, lively and have big, curious eyes. Clover flat-out was not having it. She let me feed her treats three times but refused to let me pet her. But when Ralphie finally stopped cowering behind the toilet, I almost did a victory lap when he circled my legs and let me pet him. It took a full hour for him to do it, but the point is he did.
That’s when it finally hit me: This is what “baby people” feel like. They want babies to reach their arms out and snuggle into their chests. I want dogs to run up and give me high-fives, handshakes and lean against my legs to be petted.
But I’m not someone who has ever desired to be a mother. There’s nothing physically wrong with me, and I’ve had quite a few prodding conversations from exes who simply do not understand why I don’t want to birth their babies. While I will cross the street to see a four-legged friend barking away, there’s a 99.9 percent chance that anyone with a stroller wouldn’t catch my attention.
Dogs welcome, people tolerated
As someone who has a sign in her dining room that says, “Dogs welcome, People tolerated,” I can give or take people. Clearly I liked them enough to enjoy Lyft driving and to work in the publishing industry. I love some people and like quite a few. But even adult people (minus a handful of family members) and dogs are just on two different levels with me.
Recommended Read: “The highs and lows of being an Uber and Lyft driver”
I skipped my cousin’s wedding as soon as I found out my parents would have no one to watch our family dog. I gave them the keys to my car so they didn’t have to buy a rental. And I spent the entire weekend running around with a German Shepherd big enough to make people cross the street when they saw her. They enjoyed the wedding. And I do not regret my decision.
So it made complete sense that I would finally take up the offer to be something I never thought I’d do as a profession: dog walker and dog sitter with Wag.
As a 13-year dog owner of a Labrador Retriever/German Shepherd mix and a nine-year dog owner of a German Shepherd, you would think I’d have looked into this idea already. But to make money for something I’d absolutely do for free seemed like, well, being a writer. And I’m not giving back any of those paychecks either.
What it’s like to be a professional dog walker
I figured out pretty quickly that I had to get my ego in check in order to be a dog walker. I also needed to look at this job through the eyes of a dog. Imagine a rotation of strangers constantly coming into your safe space to walk you. Feeding you treats is cool, but putting a leash on you? Wait just a second. Then there are shelter dogs and dogs with anxiety who just cannot handle this much change.
I’d only dealt with happy puppies whose biggest issue was figuring out how to be away from mom and their siblings. I was terrified by my first dog, Shep, the first week he came to live with us. I just wanted my mother to get rid of this floppy-eared dog. Meanwhile she kept letting him loose every single time she would conveniently make me wash the dishes. A fan was born. By the time Faith came around I was putty in her hands. Both puppies came from stable homes that just didn’t want to raise a bunch of puppies.
But dogs are dogs, and I’ve learned how to interact with them on an individual basis. In the 25 completed walks I’ve done so far and my first upcoming weekend of dog sitting, I have plenty of stories.
- The Australian Shepherd who was terrified to leave her front porch for the first five minutes.
- The Labradoodle who turned on his butt every time I tried to take a photograph of him. Please, no paparazzi.
- My favorite dog to walk is a Miniature Pinscher and who I have nicknamed “world’s hungriest dog.”
- The Miniature Pinscher (my favorite dog of them all) who was completely upset with me for taking away a hoagie, French fries and chicken breasts he’d found on the ground on three different walks. How he keeps finding full meals in the grass is outstanding and baffling.
- The American Eskimo who barked and growled at every single man she encountered, including the mail carrier, the bus driver and a guy just sitting in his car. She strolled past all women quiet as can be though.
- The Pit Bull who came barreling out of her crate. In addition to the kiss (mentioned above), she was stunned by her reflection in a glass door. I started dancing in front of it to show her my reflection too. She looked at me and the mirror, and then walked away as if to say, “Don’t quit your day job.”
- The Shih Tzu who was totally cool with putting a hoodie on but tried to bite me three times when I took it off.
- The Poodle who only wants to walk on the busiest, loudest streets and despises quiet, residential neighborhoods.
- The Golden Retriever who I couldn’t get more than a few feet without someone stopping to ask to pet him. He also wanted to chew every leaf in sight.
- The Tibetan Terrier who would only walk if the leash was in his mouth for the first couple of blocks and pulled me in each direction that he wanted to walk in.
- This Bernese Mountain Dog is only five months old and huge. (Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn)
- The Bernese Mountain Dog who took way too much pleasure in going into full Flo-Jo mode every single time a jogger went by. Her mind was blown when she saw a helicopter in the air.
- The Beagle who lost his mind and power-peed at the front door so he could get back upstairs to his owner.
- The Beagle Mix who’d suckered every single walker before me into giving him a treat every few steps he took out of his crate and on each block. I refused. He was pissed. He threw a tantrum. I mimicked his tantrum. He scowled at me and kept walking. He became my best friend when we returned from the walk, and I gave him all those treats I’d been storing in my pocket.
- The Schnoodle who left his home super clean, but decided to roll his entire body around in every single pile of leaves and sand at the beach. I had a lot of explaining to do when we came back home.
While nothing will stop me from continuing to pursue my love for writing, there’s something extra special about being a dog walker. It’s the only way I would happily race out the door at 7:30 a.m. and power walk to the beach. It’s the only time I’d put my fingers (my money makers) at risk to allow dogs to smell them and eat from them. And in 14 years of being a vegetarian, it’s the only way I’ll back down from touching a dead animal. (Hot dogs and ground sausage go a long way for some dogs.)
This weekend will be the first time I complete a Wag dog sitting assignment, and I almost want to dance in circles about hanging with a Labrador Retriever for three full days. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get him to dance with me too.