Playing pays: An inside look at how NYU students make money walking dogs

Some NYU students find dog walking to be the perfect side job as they tackle the rising costs of city living.

Derek Kamakanaaloha Soong, Staff Writer

A black, brown and white-furred dog is looking at the camera laying down on green grass next to a golden retriever standing while also looking at the camera.
Dog walking in New York City is a joy that doesn’t have to feel like work. It can bring pleasure to students stressed out by school. (Photo by Derek Kamakanaaloha Soong)

Part-time jobs are plentiful in New York City, from the endless cafes and shops in Greenwich Village to on-campus employment at NYU. But if being an office assistant or working customer service isn’t for you, consider landing a side hustle where you don’t have to deal with humans at all. 

Dog walking in New York City is a joy that doesn’t have to feel like work. I didn’t expect the couple I walk dogs for to gift me an e-scooter — which I refer to as the Yassmobile — so that the commute from my NYU dorm to their Upper West Side apartment would be a breeze. Sometimes, I forget that I’m getting paid to look after the dogs whenever I spend the end of my shift lounging at their pool or watching movies at the end of the night with the dogs’ owners.

While I found this work opportunity through friends I knew from home, it turns out there are quite a few NYU students that have tapped into getting active with our furry friends.

“I LOVE the dog I walk,” Steinhardt junior Lizzie DeLeone wrote over email. “It is the best way to start my day every day because she’s always so excited to see me. She is so sweet and so funny. The only con I can really think of is I really have to watch her the whole time on the walk because she’ll try to eat ANYTHING.”

DeLeone, a resident assistant at Gramercy Green Residence Hall, started dog walking this year for an employee who lives in the building. She walks an Aussiedoodle — who recently turned one — around the Gramercy Park neighborhood for an hour Monday through Thursday. Each walk earns her $20.

“I’ve pulled all sorts of things out of her mouth (napkins, metal bolts, pieces of wood, ANYTHING),” DeLeone wrote. “She also loves to jump up onto things, so like there’s these big rocks around the Flatiron building and she’ll just jump up on there while we’re waiting to cross. It’s hilarious.”

When balancing between on-campus work, her studies and RA responsibilities, DeLeone finds dog walking to be a reprieve from her busy schedule.

“It is difficult, but honestly being a dog walker is the highlight of my day,” she wrote. “It never feels like something that I ‘have’ to go do, it’s something I look forward to every day. And I LOVE the family that she belongs to. They’re so nice and understanding when sometimes I can’t walk her.”

NYU Tisch first-year Emma Purcell followed the advice of a friend and began dog walking through Rover, an app that connects dog owners with dog-walkers.

“We were both super low on money and looking for ways to make a quick dollar while also still dedicating most of our time to our studies,” Purcell wrote over email. “Rover charges a $35 fee to sign up so that they can conduct a background check, but in my opinion, it is worth it as the app’s users know they can trust you to take care of their fur baby.”

Purcell explained some of the joys she has experienced in meeting dogs and their owners throughout the city and her first time using Rover.

“My first dog walking experience through the app was a little nerve racking,” she wrote. “I was requested only about an hour in advance, which isn’t in my preferred requirements (one day in advance) but I accepted it anyway since I wasn’t busy that afternoon. I wasn’t sure how to enter the apartment/get the dog, so I texted the owner for clarification, and he offered to bring the dog and meet me outside.”

A man with blue pants and brown shoes holds a phone taking a picture of a black, brown and white dog looking at the camera while both stand on gray tiled flooring.
Dog walking is just one way to earn extra money while studying at NYU. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

Beyond the qualm of her first day at work, Purcell now finds herself walking all sorts of dogs throughout Greenwich Village. 

“I always like to walk through a park at some point,” Purcell wrote. “My favorite is Tompkins, but I also go to Washington Square Park or Union Square, depending on where they live. I always ask the owner before I bring them into the dog park section, but that is one of my favorite things to do. They are just so happy to be surrounded by their own!!”

Purcell believes all the various dog breeds she has encountered on Rover make her feel a bit closer to home.

“[Dog walking] was honestly therapeutic, in a sense. Since I have left for college, I haven’t really spent my time with animals, and this has really helped to fill that void,” Purcell wrote. “So far, I’ve walked Corgis, Labradoodle mixes and my most recent a Shiba Inu. His name is Jaxx and he’s a 6 month old puppy! He is PERFECT.”

Depending on the length of the walk, Purcell earns anywhere between $14 to $24 — minus the Rover fee. She says she earns an extra $3 for every puppy she walks and that some owners even tip through the app. Although Purcell loves dog walking for the chance to spend time with animals, explore the city more and get some exercise, she admits that there are some downsides to working with our four-legged friends.

“Picking up poop is the worst, as expected,” Purcell wrote. “Walking them in the rain is simply just not fun — for either me or the dog.”

For Purcell and DeLeone, the flexibility of dog walking makes it easy to balance their academic priorities while still setting aside an hour or two most days to earn a bit of extra cash.

“My on-campus job, a lot of the time, has time for me to do homework and work on other things which is nice, but I love the hour a day I’m able to be outside and just kind of relax when I walk her,” DeLeone wrote. “Definitely not an added stressor in my life.” 

For students looking for a side hustle or a job that takes you outdoors, Purcell says to consider connecting with a dog owner through one of the many apps now available for dog walking.

“You’re almost guaranteed work, especially if you sign up with an app,” Purcell wrote. “[Rover] makes the process of getting started much easier and safer, and there are SO many people in the city looking for dog walkers.”

Purcell and DeLeone both recognize the demand for dog walkers in the city and encourage those in search of a side hustle to seek out dog walking. 

“I’ve been stopped when walking her a few times by other dog owners wanting to give me their number to walk their dog, so the demand is definitely out there!” DeLeone wrote. “It’s a great side hustle, yes, but also an invaluable experience where you get to bond with a dog.”

Contact Derek Kamakanaaloha Soong at [email protected]