Why Pet Sitters Get Burnt Out and How to Prevent It
Let’s talk about burnout. When I first started my business, I never thought it could happen to me. However, 2-3 years of running my pet sitting business, burnout hit me hard.
I was aiming for more than a full time income, doing the majority of the visits myself, and I had major issues with new hires not working out.
When I took into account the goals I had for my company, I knew I would either need to figure these things out, or I would have to go back to working for someone else. The stress was enormous, but luckily my team and I found solutions that work and I’m happy to share them with you, because nobody should get burnt out doing a job they love.
Will Burnout Happen to You?
If you only plan to take on a few clients, you don’t need a full time income, and you are careful to block out time when your clients can’t book pet sitting visits, you might never get burnt out.
On the other hand, if you are looking to grow an agency style business that has hundreds or even thousands of clients, you are going to need a team to help you with the visits, otherwise you are sure to experience burnout.
What Causes Pet Sitter Burnout?
Some common issues that cause professional pet sitters to get burnt out are:
- Shooting for too high of an income and doing all of the work yourself
- Working 7-days per week, with no separate AM or PM shifts
- Private dog walks are more in common than group dog walks
- Taking on every single client that calls, even though they are throwing up red flags
- Not scheduling your sales calls
- Trouble with hiring and setting expectations with your team
- Not setting boundaries between your personal life and work life
- Not charging enough for your services
- New pet sitting business owners are not getting coaching or advice from veteran pet sitters
Luckily there are solutions to each one of these issues and this article will share solutions for both:
- Agency style pet sitting companies
The world needs great pet sitters! So, keep at it and don’t let this list scare you away from the industry. If you follow our guides, get certified (shameless plug) and reach out to other sitters & experts for advice, you will grow a successful pet sitting and dog walking business of your own.
Problem #1 - Shooting for Too High of an Income and Doing All of the Work Yourself
Many people see books or posts on social media that claim they can make 100K per year from dog walking. However, some important details are often left out. What pet sitters usually find out later is that these people are either working 80-100 hours per week or they have a huge team and have been in business for 15-25 years.
I don’t recommend shooting for a 6-figure bottom line income as a solo sitter because overworked pet sitters have a high probability of putting themselves and the pets in their care in danger.
Some of the most successful pet sitting and dog walking companies I talk to make around 70K per year. Again, those companies have large teams and have been in business for a very long time, usually more than 15 years.
When I was a solo-sitter, I made between 40K and 50K per year and was working way too much, around 60-70 hours and 7-days per week. I got super burnt out and I knew if I wanted to keep my business running, I would need to hire a team.
Once I hired my team, I moved to working on my business part time. I make between 25K and 35K per year, and still have a lot of growth potential. I’m very happy with this income and I don’t plan to grow my company any more because I enjoy working part time and it allows me to pursue other passions, projects (like this one), and I enjoy the part time lifestyle.
Problem #2 - Working 7-days per week (am shift and pm shift) + No Sick Days
When I first started my company I thought, “I love animals so much, I’ll have no problem working 7-days per week at all hours during the day!”. I was able to keep that up for about two and a half years.
I was constantly worried I would not be able to cover my visits in the event of a family emergency or a health issue on my part. During those two and a half years I missed so many family events and weekends with friends, I knew I needed to do something different.
Again, I decided to take the step of hiring a team to help me and to give me time off. While it was difficult to find great sitters and train them, in the end it was worth it because I got the freedom and income I wanted from all of the hard work I put into building a business.
There are other options for solo-sitters which will be covered in the next sections.
AM Shift and PM Shift for a Team of Pet Sitters
If you have a team of sitters, a key step to take to reduce your burnout (and burnout across your team) is to split up the visits into an AM shift and a PM shift.
Be sure to give every member of your team (including yourself) two days off every week. This is key to reducing staff turnover and burnout.
Now, I take the weekends (or Wednesdays and Thursdays) off and I feel like I have a normal life again. Check out the article in the link below for a full explanation of how we schedule sitters:
Options for Solo-Sitters
If you are a solo sitter that requires a higher income, does not want to get burnt out but you also don’t want to hire a team, there are options for you.
