This complete guide to how to set up a dog walking business takes you through all the aspects you need to consider to go from your lightbulb moment to taking your first pooch out for a stroll.
Are you ready to set up a dog walking business?
Think very carefully before you spend out on equipment, training and marketing about why you want to run a dog walking business. Just loving dogs is generally not a compelling reason because it can be hard work looking after someone else’s fur baby. The work is strenuous and potentially messy – are you up for getting hot, sweaty and muddy? If the answer is yes, then let’s get started!
What experience do you have with dogs?
Although you do not need a background in animal care, you must be confident around dogs and used to handling them when in public. You should have a high level of fitness, an affinity with dogs and good communications skills for dealing with dog owners.
The National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers offers a range of relevant courses you could take such as pet first aid or animal behavioural psychology to help you prepare for dealing with other people’s pets.
Do your market research and decide who is your ideal client
Think carefully about who you would most like to work for. Perhaps you are keen to help professionals who are away from home for several hours a day, or busy families or maybe older people who find walking their dog too difficult. By focusing on your ideal client, you can target your marketing specifically to those people, saving you time and money. Join special interest online groups where dog owners hang out so you can see the sorts of questions dog owners might ask you and you can learn about your local dog owners.
What is your unique selling point?
By this, we mean what makes you different? Why should someone pay you to walk their dog, instead of the next dog walking business? Consider how you can differentiate your dog walking services from your competition. Perhaps you can offer different hours, different routes or group walks that your competition does not offer. Give your business a catchy name and get yourself a logo. If you are artistic, you can design your own logo using a product such as Canva or you can pay a designer to create a logo for you.
Registering your business
Tell the taxman. All businesses must register their business with HMRC within 3 months of trading – that means within 90 days of taking your first payment. You can set up as a sole trader or a limited company and each has its own pros and cons, so get an accountant’s advice to help you make the right decision from the outset. You can get more information on UK Government’s website for the different options and process.
Insurance requirements for a dog walking business
This is mandatory to protect you and your clients.
You must have public liability insurance in case the dog you are walking causes an accident or injures other dogs or people.
It’s also a good idea, although it is not compulsory, to get dog walking insurance which will cover you if the dog has an accident itself or becomes sick when you are looking after it.
If you hold the keys to client’s properties, you will also need a Criminal Record check.
You could consider getting business equipment insurance to cover you in the event of theft.
If you use your car or home as part of your dog walking business, you must inform your insurance company – an additional premium may be payable.
If your dog walking business grows and you need people to work for you, then you should also opt for Employer’s Liability Insurance
Regulations for a dog walking business
Know the rules of the road for dog walking.
Dogs in public must wear a collar which has the owner’s name and address on it.
Dogs must be on a lead at all times on roads and pavements.
You must be in control of the dog at all times as it is against the law for a dog to be ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place. If the dog does not come when called, if it chases, barks at or jumps up at other people, you could receive complaints. Gov.uk has more information on controlling your dog in public.
If you are walking the dog across farmland, be aware that your dog must not worry the livestock. A farmer is within their rights to shoot any dog that causes problems to their livestock, so be incredibly careful in farmland areas.
You must clean up any dog faeces or you could face a fine of up to £1000. You can also be fined if you allow the dog to enter land where it should not be or have a dog off the lead when it should be on the lead.
There are no legal limits on the number of dogs you can walk at once but be aware that is generally advised to walk no more than four at time. You need to be fully in control of all the dogs and a pack of dogs together can become very excitable.
Set up costs for your dog walking business
How much should you budget to get started? Well, you will need at minimum the right insurances, some equipment such as leads, harnesses, toys and you’ll need to do some marketing. Allow £150 for insurance/criminal record checks and maybe £250 for flyers/business cards and local newspaper advert. You can also advertise for free online using doggie groups on sites such as Facebook.
Setting your prices: How much do I charge?
Check out what your local competition is charging – many dog walkers will put this information on their websites, so it’s not hard to get hold of. It’s a good idea to set your dog walking prices in the middle of where your competition is – too low and people will think your service is poor, too high and you may price many potential clients out. The average UK hourly rate for dog walking services is £10-20, so do your research.
Equipment & transport
You need to be able to collect dogs and take them to where you plan to walk them. If you are walking a few dogs at the same time, you might need a van for your dog walking business. Alternatively, you can use your own car and claim mileage and cleaning costs against your tax.
You will also need leads, harnesses and some toys such as a ball thrower and tug toys to keep your charges amused whilst you are out and about. Consumables include dog treats and poop bags.
Hard wearing shoes and clothing to keep you warm and dry when you are out walking. Check out our doggie inspired hoodies.
Marketing your new dog walking business
So you’ll all set now and ready for a customer, but how do people find out about you?
Referrals or word of mouth marketing is the best marketing because people who have used your services and know how wonderful you are will tell others. Added bonus – it’s free. Ask your clients for a testimonial and use these in your online and other marketing
Websites aren’t necessary, but they do lend an air of credibility to your business. 80% of consumers search online before making a purchase or using a new service, so if you can’t be found online, this could put potential clients off.
Social media is a great way to marketing your business and can be free or paid for advertising. Join local groups, especially those which cater specifically to dog owners and follow the rules laid down by the group owner about when and how often you can advertise. You can grow your business by genuinely engaging with dog owners and offering them tips and tricks on how to care for and walk their pets.
Print media – also known as business cards, flyers, newspaper ads and any other physical marketing assets that use your logo such as car/van signage or even a hoodie bearing your company name and logo.
Paperwork, the forms and contracts you’ll need
Keeping records for your business is important to protect you and your clients. You’ll need a new client intake form, a services contract, a key release form at minimum.
What now? When a client contacts you looking for dog walking services, you should send them your new client intake form which enables you to gather details of the owner (s) and the dog. Before signing a contract with the client, you should meet them with their dog to make sure you are a good fit for each other.
Finances & Record Keeping
What information do you need to keep?
You should keep records of which dogs you walked and when so that you can accurately invoice your clients.
If anything unusual happens whilst you are walking a dog, make a written note of it as soon as the event as possible so that you can later recall accurately if needed.
Keep copies of all invoices you send.
Keep receipts from any purchases of equipment so you can offset them on your tax return.
Ensure all data is held securely in accordance with GDPR legislation.
How will you communicate with your clients? If you can be flexible to your clients needs that is ideal – different people prefer to communicate in different ways – phonecall, email, text or WhatsApp are likely to be most common. If this is tricky for you and you can only communicate in a specific way, include that in your contract of services so your client is clear from the outset how communications will be managed.
Dealing with issues
What happens if something goes wrong? Be honest with the owner – if they later find out that you weren’t truthful, the trust will be broken.
If you believe that the problem was your fault, then offer to remediate – you may need to claim on your insurance.
If the problem was not your fault, try to get witnesses to corroborate your story.
Walking someone else’s dog
The first time you walk a new dog, you might want to keep the walk short so that the dog doesn’t have too much time with an unfamiliar person. But yes, you are ready to take your first paying client. Enjoy!