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Size Doesn’t Have to Matter: How To Compete With Online Dog Walking Services

We’ve been hearing a lot of concerns about the continued growth of online on-demand dog walking services among our Dog Walking Academy graduates and business consulting clients. These concerns include worries about the physical safety and emotional well being of dogs whose guardians choose these services, as well as worries about the impact they may have on small professional dog walking companies.

Impact on the dogs
We share these concerns for the dogs. It’s worrisome indeed to see dogs picked up by strangers with little knowledge of them and little or no professional dog walking knowledge or skill. The lack of regulation in our emerging industry means no education requirement or bar to pass. And unfortunately, our lives lived with dogs and our love for them too often leave us believing we already know everything there is to know about dog behavior.

But as any Dog Walking Academy graduate can share, whether she attended in the beginning of her career or well into it, there is much to learn (and to unlearn!) about these creatures we hold so dear. In fact, true dog professionals commit to a lifetime of canine study. The hubris of thinking we know it all leads not only to everyday frustrations (Why is he doing that? Why can’t I get him to stop? Why can’t I get her to do this?), but also terrible tragedies of lost, injured, or deceased dogs, not to mention the use of damaging and unnecessary punishments that could be easily be avoided with the acquisition of better training skills. And then there are just the daily stresses so many of these dogs will be exposed to without their walkers understanding what’s taking place.

Impact on your business
On the business side, the impact of online dog walking services may not be as worrisome as it seems. There are always going to be clients in any industry who seek out the cheapest services. If you’re charging a professional rate these clients were unlikely to become yours even before the advent of on-demand dog walking. Today they simply have a choice between a fellow dog pro who charges less or one of the online services that have cropped up in the last few years.

Either way, from a business perspective you don’t want these clients. Remember that you and your business can serve only a finite number of dogs. To stay in business for the long haul, you want to walk dogs whose people are willing to pay your professional rates.

Because there are also always going to be clients in any industry who seek out the best services, who choose their service providers based on credentials, education, experience, and professionalism. These clients will generally choose service providers with higher rates, assuming as we do culturally that those rates signal a higher end option. These clients will never choose an on-demand service, regardless of price.

And there is one upside to the emergence of these online dog walking services: Their marketing is raising awareness of dog walking, and encouraging more people to consider it. Some dog lovers, having become more aware of dog walking as an option, will do their homework and hire you first. Of those who try an on-demand service, many will soon realize their mistake and go looking for a professional alternative. Many of our clients and grads report already seeing this phenomenon in their businesses.

What you can do to help your business and the dogs
All that said, we worry about the damage done to dogs in the meantime, and the safety risks and stress many will experience on an ongoing basis. We worry about the liability risk those dogs’ owners are being exposed to, too. If you worry about these things, and if you still worry about your own business, here’s what you can do to help: Use your marketing as a public community education tool.

While there are dog guardians who will prioritize finances and convenience over their dogs’ well being, we believe that many people using online dog walking services would not do so if they understood the choice they were making. Focus your marketing on these clients, and on those already poised to choose the best for their dogs.

Here are just a few community education marketing project ideas:

  • If you’re a Dog Walking Academy graduate, use the brandable How To Choose A Dog Walker handout created for you and get it into local vet clinics and pet supply stores. (You can find this handout on the private DWA Grads Facebook page.)
  • Add a blog post or page on your website about the same topic.
  • Write an article about how to choose a dog walker for a local paper or magazine.
  • Put out a quarterly print newsletter, including articles each quarter about how to choose a dog walker, what a professional dog walker should know, the nature of our unregulated industry and what that means, and other topics that show off your expertise.
  • Reach out to local dog trainers, asking them to speak to this topic on their own blogs, to their clients and students, to their referral sources, in their own newsletters, talks, etc.
  • Get involved in local work like dog park clean ups (and bring plenty of those handouts) to build local brand loyalty over remote services.

If every educated, professional dog walker engaged in marketing aimed to inform well-meaning dog lovers about the risks involved in using online services, we’d put a sizeable dent in the problem. Though no small dog walking business has the capital and bandwidth to compete directly with a “big boy” service, we’re powerfully large banded together. And while you’re doing your part to contribute to this larger education movement, you’re also informing local dog lovers about your professional services as an alternative, and why you are so very worth the extra expense.