May 14, 2017

How to Start a Dog Walking Business – Things You Need to Know

Two large dogs, one is holding the leash of the other in it's mouth.

Do you love dogs? If you do, and you’re looking around for the ideal business to start, then you may want to consider starting a dog walking business. After all, there are more than 54 million dogs in the United States  and an estimated 7.6 million dogs in Canada – and those dogs need to be walked every day.

Of course, starting a dog walking business isn’t for everybody. In fact, there are challenges and issues you may not have considered. With that in mind, let’s review some of the most important things to think about and do before you put on your walking shoes and head to the dog park.

1: Evaluate Your Skills

The very first thing you need to do is to evaluate your dog-handling skills. You might love dogs, but you have to know more than the basics if you expect people to trust you with their dogs.

For example, the owner of a dog walking business should have experience handling various breeds of dog – and a working knowledge of the primary characteristics of the most common breeds.

Do you have the physical strength to handle several large dogs at once? That’s important too, since as your business grows you may be walking as many as six dogs at a time.

And finally, do you understand how dogs behave, and how to read their body language? A great dog walker must be able to sense when a dog is upset or threatened and react accordingly to defuse the situation.

2: Evaluate the Competition

If you pass the skills test – or feel that you can get the training you need to learn those skills – then the next step is to evaluate your competition. The chances are excellent that there are already several dog walkers in your area.

To determine whether there’s enough business to support a new dog walking business, you should find out:

  • How many dog walkers are in your chosen area?
  • Who are they?
  • What do they charge?
  • How many dogs are there in your chosen area?

Your goal is to find out if there are enough dogs and dog owners in your area to keep your new business afloat.

3: Register Your Dog Walking Business

Once you’ve determined that your area could use another dog walking business, it’s time to register your business. Many dog walkers register as sole proprietors, but you need to be aware of the other options.

Sole proprietors don’t have to assign officers or hold board meetings. However, they do have to pay self-employment taxes. It’s a good idea to talk to an accountant or lawyer to determine the most advantageous structure for your new business.

Depending on your particular circumstances, you may want to seriously consider registering as a partnership, a Limited Liability Company, or even a corporation.

4: Get Insurance for Your Dog Walking Business

As the owner of a dog walking business, you have to have insurance. Not only will be you be responsible for other people’s pets, but you’ll also be the one who’s there if one of those pets does something wrong. You need to protect yourself.

Look for insurance companies that offer insurance to businesses that handle pets. You’ll need to get some kind of liability insurance. If you intend to hire employees, you should also plan on bonding them so you’re protected in the event one of them makes a mistake … or worse … steals from a client.

5: Draw Up Contracts

You should not start a dog walking business without having blank client contracts to use (doing a Google search for these you may find a range of forms to choose from that are being offered for free). The reason you want to have a contract signed is so that you won’t leave yourself wide open to litigation. It’s important to spell out your responsibilities, as well as the client’s.

For example, do you have permission to obtain emergency medical treatment for a client’s dog should it be required? Does the owner understand that if their dog bites someone or damages property while in your care, it’s their responsibility and not yours?

You don’t have to write a new contract for every client. Simply doing an internet search for a blank contract for dog walkers will bring you a range of forms to choose from, some of which are offered for free.  Be sure to adapt the one you choose to use for your particular needs.

If you’re tempted to skip this step, please DON’T. Many entrepreneurs and small business owners get hurt because they failed to protect themselves.

6: Promote Your Services

Now we come to what some people feel is the scariest part of starting a dog walking business: self-promotion. It’s not easy to promote yourself, but you need to do it if you want your fledgling business to get off the ground.

Here are some suggestions to help you promote your dog walking business:

  • Have someone design a logo for you and get it silkscreened (or even liquid embroidered) onto a coat for your dog. Then take your dog for a tour of your local dog parks, and make sure to have a pile of business cards in your pocket. This type of in-person promotion is hard – but keep in mind that dog owners are usually very friendly.

  • Set up a Facebook Fan page for your dog walking business and pay for an ad targeted at dog owners in your area. Facebook makes it very easy to micro-target advertising so it reaches the exact audience most likely to need your services.

  • Join your local chamber of commerce and meet other business owners. It’s a great networking opportunity, and the chances are pretty good that some of them will even be dog owners!
  • Stop by local businesses that might present cross-promotion opportunities. An example would be: does your area have a dog groomer or a place that sells gourmet dog treats? Maybe you can help each other out by promoting one another’s services.
  • Set up a website and start a blog. Sharing your dog-handling expertise with dog owners is a terrific way to establish yourself as an authority and attract traffic to your site.

These are just a few ideas, but there are many other things you can do. Get creative and have fun with it!

7: Don’t Neglect the Business Part of Business

You might prefer to spend all of your time walking dogs, but a dog walking business is still a business. It’s important to write a business plan, set a budget, and have a system for invoicing and following up on late payments.

You should plan on spending at least part of each day handling the mundane aspects of owning a business. They might not be as interesting as tossing a tennis ball for Fido, but they’ll help you earn a profit – and that’s what you want!

Conclusion

Do you still want to start a dog walking business? There’s no time like the present. With just a little bit of legwork and preparation, you could be the proud proprietor of your own dog walking company!

If you have found this post helpful, please share these seven tips on starting a dog walking business with your friends.

Credit for Header: image by Thank Nguyen on flickr.com

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