You could consider only doing weekday dog walks and cat sitting. Dog walks are good consistent income and you don’t have to offer this service on the weekends. So, you will have recurring revenue from the dog walks and only pet sitting visits on the weekends.
You could also think about only offering cat sitting and not taking on any dogs. Most people get started as a pet sitter to play with dogs, but they quickly find out just how awesome cat sitting visits are. They pay the same and are 10 times easier than a dog sitting visit. Plus the hours are better because cat sitting generally does not require a bedtime visit, so you can relax and turn off in the evening once your dog walks and cat sitting visits are done.
Of course, if you don’t take on dog sitting visits, you will be turning down a lot of income. So, it’s up to you to decide what works best for you and your income needs.
Solo-sitters can also choose to block out one or two weekends every month and communicate to your clients upfront that you don’t offer pet sitting service during those times.
If you block out certain dates, you may not be able to take some of the more demanding clients, but if you are good at negotiating and communicating your needs with clients, this can be a beneficial way to build a sustainable company without the headache of hiring and managing a team – while still getting the time off you need.
Problem #3 - Group Dog Walks Make More Money, but Private Dog Walks are Safer and More Common
When I first started my company I had the photo of Daniel Radcliffe walking seven or eight dogs through New York City stuck in my head. I thought, each one of those clients are paying $20-30 for their walk. So, Mr. Radcliffe is making $200 in the hour or two it takes to complete the walk. If I could set something like this up, I’d never have to “work” again!
Unfortunately, I was mistaken. First of all, group dog walks are not very common outside of large cities. In my town of 170,000 people, group dog walks are not very popular at all. Rather, when dogs are very good around other dogs, clients tend to drop off their dogs at doggy daycare. Even though doggy daycare tends to encourage bad behavior and private dog walking is a superior service.
If every dog walker could make an entire day’s income within an hour or two of walking a huge group of dogs all at once, I don’t think burnout would be an issue in our industry. Also, if you can get this model to work in your area, more power to you! However, walking eight dogs at a time can turn into a real mess, real fast.
It’s not recommended to walk more than three dogs at a time. Further, if any of the dogs in your care have reactivity issues, you are likely going to need to walk just the one dog at a time.
Is a Transport Van the Solution to Dog Walking Burnout?
Some dog walkers will buy a transport van and deck it out with kennels and gear they can use to pick up dogs and bring them all to the dog park for an hour or two. This leads to more income in less time because each client is paying for their dog to be there.
The only downside is that not everyone can afford to buy a transport van and depending on your area, group trips to the dog park might not be a popular service. However, this type of service seems to be more popular in Europe or in rural areas of the US. I would love to hear more about this style of service in the comments section below!
Problem# 4 - Taking on every single client that calls, even though they are throwing up red flags
Demanding clients are one of the biggest reasons for burnout. Pet sitters and dog walkers tend to be naturally helpful people, so it can be hard for us to say “No.” to a client.
But, it is critical you only take on good clients that treat you with the respect you deserve as someone who is offering a professional service.
Check out this article for a deep dive into understanding and spotting red flags when onboarding new clients:
Problem# 5 - Not scheduling your sales calls or using other automations
One thing that used to burn me out were all of the sales calls I would get while I was either at a visit or working on something else. Now, I schedule all of my sales calls.
I screen my calls to make sure I am answering any call from a current client, but I screen out sales calls. I do this with a phone system like 8X8 or Ooma (more info on phone systems for pet sitters here and here), but if you don’t have a phone system you can just save your clients phone numbers in your contacts and let numbers you don’t have saved go to voicemail.
When someone calls me on the sales line, I listen to their voicemail and if they seem like a good client, I’ll send them a text similar to this one to schedule a sales call:
This is Kyle with Paws at Home Pet Sitting and Dog Walking. I would love to get you set up with cat sitting visits!
It usually takes 20-25 minutes to get set up over the phone and cover all the details. Would 11:00am or 1:00pm on Monday or Tuesday work on your end? If that time does not work for you, could you send over a few times that work for you? I’m usually free in the late mornings and early afternoons each weekday besides Thursday.
