A few days ago, I got an email from a “Community Marketing Manager” with Rover.com. It was a generic pitch that I’m sure a number of personal finance bloggers got.
I got a chuckle when I read, “Did you know that being a dog sitter or dog walker on Rover.com is a great way to make extra income?” I have been writing about my dog sitting gig for awhile now. I include it in all my monthly reports. It’s a little like asking LeBron James if he knew about this basketball sport. Okay, that’s an over-exaggeration. I don’t expect marketing people to read through dozens of articles on hundreds of blogs.
So we talked and she asked if I’d be willing to write about my experience with Rover. It seemed to me that this was clearly a sponsored post situation, because I’d be doing the marketing for them. However, because I love the dog sitting business, I asked for a tiny fraction of what I’d normally charge. So yes, this is a sponsored post, but these are my own thoughts after 2 years of experience.
What is Rover?
I describe Rover as AirBnB for dogs. For many years, when families went on vacation they brought their dog to a kennel. A kennel might have a just a small space for him/her. There are also pet hotels that offer a better experience, but the price for them can go way up. A few years back, DogVacay.com and Rover brought an alternative… people offering their own homes through an online marketplace.
When we moved from San Francisco to Boston and Rhode Island, we found that there were no reasonable pet hotels. I think the place in San Francisco charged around $40/night. In the Boston area it was $80/night because it priced per dog pound. (It was a real “meat market.”) After a little research we found DogVacay, where the prices where around $35/night. We read all the outstanding reviews and decided to give it a shot.
We barely got back in the car before we were being sent pictures. It was much better than our experience with the dog hotels.
And that was the end of my DogVacay story for a long time.
Changing From Sittee to Sitter
While planning one of our vacations, my opinion changed. The military family who had taken my dog in the past got transferred to San Diego. We had a mishap with the next closest person. Finally there was great sitter 45 minutes away. The only problem was the location. If we were going in another direction, it was a lot to go 1.5 hours out of your way.
I thought, “Why weren’t there any dog sitters near me!” The answer hit me in the face, “Because I’m not a dog sitter myself.” I am an ideal sitter. As I wrote in my About page, I am known as the local dog whisper at the local dog parks. However, we also have a sizable fenced-in yard that is a rare commodity. For some reason people tend to use electric fences in my area.
Lastly, I work from home. So 90% of the time people know there will be someone with their dog. That sounds basic, but there are a number of sitters who aren’t there during the day. It may work for some dogs (including mine), but surely someone who is around more is more desirable.
I created profiles on both DogVacay and Rover and people started to contact me. It trickled in at first in 2015, but as I got more reviews, my location, and offering stood out from the pack. In 2016, we had 566 “dog days”, which is about 1.5 dogs per day. So far in 2017, we have 236 “dog days.” It’s a bit of a drop-off. I think some of that may be due to DogVacay and Rover merging to become just Rover. Instead of being in two marketplaces, I’m now in one. Sure some of the DogVacay clients moved over, but maybe not all. And now I’m competing in one pool where I don’t stand out as much. Rover consistently puts people with 5 reviews ahead of me with my 100 reviews even though that person lives farther away or has lower reviews.
Pros and Cons of Being a Rover Dog Sitter
I didn’t intend for the introduction to go so long, but finally we get the point I wanted to cover in the article. Many people are wondering if dog sitting is right for them. Perhaps they’ve had the thought about Uber or AirBnb. I’m going to presume that if you are asking this question, you are comfortable with dogs. No one says, “I think I should be an Uber driver, but first, I need to get a car and learn how to drive. Plus I am afraid of cars.”
The easy answer is whether you should be a dog sitter is: NO!!! I don’t need any more competition! (I hope everyone sees that as the joke it was meant to be).
The reason answer is a lot more nuanced.
Pros of being a Rover dog sitter
There’s the obvious money aspect. I’m not going to go into my specific numbers, but from what I’ve written you can come up with a ballpark figure. I’m more high-volume than most dog sitters. (I write that having had only one dog for one day so far this week.) It would be hard to make career money out of it, but I always say it beats the heck out of selling MLM crap like DoTerra, Beachbody Shakeology, and Le-Vel Thrive. With MLM, more than 99% of people lose money. With Rover I was more profitable on the first day than they’ll ever be.
