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Time-Outs for Dog Walkers: Vacations for Longevity

Have you taken a vacation recently? Do you have one planned? If you answered yes to either question, woo-hoo! (If you answered yes to both, double high five!) If you said no, this article is for you.

I’m concerned about the number of dog walkers I work with, teach, and talk to who don’t take regular vacations. Some don’t even take regular weekend days because they’re also pet sitting or boarding dogs in their homes. This worries me because I know that dog pros who don’t take down time don’t stay dog pros for as long as those who do. And I want you to enjoy what you do for a long time to come, serving as many dogs as possible over your career.

Dog walkers like to tell me all the reasons they’re unable to take vacations—that they can’t afford to, that they don’t want to let their clients and the dogs they walk down, that they fear losing clients. If you share any of these concerns, let me share how to get around these roadblocks so you can get some downtime.

Vacation Objection #1: I can’t afford to take a vacation
First, are you sure you can afford not to? Burnout is a real phenomenon in our industry. A lack of down time is a major contributor in the burnout we see in our consulting clients. So is financial stress. The good news is there are simple solutions that can solve both.

I’ve written and spoken often about the need to charge professional rates and protect revenue with professional policies that limit the losses that plague dog walkers from cancellations and inconsistent use of services. When you’re making more, and when your income is consistent instead of fluctuating widely from month to month, you can budget for time off.

Vacation Objection #2: My clients and the dogs need me
Yes, they do. That’s why you need to take a vacation. They don’t just need you today and tomorrow. They need you for the long haul. To be there for them not just now but down the line you must take care of yourself.

Dog walking is a physically demanding job. In addition to the need for downtime that anyone has in any profession, it’s important to factor in the wear and tear on your body of walking for hours every day, especially if you do so on concrete. Taking time off will keep your body in the game longer, too.

And don’t worry—your clients and the dogs will be fine without you for a week or two. It’s not having you at all that would be a problem. Think of it this way: Given that working people with school-aged children figure out ways to handle holidays, spring and summer breaks, and teacher in-service days, your working clients can absolutely manage without you while you recharge.

Vacation Objection #3: I’ll lose my clients
No, you won’t. We’ve been coaching dog walkers since 2003. Though most worried about this, I have yet to see a dog walker lose a client because she took a vacation. (And really, if a client did quit for that reason I don’t think that’s a client you really want.) The best part? How many of our dog walker clients have been pleasantly surprised, even blown away, by their clients’ support when they announce an upcoming vacation. They receive all sorts of lovely messages about how much they deserve it and how it’s about time. One of our client’s clients even gifted her their vacation cabin after learning the walker was planning a staycation to save money.

The point is, if you’re doing a good job taking care of your clients they’ll be happy to see you take care of yourself. And they’ll be there when you return, even more appreciative of what you do for them and their dogs.

How to take a vacation as a dog walker
Now that we’ve established that you really can take a vacation, let’s talk about how to make it happen. Here are your 5 steps:

  1. Raise your rates and fix your policies if needed so you can take time off without financial stress.
  2. Choose your dates and plan your down time. Just open your calendar and find a week far enough out that it isn’t already scheduled with appointments or sitting commitments or anything else. Block it out and promise yourself you won’t schedule anything into that space. Decide how you want to use that time. Will you stay home and relax? Visit a friend? Book a flight somewhere?
  3. Tell your clients. Let your clients know you’re taking a vacation, and give them your dates. Tell them you wanted to give them advanced notice so they have plenty of time to make arrangements. Do this in writing—it’s easiest, most efficient, and provides written details your clients can refer back to. If you have a safe way to offer alternate arrangements for them, that’s fine. But please don’t feel you have to do so. (Remember, if people can find care for their kids over spring break they can figure out what to do with their dog for a week, too.) I generally recommend not doing so unless you have a standing arrangement with another walker who knows your dogs, as it can be risky to send dogs out with someone who doesn’t know them well.
  4. Remind your clients. Schedule two or three notes into your calendar to remind yourself to remind your clients (again, in writing) about your upcoming vacation. One month, two week, and one week reminders work well.
  5. Go on vacation! That’s it. You’ve done your due diligence and now you get to go play and relax. Give yourself permission to enjoy your down time guilt-free, knowing you’ll be back in your best form, ready to give your best energy to your human and canine clients.