Clarissa Dent is a professional dog walker and dog sitter based in South London. With a number of years experience, she has a wealth of knowledge about the industry, and tells us how she made the transition from a part-time dog walker, to a fully functioning, profitable business owner in the space of 12 months.
Clarissa’s goal is to provide your pets with loving and attentive care and she strives everyday to succeed in providing her human and pet clients with the best quality, stress-free service possible. Clarissa believes in systems and routines to make sure the dogs are safe and secure in their surroundings, her pet care expertise will ensure that your loved ones receive the best care possible while you are away!
What prompted you to start a dog walking and dog sitting business?
My brother in law runs a veterinary practice in Kensington, and from visiting from time to time with my own dog, I became aware of the huge demand for professional dog walkers and dog sitters. I was amazed at how many people require someone to look after their pet, for whatever reason it be, and saw the potential in turning a hobby, into something I could make a living from. As an avid dog lover, I have always been fond of dogs and have a dog myself, an Affenpinscher called Archie, who I walk everyday. So the transition into looking after somebody else’s dog seemed to come naturally, as I already had experience. I thought ‘how hard can it be’? From here, I started looking after friend’s dogs from time to time, and then later started to get recommendations from my brother in law, when people would ask him if he knew anyone to look after their dog. It naturally progressed to the point where I started to build up a client base and gain more and more confidence, and it occurred to me that this wasn’t just something I could do part time, if I focussed all of my attention to this, I could make serious money from doing something I love! And now, I couldn’t be happier, it has changed my life considerably.
What do you enjoy most about dog walking / sitting?
Well, what is there not to love about walking dogs through a grassy field on a summers day, with smiling faces looking up at you?! I enjoy the freedom it gives me, the outdoor lifestyle, but most importantly, the array of characters and personalities I get to deal with on a daily basis. Every dog is unique, every dog has it’s own quirks and nuances, and to be honest, I have a lot of fun, and I hope the dogs do too!
Are there any negatives of being a professional dog walker / sitter?
To be perfectly honest, I can’t say that there are many negatives at all! The only thing that I personally find is that I often get attached to other people’s dogs, and am sad to see them leave! Luckily for me, the majority of my clients are regular, so I get to see them all again!
Where are your favourite places to take dogs around the London area?
I generally tend to alternate between Battersea Park and Wandsworth common, both of which have large open spaces, but are also more than just a ‘patch of grass’ – the dogs can roam around and follow all of the natural smells and rummage around in the undergrowth, rather than just running around a field.
The pet sitting industry is growing immensely, do you think it will continue to grow and what will that growth mean to the industry?
I see and meet more and more people every day who are doing this for a living. I used to be one of the only ‘dog walkers’ on the common (apart from dog owners, of course!), but now there are many people who are profiting from this line of work. So, yes, I have seen the growth first hand, and it is a real boost to the economy, and a boost to general self esteem, as more and more people have the ‘get up and go’ to make money in a tough financial climate. This consequently results in more competition, but the industry itself is quite personal and friendly, not corporate and cut-throat, so I think people generally just get on with it. I never feel as though someone will ‘steal’ my clients, and it’s always a pleasure to stop and talk to other dog walkers and sitters and share experiences with them.
How does a dog walker / sitter manage different dogs, all with different characters and temperaments?
I don’t think there’s a definite answer to this question, as no two dogs are alike. From my experience, structure is paramount, I believe routine and consistency when caring for any pet is really important, so the dogs familiarise themselves and feel comfortable from the start. I tend to ask the owners details about feeding times and walk times, and generally try to stick to what the dog is used to, therefore preventing the likelihood of any abnormal behaviour due to changing the dog’s routine. Remember, no two dogs are the same, so never presume you know how the dog will behave, try to get as much information from the owner as possible, as they know their dog better than anyone.
What sets you apart from other dog walkers / sitters?
Well, I think my years of experience definitely work in my favour, as I have built strong working relationships with my clients, and trust is the most important thing in this industry. People feel safe leaving their dog with me, and I feel confident that I will take good care of them and return them safely and happily to their owners. Also, I feel the family connections with the Veterinary Practice give added security to my clients, as if anything did happen, I have a professional to turn to – thank god it has never come to that but it’s good to know!
What advice do you have for dog owners who are using a dog walker / sitter for the first time?
Ask, ask and ask again! Never feel embarrassed to ask as many questions about the person who is looking after your dog. Ask for references, whether they have insurance and speak to their previous clients in person, as this is the best way to find out about their experience. Don’t always go for the cheapest option, as this may not always be the best. Think about WHAT kind of person and environment you want your dog to be in…some sitters board many dogs at a time, others offer a more personal, private service where your dog may get more one-on-one time. This is up to you, so think about it and try to find the appropriate person for your dog.
What advice can you give to people thinking about starting their own dog walking / sitting business?
I would say go for it, you have nothing to loose! But remember, it’s a full time job that requires skill, patience and commitment. Not everybody can do it, you may think ‘looking after dogs is easy’, which to a certain extent, it can be, but there is a difference in walking someone’s dog as a one off, and running a professional business. There is no room for complacency, you have to be attentive and confident that people can rely on you. You have to give each and every dog the same amount of love and care, unconditionally. After all, the success of your business is down to your reputation, if you start to get slack, this will affect your ability to care for a dog and will show through. People will not feel comfortable leaving their beloved pet in your care. Lastly, enjoy it and have fun! Not everyone gets the opportunity to care for such amazing animals, so respect that and get the most out of it as you can. My philosophy is “I’m doing something I love, and the money comes second”, not the other way around.
Lastly, please can you share a story from your dog walking career?
There are so many to choose from! One story, however, seems to stick with me – I was looking after a small Jack Russell for a week, and took her out to the countryside with my own dog to visit family, who happen to have chickens. After a glorious walk, we returned back and the dog somehow found her way through the chicken fencing to the horror of my sister! Unfortunately, she made the most of this experience and killed one of the chickens! Lets just say my sister was not best pleased….not as pleased as the dog anyway!
Visit Clarissa’s profile on Dog Walkers City here, or visit her website at: www.dogsittingsouthwestlondon.com
Would you answer any of these questions differently? Or do you have anymore questions you’d like us to ask Clarissa? Let us know in the comments…
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