DOGS HAVE BECOME BIG BUSINESS. How to cash in.
By Julie Reardon
Not happy with your job and love dogs? It seems appropriate during the “Dog Days of Summer”, to check out the many opportunities available to make money from the pet industry, dogs in particular. Now more than ever, people love their dogs, consider them family and are willing to spend whatever it takes to keep them happy and healthy. It goes without saying that many costs associated with pet and particularly dog ownership, have gone up as people demand more goods and services; veterinary care has skyrocketed in the past 10 or 15 years.
But lest you think veterinarians are getting rich at you and your dog’s expense, the increased cost is because big health care has taken note and small practices owned by vets are getting bought up by large corporate entities at an alarming rate. Unlike veterinarians who spent 7 or 8 years at vet school and doing residencies because they love animals, the corporations are all about the profit so not just the care and diagnostics, but the drugs your pet is prescribed have gone up accordingly.
These increased veterinary costs have spawned a burgeoning pet health insurance business. Many companies, even those that primarily insure humans and their property, are getting into the pet insurance business. As with any insurance, it’s always wise to check the fine print of what is and is not covered and the limits of coverage. Most require upfront payment of veterinary services and reimburse you for them, some have annual or lifetime limits. It’s also wise to consider what kind of dog you have and what you might need the pet insurance for, to be sure those things are covered. For example, active working or competition dogs are at greater risk of cruciate ligament injuries which can run into the 5 digits for surgical repair and rehab; some dogs are prone to eat things they shouldn’t that might require obstruction repair surgery, and hobby breeders might need a Caesarian section if a birthing goes wrong or they own a bracycephalic breed that cannot whelp naturally. All of these can easily run into the thousands.
Many dog owners with jobs that are gone 8 to 10 hours a day depend on dog walkers to come take Fido on a walk for daily social interaction as well as a chance to get outside to do his business. Dog walkers that are trustworthy (they are coming into your house while you are away) and who get along with your dog and keep him happy can make a lucrative living taking care of others’ dogs full time. So can dog sitters, who come stay in your house to care for your pets while you’re gone for a weekend or vacation. For many, their dogs don’t fare well in boarding kennels so they prefer a dog sitter to a boarding arrangement. If a dog has not been crate or kennel trained, it may not do well shut in a chain link run all day. Even for those who just pay someone to come during the day and let pup out into your well fenced yard to air, there is the problem of poop accumulation. So yet another cottage industry has sprung up to take care of this need: doggy waste removal services. You can hire them to come clean the waste and keep your yard picked clean and tidy, making it smell nicer for your own use, cut down on flies and prevent infestation of worms and other nasties that thrive in animal waste.
An unfortunate side effect of people treating their dogs like fur children and not dogs and failure to socialize and train that dog according to principles of canine, not human, behavior, we now have an overabundance of dogs with behavioral issues like destructive chewing, separation anxiety and fear biting, along with reactivity to other dogs. To be sure, some of these problems may also stem from not knowing the past history of a rescued or shelter dog, and some, like dog on dog aggression, are more common in certain breeds than others, but more often they’re owner-created. Dogs do not need to befriend every dog they see in dog parks or on walks—they can all be taught polite indifference and indeed, many would rather not play or interact with dogs other than ones they live with or know well.
Enter the dog behaviorist, classroom instruction for canine good citizens, properly teaching recall and off leash work, and those willing to rehab difficult dogs with aggression or bite history. One local Western Loudoun County man successfully parlayed his talent with difficult dogs into a side hustle that led to a very successful business that is now franchised. Aaron Taylor is a U.S. Marine veteran who transitioned to police work with the Loudoun County sheriff’s office, where he became a K9 handler who trained and handled department K9s for the variety of tasks police dogs are used for. He’d had a lifelong interest in and talent for dog training, particularly the tough or difficult dogs and parlayed that into a side hustle of training and rehabbing problem dogs for their owners. He had built kennels for client dogs at his mountain farm in Bluemont, Va., where he already had an ideal set up for training and exercising his board and train pupils.
Taylor’s side hustle, Ridgeside K9, got good results even with notoriously tough breeds like Malinois and pit bulls, and he offered services not available elsewhere: transportation to and from his facility, tailored exercise programs and and follow up lessons for owner and dog. Demand soon outstripped his available space. So he retired from his LEO job to devote full time to his rapidly growing Ridgeside K9 business, now a successful franchise with locations in other states as well as other areas of Virginia. And he recently rehabbed an abandoned indoor swimming pool in Winchester, turning it into the area’s largest dog swim center. It’s available to client dogs and can be rented by groups or individuals for low impact rehabilitation as well as teaching dogs to swim and/or get in and out of boats. For more information on Ridgeside K9 and the services offered, visit their Facebook page or website www.ridgesideK9.com
Online or on the road, opportunities exist for entrepreneurial dog lovers to make a good living working with dogs, from Sniffspot, an online registry of dog friendly properties that can be rented for your own private dog park for outings; to ground transportation companies that can transport your puppy or adult dog door to door in style without having the worry of placing him in a crate in the hold of an airplane. These vary from professional dog trucks and trailers to SUVs with crates. For a fee you can pay a dog person who will transport your dog across the state or across the country in a dog-adapted vehicle and have it regularly aired, watered and fed on the journey. The opportunities are endless for dog lovers to go in business doing what they love.