Before I could receive my trauma recovery certification, I was required to put together a detailed self-care program. Coaching is extremely rewarding, but as a trauma survivor, I am high-risk for re-traumatization and triggering. In addition to regular yoga and cycling classes, weekly massages, journaling and creative writing, I wanted something that involved connection. Being a Mom to Luca provides me with a sense of purpose and brings me great comfort. It was a no-brainer: I would walk dogs as part of my self-care routine.
Not only would it be a lucrative revenue stream to add to my coaching and singles event planning businesses, but I’d be spending time with dogs. It was a no-brainer.
Despite the negative press Wag (and Rover) have received in the past, I downloaded the app and applied. “If anything,” I thought, “They need competent, honest, responsible people to handle these puppers.”
Wag!’s process for getting gigs was simple. Owners book a request through the app, the job is pushed out, and walkers get notifications alerting them to available jobs. Once a walker taps the request button on a job, an algorithm decides if you’re accepted. (Your number of completed walks, performance rating, and your frequency of requesting a cover for your assigned walks all factor in to the algorithm.) Once you’re assigned a walk, you’re given access to notes about the dog written by owners as well as previous walkers. (Are they street eaters? Do they walk fast or slow? Are they aggressive?)
Colt, a glossy-coated black lab, was the perfect choice for my first walk. The scheduled thirty minutes flew by, thanks to Colt’s playful nature. He sniffed, chased leaves, and watched ducks swim across a small pond near his home. I took him back to his owner and I was on my way. A few hours later, I had my first five-star rating.
Wag! is a lot like a dating app without the swiping. When you tap that request button on a job, you get a rush when the text arrives letting you know you’ve been chosen to walk that particular dog. Unlike Tinder or Bumble, there’s little to no ghosting or being unmatched out of nowhere. Instead of your match leading to rejection and frustration, you’re met with face licks and furry-pawed handshakes.
You’re also just a wee bit terrified. There’s no risk of your date wriggling out of their leash and dashing into the street or biting a tiny human. At the end of that leash is someone’s entire heart, the source of their immeasurable joy and affection, possibly their only companion in this life. The stress level of walking a stranger’s dog compared to that of a first date is unmatched. Side hustles like this are equal parts rewarding and anxiety-inducing, for good reason.
There’s been a number of worst-case scenario stories in the news about dogs getting lost or mauling other pets. As walkers, we’re committed to protecting your pet. However, we can only do so much. Out of the fifty plus dogs I’ve encountered in my short time as a Wag! Walker, I can think of no less than ten incidents where I’ve entered a situation that was grossly misrepresentative of the aforementioned notes provided. Like a real estate agent trying to unload a run-down apartment, many owners use misleading descriptors to mask a dog’s problematic behaviorial issues.
Gus can be shy around strangers. Just give him some of the kibble I left in a plastic bag on the table! Kthanx byeeee!
Translation: My dog suffers from anxiety issues and will hide under the bed and growl at you when you reach for him.
Phoebe can be a little stubborn.
Translation: You will spend the entire sixty minutes two feet from my stoop trying to get her to move.
The worst are the parents who not only aren’t upfront about their dog’s bad behavior, but are willfully blind to it or don’t care.
Pickle doesn’t like big dogs. She can be a bit of an Alpha.
Translation: Pickle will bare teeth and lunge at any dog that crosses her path, so don’t take your eyes off her for a nano-second. I can’t be bothered to fit her for a basket muzzle or get her proper training. Godspeed!
I’ve shown up at apartments here in NYC where dogs were wearing too-big harnesses and collars, even though previous walkers have written copious notes about the dangers of the ill-fitting accessories. Situations like these are four-legged liabilities. Even if multiple walkers complain, Wag! won’t remove the dog from the app. There’s been a push by walkers to gain access to notes before they request a walk for this reason. We need to know if our experience level is an appropriate fit before accepting a job.
In October of 2019, Wag! instituted a policy stating any walker that maintains less than a 4.75 out of 5.0 overall rating will be deactivated. This was done to ensure higher-quality service, an admirable pursuit, but entirely unfair to the walker. One four star rating from an owner can ding your perfect five star rating down a tenth or two of a point. You then require half a dozen additional five star ratings to raise it up again. Equifax isn’t even that strict. I’ve watched requests appear on that app for close to an hour, unheard of in a competitive market like Manhattan where the longest a job stays available is less than a couple of minutes. There’s two main reasons that happens: either the dog has a bad reputation or the owner does. (There are city/neighborhood-specific forums on various platforms where walkers share stories about bad doggies and star-stingy owners.)
Walker's biggest grudge? Owners that don't tip. Those forums I mentioned a second ago? They're full of information about misbehaving dogs and their parents. Allow me to clear any confusion about when one should include a tip on top of a fee paid for a service: always. After taxes, walkers receive maybe nine to ten of the twelve dollars Wag! pays for a thirty-minute walk. (We receive eight dollars and fifty cents for a twenty minute walk and eighteen dollars for a sixty-minute one.) If I were to leave Luca in the care of someone else, I’d want the best, most reliable, most caring of walkers.
To turn an over-used phrase: you get what you pay for. Please remember that the next time you book someone to walk, sit or board your pup.