I’ve made over $160,000 dog sitting. If that sounds interesting read on.
I wrote about starting dog sitting six years ago. Now, I include it in all my monthly reports. Locally, I’m a more prolific dog sitter than blogger at this point with hundreds of reviews.
I fell into dog sitting by accident. We found that there were no overnight dog boarders in our area of Rhode Island which lead us to DogVacay, an AirBnB for dogs. (They later merged with their competitor, Rover.) Using Rover saved us money and it was more convenient. It took a couple of years to go from Rover customer to Rover host, our kids were 1 and -1 at the time. Now, they are 7 and 8 and junior dog experts earning tax-free income in their Roth IRAs.
What is Rover?
As I mentioned above, you can think of Rover as AirBnB for dogs. For many years, when families went on vacation they brought their dog to a kennel. A kennel might have just a small space for him/her that’s little more than a cage. I remember seeing my dog in one as a kid and I couldn’t believe that the dog spent a week like that. Maybe that’s the way things were in the 1980s?
There are pet hotels that offer a better experience than kennels, but the price for them can go way up. In California in 2010, DoggieVille cost us around $40-50 a night. (It’s up to $70 now.) Before finding Rover, we found a place in the Boston area that was $80/night because it was priced per dog pound. LuckyDog, which is the boarding in our area of Newport, Rhode Island charges $150 a night! That’s a combination of people getting pandemic dogs and catching up on missed travel now that they have vaccines. Newport is a big summer tourist trap, so prices on everything go up.
Rover’s price was much better. I think the experience is much better too. When we dropped off our dog for the first time, we barely got back in the car before we were being sent pictures. The dog hotels are good, but they still have a bunch of dogs to manage. I like the idea of my dog being in a home and a family.
Changing From Sittee to Sitter
While planning one of our vacations, my view of Rover changed. The military family who had taken my dog in the past got transferred to San Diego. There wasn’t anyone else nearly us with good reviews. We eventually found a great sitter 45 minutes away, but on the way to the airport. It worked out that time, but if we were going in another direction, it would have been a lot of driving.
I thought, “Why aren’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 dog sitter. I am known as a 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 (even before the COVID). So 90% of the time people know there will be someone with their dog. That sounds like a basic requirement, but there are a number of sitters who aren’t there during the day. It may work for some dogs (including mine), but having someone around almost all the time is more desirable.
If I wasn’t a dog sitter, why would anyone else be one?
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. By the middle of 2017, we had 236 “dog days.” It was a bit of a drop-off, but still good. Some of that may be due to DogVacay and Rover merging. Instead of being in two marketplaces, I was 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 put people with 5 reviews ahead of me with my 100 reviews even though that person lives farther away or has lower ratings.
This article was originally written in the middle of 2017. Now, it’s the middle of 2021 and we have 2,278 “dog days” which is very close to 1 dog per day. This only keeps track of overnights as dogs that come and leave for the same day count as 0 days in my spreadsheet. I think only about 15-20% of our dogs are day boarders, so keeping track of the overnights is the bulk. We take home about $35 per dog day after Rover expenses.
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 real answer is a lot more nuanced.
Pros of being a Rover dog sitter
There’s the obvious money aspect. I do more volume than most dog sitters. It would be hard to make career money out of it. As you can tell, I average around $12-15K a year and that’s in fairly optimal conditions. We lost about a year of sitting as COVID shutting down travel, which meant very little business. However, we’re making up for it now as we’ve had great demand and have been able to raise prices.
I’ve written about MLM a good amount on this website. As a comparison, I always say dog sitting 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 will ever be. Every MLM company I can think of makes money by selling the hopes of a business opportunity that is mathematically designed to fail.
Getting back to dog sitting, there’s the obvious dog aspect. If you love dogs, it is hard to beat to get paid to be around them. Some people get paid millions to play a game of baseball. I get paid much, much, much less to play with dogs… but playing with dogs.
I can also combine dog sitting with my other work from home. Most of the time dogs need fairly little maintenance. I can combine it with blogging and the customer service work I do. It allows me to earn two, albeit small, incomes at the same time. They combine to help me earn a decent income and give me a lot of time flexibility. Dog sitting can eat into that time flexibility as people want to drop off and pick up their dogs are certain times, but so far I’ve always been able to work it out.
Lastly, my kids are learning how to be good with animals. They’ve gotten a lot of it from just our own dog, but with new breeds and new temperments coming in, they have quite the variety. I give them some small tasks like play fetch with a dog, keep another busy while I’m working with this dog, and cleaning up after the dogs (this is still a work in progress). They are learning some responsibility and I pay them as well put money in their Roth IRAs. Normally, it’s very hard for a kid to start a Roth IRA since the income has to be earned, but I can completely justify the amount of money I pay them for helping with my very legit small business. You can read more about dog sitting and kid Roth IRAs here.
Those are some very big pros.
However, it’s not all puppies and rainbows. Well, there are no 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. When I started, I was trying to feed our 2 and 3-year old at the same time. Their kid table is the perfect height for a dog to eat off of. Now that they are older, they can eat off a higher table, so it’s not so bad.
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 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 dog 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 of dog sitting 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. If you want that week of business, you have to be available. It’s easy for me to have five dogs during those busy times. Over the last couple of months with the COVID travel, we’ve averaged around 3-4 dogs a day.
Giving up a weekend to go visit family could mean the loss of a couple of hundred dollars in bookings as well. In the last couple of months, I wrote in my income report that we’ve taken a couple of vacations. I’ve certainly lost business because of that.
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, an antique automobile museum CEO, a New England Patriot, and a house flipper. I’m sure I’ve met other interesting people, but when a client drops off their dog, they don’t give you their resume.
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. Plus, it’s helpful for me to meet the dog as well. 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 a “false hustle” trap can be a problem.
If you’ve ever wondered why your dog sitter is expensive, these are some of the reasons.
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 a 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? If so, head on over to Rover and sign up.
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.
This article was originally written August 9, 2017. It was updated on July 26, 2021.