Who hasn’t dreamed about quitting their job to spend more time with their family or to pursue a personal passion? Two local entrepreneurs did just that, leaving the office behind to start their own dog-walking services. Now, they get to spend more time with their own pets while providing a service that helps others’ dogs lead happy, healthy lives.
“A good dog is a well-exercised dog,” says Rebecca Lawstuen, who left a corporate job to start Urban Tails Waggin’ nine years ago. She had been unhappy in her career for a while, but the “aha” moment came when she took her 3-year-old dog to agility training and learned that the trainer had left the corporate world to build a life around the animals she loves.
Six years ago, Jenny Louismet, owner of Dogs Dig Walking, was working a traditional 9-to-5 job, but missed her dogs, Nico and Pickle. “I noticed I have an affinity for other people’s dogs, not just ours,” she says. In May 2010 she left her job to start her own business.
A typical day for both Lawstuen and Louismet starts with checking emails for any last-minute schedule changes, then planning the day’s route based on client location and desired arrival time.
Louismet generally does group walks to the Battle Creek dog park, piloting a pack of up to six dogs to the off-leash park, where they spend an hour or so running and socializing.
Lawstuen usually does 8 to 12 individual walks a day, choosing routes that ensure her clients get plenty of exercise and stimulation. “Walking just around their neighborhood they’ll get bored, so I’ll take them to the park or down to the river.”
More than simply providing midday bathroom breaks, Lawstuen and Louismet help their clients become their best doggie selves. “Dogs are social animals,” says Louismet. “They tend to get destructive or depressed when left alone all day.” One of her clients, a German shorthaired pointer named Gunner, was initially a nervous, aggressive dog, having spent his entire life in a small dog-run before being adopted by his current owner. “Seeing him develop into a friendly, confident dog has been amazing,” Louismet says.
Both Lawstuen and Louismet carry business liability insurance and are certified in dog CPR and first aid. Louismet is also the only dog walker in the state to have completed the dog*tec dog-walking certification program, which provides additional training in canine communication and pack management.
The hardest part of the job, Lawstuen says, is losing a client that you’ve come to love to old age or a tragic accident. “Pets grab your heart and wrap it in their paws, and they take a little bit of it when they leave,” she says.
The deep bonds that Lawstuen and Louismet form with their canine companions are what make the job so special, and both recount tales of quirky clients, from a shiba inu that couldn’t pass an open car door without jumping in for a ride to an Irish wolfhound/Siberian husky mix named Colonel who was friends with every person and dog in his neighborhood.
“It’s just so much love,” says Lawstuen. “I have a big plastic tub full of nine years of Christmas cards and thank-you cards; I never received this many thank-yous in the 15 years I worked in corporate.”
Walking dogs in a city environment can be tough, but a few tips can help you navigate some common challenges.
- Keep moving. “Dogs like to work,” says Louismet. “Focus their energy on moving forward, finding the next smell.”
- Monitor triggers. “Bikers, runners or even strollers can trigger some dogs,” says Lawstuen. Know what makes your dog nervous and have a protocol for how to handle situations calmly.
- Learn the body language. “Dogs don’t speak English, but they have clear communication skills with each other,” says Louismet. Understanding the meaning behind their behavior can help you avoid problems.