Let me know what works for you 🙂
All the best,
Paws at Home
I love scheduling my sales calls because it eliminates all of the phone tag.
I’ll admit, even after I hired a team I was still feeling burnt out because of all the random sales calls I would get. Once I started scheduling sales calls, I felt like I finally had control over my schedule again.
I’m also really excited to see that Mikaela from Pet Marketing Unleashed is developing a course that is all about establishing boundaries and setting up systems that will help reduce burnout.
As of April 2022, this course is still in development, but I will keep the link below updated as more information about this course comes out.
Click here for the details about the Burnout course from Pet Marketing Unleashed.
Problem# 6 - Trouble with hiring and setting expectations of the job for new staff
A lot of solo-sitters try to hire staff but give up because it’s so difficult to find good sitters, set expectations of the job, and train new sitters for every situation that could come up.
That’s why we created the PetSitterCourse.com team training and certification course and our hiring course.
If you are struggling to find and train new sitters and walkers, be sure to enroll in our certification course which teaches how to do the job of a professional pet sitter.
The certification course along with 10-20 shadow visits with a new hire will get them where they need to be.
Problem# 7 - Not setting boundaries between your personal life and work life
If you are taking sales calls, responding to texts or emails at all hours of the day (or even at night), you are putting yourself at risk of serious burnout. Set specific office hours and stick with them.
If you are sending picture message (group text message) updates from visits, consider switching over to the journal update features offered by Precise Pet Care or Time to Pet. When I moved away from group text messages it did wonders for my mental health.
Problem# 8 - Not charging enough for your services
Most sitters do not charge enough for their services. When you charge too low of a rate, it causes two problems:
- You don’t have enough margin left over to hire staff
- You need to put in more hours to cover your bills
When you charge what you are worth, it has a positive impact on every aspect of your business. In general you should raise your prices and test out your higer price during your sales calls until you start to lose about 20% of good client calls to your price being too high.
If everyone is pleased with your price, you are not charging enough.
Check out our article about pricing, and how to A/B test your prices until you reach a fit for your market here:
Problem# 9 - New sitters are not getting coaching or advice from veteran pet sitters
There are a ton of resources available to the industry. You don’t need to figure out everything on your own.
One of the keys to building a successful business is getting training and coaching during the start-up phase of your business, or as soon as possible so you can avoid the common mistakes most pet sitters make when they first get started.
Check out our article with a ton of free resources to help answer some of the most common questions pet sitters have:
Also, be sure to get a coach in the early stages of your company. There are many coaches available for professional pet sitters and dog walkers. My suggestion is to reach out to more than just one.
Each coach will give you a new perspective on how you can solve problems within your business.
Here is a list of the best pet sitting and dog walking business coaches available:
- Kyle Haubrich – PetSitterCourse.com Coaching
- Jean Brillman – Angel Pet Sitting
- Colleen Sedgwick – Pet Nanny Coach
- Gina Brugna – The Peaks Pet Nanny
- Kristen Morrison – Pet Business Academy
- Eliza Burr – The Pet Business Coach
Podcasts can be a great way to hear about what worked and what didn’t work for other pet sitters. One of my favorite podcasts is the Pet Sitter Confessional which offers loads of tips for anyone wanting to run a pet sitting business.
Lastly, a great way to get advice from experienced pet sitters is to reach out to other pet sitting businesses in a city similar to yours, but in a different state or region. It’s rare that you would ever become a competitor of a pet sitting company that is hundreds of miles away from yours, so other pet sitting business owners are usually very willing and excited to help out another pet sitting company.
Just be sure you don’t get all of your information about pet sitting and dog walking from Facebook. Many successful sitters have left the forms years ago because facebook can be toxic. There are a ton of pseudo-experts there that might have good advice sometimes, but can just as easily steer you in the wrong direction.
I would love to hear your tips!
Burnout is a serious problem in the pet industry. I hope the tips shared in this article are helpful for you, but I would love to hear your opinions in the comments below.
Also, if you have anything that helped you manage burnout in your company, please let us know what worked for you.
Thanks for reading,