Confessions of a Vancouver dog walker

Kathryn McGregor says it’s a great job—as long as you know what you’re getting into

March 9, 2016

By Trevor Melanson / Photo: Kathryn McGregor

Kathryn McGregor is a career dog walker. She took on the job two years ago after dabbling with dog walking part-time, and since making the leap to full-time McGregor says she’s “never looked back.” Which isn’t to say that dog walking is all kibble and Frisbees. We spoke with McGregor for an inside look at her occupation—one she believes is on the rise in Vancouver.

What’s a typical day for you like?

A whole lot of walking. I start out my mornings with a couple private walks, then I do group walks afterward and sometimes an evening walk. I work all day, every day. It’s a lot of dog stuff.

Does all the rain we get here dampen things a little?

It doesn’t really phase me. To be honest with you, I enjoy it because there are fewer people out, and the dogs tend to put their heads down and go, okay, let’s get this done. So the walks tend to be smoother on those days.

Do you have not-so-smooth days?

If you were to ask any dog walker, I can guarantee you everyone’s gone through something where our hearts sank…. For me personally, having people whistle or call my dogs when they’re off in a distance can be frustrating. I am able to control my dogs, but it can be a pain when people are off in the distance yelling, “Oh, your dogs are really cute! Come here, come here!” and you’re trying to control your pack.

dogwalkerHave you ever gotten hurt?

I have fallen over once. I had four dogs, and of course the smallest ones are always the most vocal. I saw a woman approaching with her dog, and I was trying to focus on my little one, and in doing that the other ones ended up going off in a different direction, and I ended up falling over.

I’ve only been actually injured once on the job. It was with a new client whose dog was aggressive. The dog ended up biting me and since has been put down. Not because of me but because, unfortunately, they couldn’t get him to mellow out. It comes with the territory. Working in this industry, at some point in time it’s bound to happen. But for the most part, it runs pretty smoothly. Part of that is assessing the dog and knowing what kind of dog you have.

And I’m sure you have many positive experiences too.

If you let them, dogs can teach you a thing or two. They teach you to live in the moment. Dogs are very in the present. And they teach you patience. I love what I do because every day I come to work and you have a tail that’s wagging, so you don’t have to deal with office gossip or office drama. They’re always happy to see you.

Where do most of your clients live? What parts of town are popular with dogs?

I find Olympic Village is really concentrated. I’ve got quite a few dogs in Olympic village as well as, I’d say, Kits. With Kits, you’ve got more houses, so it’s easier for people to have dogs, and landlords seem more open to letting people rent there with dogs.

What breeds are popular in Vancouver?

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of French Bulldogs and Labradoodles. Frenchies are definitely little tanks, and they love to pull.

Do you walk big dogs too?

I know there are a lot of dog walkers, especially in Yaletown, who will only take little dogs. For me, I take a range. The smallest one being a Miniature Dachshund, the largest being a St. Bernard. I’m all for all types, all breeds, all sizes. It’s definitely easier to walk a group of small dogs. I welcome the business and I love all breeds, so it doesn’t really phase me.

Speaking of the business, how many people do you estimate do this for a living in Vancouver?

I’m pretty new in the industry, and looking at the field I feel like it’s really growing. It’s funny because I think this city goes in little waves sometimes. Like at one point in time everybody was an actor, and then everybody was a real estate agent, and now everybody is a dog walker. I think it’s definitely growing. There’s room for new walkers. It’s a great industry. I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. I think people are picking up on the fact that you can make a business out of walking dogs, and you can do it more on a part-time basis. And it’s a mild climate that we have in this city.

Do you see yourself walking dogs indefinitely?

I am getting up there in age. I’d love to keep going as long as I can. It’s a very physically demanding job, though. There are some walkers who walk holding the leashes. I attach them to carabiners around my waist because I feel like my hips are a lot stronger. Also for safety reasons—to make sure they aren’t going anywhere. But you walk three to five hours daily. It can be really physically demanding. I also do boot camps and yoga on top of it so I can stay on my game and be strong. But at the end of the week, I’m ready for a nap, for sure.

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