There’s the obvious dog aspect. If you love dogs, it is sweet to get paid to be around them. Some people get paid millions to play a game of baseball. I get paid much, much, much to play with dogs. Much less. But playing with dogs.
Lastly, I can combine it with my other work from home. Most of the time dogs need fairly little maintenance. It allows me to earn two, albeit small, incomes at the same time.
Those are three very big pros.
However, it’s not all puppies and rainbows (or rainbows at all).
Cons of being a Rover dog sitter
There are times where being a dog sitter is hectic. If you have a few dogs, feeding them can take some time. You have to keep them all separate and only eating their own food. Dogs are most likely to fight over food. Also this is around the time where I’m trying to feed our 3 and 4 year old. Their kid table is the perfect height for a dog to eat off of. So I manage a couple of different rooms. If I have spare time, I make my wife and myself dinner as well. (We eat different things than the kids, because our food isn’t “kid-friendly.”) This isn’t a dog sitting problem, but it is another level complexity.
We found out early on that when one dog pees on a rug, another dog will as well. It’s very difficult to clean the rug to the point where another dog won’t pick up the scent and start the cycle all over. Poop isn’t as bad as it usually sits on top and can be picked up. We ended up tearing up our carpet downstairs and putting some waterproof vinyl composite flooring from Home Depot. We got a a new leather couch that was easier to clean from muddy paws.
We have all sorts of minor damage to the house. There was the dog that scraped at our cabinets. There was the dog that scraped at the door. Our lawn isn’t in the best shape due to all the poop, pee, and occasional digging. At any given time, I could construct four Great Danes out of the spare hair on our floors.
So just like an Uber driver might consider the wear and tear on his/her car, you might consider the wear and tear on your home.
The next con would be your time. Dog sitting is in demand during the summer, on the weekends, and during holidays. Do you like to do things with your family during those times? Or do you want to be available as a dog sitter? It may sound easy to say, “Oh I’ll take family every time.” I’ve found that being available for major holidays could be worth up to $1000. It’s not just that one day, but people go away for a whole week and holiday rates apply. It’s easy for me to have 5 or more dogs during those busy times.
Giving up a weekend to go visit family could mean the loss of a couple hundred dollars in bookings as well. The last couple of months, I wrote in my income report that we’ve taken a couple of vacations. That’s a big reason why we’ve had fewer dogs this year.
One more con is dealing with the dog owners. A vast majority of them are great. However, just like anywhere else in life, there are always a few who are a little off. I think most animal trainers will tell you that the real trick is training the owners. Again, this is a very small percentage. To be fair, I’ve met some interesting dog owners including a handbag CEO, a New England Patriot, and a house flipper.
The last con is the “false hustle” trap. Someone initiates a booking with you. You explain why the dog will be a good fit and accept the dog. Then they say, “Oh, I booked with someone else.” This happens a lot with Rover because they immediately show competing dog sitters after someone creates a request. In an extreme case like this past Saturday, I had it happen to me 3 times in a span of 30 minutes. One of them even thanked me for my quick response… while they went with another sitter. That’s a lot of productivity for zero money.
It can be worse with Meet and Greets. These are when dog owners schedule a visit to see the place before booking. Being a blogger, I’m not very big on scheduling things. However, I understand the need and do the same for my own dog. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes I’ll spend 30 minutes with a Meet and Greet and the person won’t book. Usually because it’s their plans changed (or at least that’s what they tell me to be nice).
Sometimes I do freelance writing and I know a lot of other bloggers who do as well. They bake into their price things like invoicing, buying their own health care, and things of that nature. When dog sitting rates are around $40/day (in my area), it’s easy to see how losing an hour to “false hustle” trap can be a problem.
On the other hand, you never know if the next request is going to be a regular client. Regular clients are tremendous because you know their dogs extremely well and you know the owners well. I can accept booking in less than 15 seconds with a one-liner of “Happy to have Fluffy back again!”
Do you think dog sitting could be right for you? Maybe it isn’t a good fit for your particular life circumstances now, but what if you were able to do some work from home, freelance, or do it as a second act in “retirement”? Let me know what you think in the comments.