How a side hustle walking dogs became a business that brings in six figures

Twenty/20

Ryan Stewart has always loved dogs. All the same, he says, he fell into his career walking and training dogs “sort of by accident.”

Stewart started his business “Ryan for Dogs” in Long Island City initially as side hustle. It took a year to become profitable, but now, Stewart says, “I’m able to work part time, let’s say 20, maybe 25 hours a week, and make at least six figures a year.”

Stewart, who came to New York City as a teenager with dreams of becoming a professional dancer, was sidelined when he was diagnosed with cancer before starting college. After he underwent chemotherapy, his focus shifted. “Instead of ‘dance, dance, dance,’ I came out of the hospital like this: ‘Oh look, trees. Oh look, people,’” he says.

Needing to earn some money while he pursued acting gigs but “determined not to wait tables,” Stewart decided to try a side hustle first as a dog trainer and then as a walker. He’d always seemed to understand dogs. To develop his skills further, Stewart read books about dog psychology and worked with other trainers.

He had also recognized a growing need for dog walkers, so it made sense to capitalize on the demand. “I really, really put everything into it, and it paid off,” he says.

‘A good walker can easily make six figures’

Today, Stewart walks dogs every day of the week — up to seven at once — and trains them on weekends. He earns up to $25/hour in Manhattan and about $15-$20 an hour in Queens, where his business is located.

“The secret got out that you can make decent money dog walking, and now there’s a lot of people competing,” he says. “A good walker can easily make six figures a year. Easily.”

Ryan for Dogs also employs three dog walkers, which Stewart considers “just the right amount.” As he puts it, “I got in the business because I love dogs and didn’t want to handle people. That’s why I’ve never gone above three people.”

The best parts of the business, says Stewart, are getting to be his own boss — and, of course, working with dogs. “It’s something that I forget a lot, and to be grateful for,” he says. “It’s really quite something to touch dogs every day.”