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How a Freelancer Turned Dog Sitting Into a Successful Side Gig

July 26, 2018
Personal Finance
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In this series, NerdWallet highlights people with great side hustles. We share how they landed the gig, what they’ve learned and their tips for getting started.

Good news: Spending time with dogs can be as good for your bank account as it is for your soul.

Just ask Melanie Lewis, who has earned up to $2,500 a month from taking care of and walking dogs through Rover, a popular dog boarding and walking service. (She has over a hundred glowing reviews on the site.)

Lewis lives in Phoenix with her husband, 1-year-old son and two poodles, Rye and JoJo. She fell into dog sitting after leaving her full-time job as a director of a digital marketing agency to become a freelance writer.

“When I moved from a full-time income to a freelance-writing income, Rover gave me the flexibility to do what I wanted to do. It was a big freedom,” Lewis says.

She became a stay-at-home mom once her son was born, but dog sitting let her bring in money on the side. Here’s how she found success through Rover.

» MORE: 26 legitimate side hustles you can try

A typical day as a part-time dog sitter


In addition to the opportunity to hang out with dogs all day, Lewis loves the schedule — or lack thereof.

“I can work as much or as little as I want to during any given week,” she says.

When she first got started, she would host two or three dogs a week at her house and did five daily “drop-ins” (i.e., going to clients’ homes to feed, walk and/or play with their dog). She took a complete break for three months after her son was born, and now she has scaled back to a schedule of hosting one dog a week at her house.

Before she takes on a new pet owner, she’ll give them a tour of her home and address any food allergies and medications.

Throughout the day, she communicates with clients by texting updates and photos of their pets. She treats their dogs like her own, letting them roam around her big yard — and even swim in her pool during the summer — and she cuddles with them on the couch.

“I want my clients to feel really comfortable,” she says. “I work hard to make sure the dogs follow the same schedule they would have at home.”

Dog sitting as a business


Within a week of signing up for Rover at the end of 2015, Lewis had her first client. Rover helped her with marketing — including a photo shoot at her home — and surfaced her profile to potential clients. Rover pet sitters can set their own rates; the company keeps 20% of the fee.

At the height of her Rover career, she received five requests a day, was booked four to six weeks out and had to turn people away. Now, she’s scaled back to one dog a week, and she dog-sits about 14 to 21 days per month, making about $500 to $1,000 in that time.

About 75% of her bookings come from repeat clients. Her Rover income has gone toward home renovations, vacations, household expenses, child care and more.

However, she’s noticed that the field has been getting more competitive and it has become critical to develop a good rapport with clients.

“Even in my neighborhood, there are a few Rover sitters that weren’t there a year ago,” she says. “You have to offer a better level of service to set yourself apart.”

Tips for becoming a dog sitter/walker

Are you considering being a dog sitter or walker to earn extra cash? Here’s Lewis’ advice to make the most of it.

Build relationships. It’s not just about connecting with the pets — the best pet sitters will develop relationships with the owners and gain long-term clients. “You have to be an open person,” Lewis says. “I develop deep bonds with some of my pet parents. It’s very personal for someone to leave their pet with you.”

Don’t let a small apartment deter you. You may not have spacious digs or a large backyard, but you can still make it work. “It’s less about the space and more about how much time you’re able to invest in the dogs you’re hosting,” says Lewis, who recommends checking out nearby dog parks and green spaces before you commit to dog sitting.

Understand the significance of what you’re doing. It takes a lot for people to trust their dog with a stranger, and it’s important not to take that responsibility lightly. “It might seem like a little thing to play with their dog, but to the pets and their owners, you’re making a big impact,” Lewis says.

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