Want to become a dog walker? Its easy to see why! With the ability to work when you want and how often you want while spending time outdoors with pawsome dogs, who wouldn’t?
Whether you want to experience the benefits of fun exercise, or are looking to build a successful dog walking business, dog walking can be your ticket to paying the bills in the most puptastic way possible! But what if you are scared of dogs?
You may think that a fear of the canine kind means you can’t be a dog walker, but there are steps you can take to overcome your fear and even learn to love dogs! In this guide, we’ll explore how you can take charge of your fear and become a dog enthusiast, furiend and even walker!
Cynophobia, or the fear of dogs, is a very real condition, and can cause sufferers to fear even the gentlest of pooches. If you have a fear of dogs, just seeing one may cause trembling, dizziness, nausea, trouble breathing, an increased heart rate, sweating, feeling out of control, or feeling the need to escape or hide.
Many psychologists believe that a fear of dogs can occur due to a traumatic experience with one, or from a lack of exposure to them. This phobia can affect children and adults, and could even be inherited from your family.
Being a dog walker means more than just being comfortable around dogs, as you’ll need to be completely hands-on. A typical dog walking job will include tasks such as:
- Entering a home inhabited by a dog
- Being greeted by a dog
- Petting and interacting with a dog
- Touching a dog to put on or take off a harness and/or leash
- Taking a dog for a walk
- Giving commands to a dog
- Handling a dog who may be resistant to walks or commands
- Removing debris from fur, cleaning paws or picking up a dog to prevent a dangerous situation
- Giving a dog reassurance and assistance whenever needed
All these tasks may seem impossible if you are too afraid to be near a dog, no less touch them. Does that mean your dreams of a dog business are dashed? Certainly not!
If your cynophobia is so severe that you can’t even stand the sight of a dog, you may want to consider counseling to help you understand why you are afraid, and how to treat it. Therapists use a variety of methods to treat cynophobia, and while some of them are better used with a professional, there are several that you can work on at home if you are dealing with a mild fear.
Generally, most therapies work to treat two issues, the feelings of anxiety with relaxation techniques, and the fear itself with desensitization.
When practiced regularly, relaxation techniques can help you deal with feelings of panic as they happen so you can remain calm. The most pupular techniques include:
- Deep Breathing – When anxious, we tend to breathe rapidly from our chest, which can result in the dizziness, muscle tension and increased heart rate associated with panic attacks. Spending time taking long, slow deep breaths keeps our bodies and minds in a relaxed state, which we can return to when encountering our fear.
- Muscle Relaxation – Practice progressive muscle relaxation by getting comfortable sitting or laying down, then gradually relax each muscle from toe to head. Simply think, “My toes are completely relaxed, my ankles are feeling relaxed,” until you’ve relaxed your entire body. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can relax when panic appears after you’ve trained your body and mind beforehand.
- Visualization – Close your eyes and imagine you are in a peaceful place, such as a beach. Take in everything about the place, the sights, smells and sounds. Imagine you can feel the sand underneath you, or the breeze on your cheek. This technique prepares your mind to accept calm.
Now it’s time to move on to the tough part- desensitization. The only way you can learn to be near or touch dogs without fear is to do it, but you can do it as slowly as you feel comfortable with. Here are some steps you can take to gradually get used to dogs.
- Rate your fear level – Write out a detailed list of all the situations that make you fearful, such as when you see a dog, hear a dog, are watching dogs play and jump, or when a dog runs up to you. Then, rate each one from highest amount of fear to lowest. You’ll use this list to start tackling each fear situation from the lowest to highest.
- Use active-imaginal exposure – If you aren’t yet ready to start physically being around dogs, try using your visualization technique and imagine being near dogs, petting them and interacting with them. Just imagining being with dogs can reduce cynophobia in 62% of people.
- Read about dogs – The more you know, the less you’ll fear, so get some dog books or look up articles online about dogs and dog behavior. If you fear a particular situation, such as a jumping dog, find out why they do it.
- Begin desensitizing yourself to dogs – Start by visiting friends’ houses who own dogs, or check out your local dog park and simply watch them. Do your relaxation techniques whenever you feel panicked, and when you feel less afraid seeing dogs, head to the next step.
- Get closer to dogs – In a controlled situation, try being near a calm dog, such as a friend’s pup. Spend some time getting closer and closer. If you feel panicked, simply back up and do your relaxation techniques until you can progress again. Talk to the dog and watch how they respond.
- Let dogs get closer to you – Letting a dog approach you can be terrifying, so enlist a friend or trainer who can control a dog, and let them come to you slowly. First, try a controlled walk up to you, then a faster paced jog, until you reach a full-fledged run without you becoming anxious.
- Touch dogs – Now, try touching or petting a dog. Go slow, with a tap on the head, or a quick pet on the back. Don’t be surprised if the dog gets excited, as most love to be touched. Progress until you are comfortable petting and touching a dog regularly.
- Up your dog game – Once you can be near dogs and touch them, get yourself even more used to them by going with a friend for a dog walk or to dog training. Play with as many dogs as you can. Try taking a nap with a dog. The more time you spend with different sizes and temperaments of dogs, the less you’ll be afraid of them and will know what to expect.
Remember to always go at your own pace, and seek a therapist if you need help along the way. Once you are comfortable around dogs, walk as many of them as you can. Take a training class, learn commands, and practice your new walking skills to get ready for a job in dog walking.
Finding a pawtastic service that connects dog walkers with pet parents can make being a dog walker easy. On the Wag! platform, you can change the preferences in your profile so Pet Parents can see that you only walk small dogs or older dogs, or prefer just puppies. You can change this anytime as you develop your skills, and work to build your business.
So, what are you waiting for? Start your journey to dog walking today!