This is the definitive guide on how to start a dog walking business, taking you step-by-step through the process of launching and growing your dream doggy empire.
But let’s be clear, this isn’t your normal dog walking startup guide. We’re going to get detailed and cover topics you won’t have seen elsewhere.
Ready? Let’s dive in!
Step 1: Get pooch prepared
What experience do you need to start a dog walking business?
Having real hands-on experience with dogs is so important before you start your dog walking business. This might be walking friends and neighbours dogs, or volunteering at your local rescue centre.
It may sound silly, but walking other people’s dogs is very different from walking your own. Jump at every opportunity and get hands on with different breeds and sizes.
Walking many dogs at once is a great way to build your experience and will help you learn how dogs can react to varying situations.
Canine first aid
Although we all hope every walk will go without a hitch, accidents do happen.
Basic canine first aid training will give you the confidence to handle any unforeseen incidents.
Having first aid skills is also reassuring to owners and is a nice thing to talk about during your initial client meetings.
In the UK, the PDSA run some good courses and cover a lot of the basics from bandaging to heatstroke and seizures to resuscitation.
Pro tip: I always recommend that you continue to boost your dog behaviour skills throughout your career as a dog walker. Taking time away to keep learning is super important. IMDT offer some great courses for all levels.
Dog walking insurance
Get yourself covered with the correct business insurance to make sure you don’t land yourself in a financial mess if something goes wrong on a walk.
But what dog walking insurance should you get?
The essential policy to get is public liability insurance. This will cover you for incidents such as a dog you’re walking causing someone to fall or if a dog bites someone and you’re found at fault.
Other policies include custodial responsibility cover, key cover, professional indemnity insurance and employers liability insurance.
You’ll need to weigh up the risks, costs and benefits for each and make your own call on which policies are right for your business.
How much does dog walking insurance cost?
The cost of your policy will vary hugely depending on the cover you want, the location of your business and your past experience.
Typically speaking you can expect to pay from £75 – £150 for a year of public liability cover.
Get a DBS check
Although not essential, if you’re in the UK, I strongly recommend that you get a basic DBS check from the government.
A basic check from the Disclosure and Barring Service gives an overview of your criminal record and details of past convictions held on the Police National Computer.
Why’s this important for your business? Well, think about it from your potential customers perspective.
Knowing your criminal record gives them extra reassurance, especially as you may be going into their home unattended or interacting with elderly or vulnerable adults.
You can apply for the basic DBS certificate yourself via the gov.uk website and it’s a one-off cost of £23.
Pro tip: In addition to getting a DBS check, I also recommend making sure you’re clued up on all the relevant laws relating to dogs. This summary from InBrief is a really good place to start.
Step 2: Research your local dog walking market and design your services
Now your experience is up to scratch it’s time to start building the foundations of your dog walking business.
Understanding the competition
Learning what other dog walking businesses in your area charge and the services they offer is super important when you’re just starting out.
Setup a spreadsheet (or just grab a good old fashioned pen and paper) and find 10 – 15 dog walkers in your area.
Make a note of the services they offer (whether that’s solo walkers, group walks, drop-ins etc), what they charge, how they market themselves and any other interesting things you notice about them.
You’ll be able to get most of this information from their website, but if not, just drop them a message or give them a call and pretend to be a customer.
Collating this information may take a little time but it will give you a deep understanding of how the dog walking market works in your area.
Deciding on your dog walking services
Using your market research you can develop a list of services that you think will work locally.
For each service you need to decide how much you’ll charge, I’d suggest calculating the average hourly rate from your market research and using this as a starting point.
Pro tip: It’s really important you don’t under or over charge when starting out. Taking an average from your competitors is the best way to go. Once you’re more established (and your calendar is full) you can increase your prices with confidence.
How much can you earn as a dog walker?
At this stage it’s important to understand how much you can earn from your dog walking business and make sure that’s enough for your situation.
What most people forget, is that on top of the actual walking you also need to consider time for admin and meeting new clients.
I recently shared a blog post on calculating your dog walking business income with a free template spreadsheet. Check it out for a full breakdown.
Step 3: Get creative and build your brand
Great work if you’ve made it this far through the process. Before we start promoting your new dog walking business, we need to get creative and start building your dog walking brand.
Building an awesome brand for your dog walking business is important but doesn’t need to be complicated.
Your brand reflects who you are as a business but it’s also an important tool to make sure you get remembered by potential clients.
First up, let’s talk about dog walking business names.
When choosing a business name you need to make sure:
- The name is professional and positive
- It’s easy to say and spell
- It’s easy to remember and not too long
- It doesn’t use slang
Grab a pen and paper and get brainstorming.
Then narrow it down to your favourite names and share with friends to get consensus on the best name. If you need more inspiration I created a list of 99 dog walking business names and a detailed breakdown of how I choose a new business name.
Logo and brand colours
As with your business name you’ll want your logo to be memorable, reflect your USPs and stand out from others in your local market.
The two key steps are:
1. Choose a suitable colour palette for your brand – select colours that are different from the competition and make you stand out. Use a tool like https://coolors.co/ to make it easy to choose colours that work together.
2. Design your logo – when starting out I always suggest keeping it simple and designing your own logo. Use a tool like Canva, which is free, to put a classic text-based logo together. If your business is still going strong after six months then get a graphic designer involved and rebrand.
If you want my details on this step, check out my recent blog post on creating a dog brand people will remember.
Pro tip: Don’t overthink your design. It’s important to look professional and stand out from the competition but so many people let the design phase overtake everything else. The most important thing is getting started!
Step 4: How to promote your dog walking business?
There are literally hundreds of ways to promote and market your dog walking business. But whatever you do there are three key foundations you need to get in place to give yourself a fighting chance of success.
Having a small, professional website that looks great is the key to modern marketing. Your website will be the centre point for all your other marketing efforts and needs to sell you, your services and build trust with your potential customers.
It doesn’t need to be huge and as a minimum I suggest a simple four page website:
- About you – including your experience, qualifications and any other training
- Services & Pricing – including a list of your key services, the areas you cover and how much you charge.
Getting a website setup doesn’t need to be complex and in my other blog post, how to market your dog walking business, I dive deep into how you can do this.
Social media is an incredible way to engage with your audience and build a name for yourself locally.
When starting out I’d suggest you register profiles on all the major platforms (so they’re secured and yours) but I would only focus on using one or two platforms.
By only focussing on one or two platforms you make sure you’re really engaging with them properly and not spreading yourself too thin. It may sound obvious, but the key to being successful on social media is in the name, you need to be social and engaging! Don’t fall into the trap of just walking about yourself, offer helpful support and advice too.
Most dog walking businesses will be on Facebook and Instagram, but above all look for where most of your target customers hang out and get in there.
Encouraging friends and family to follow you and share your posts is a good way to quickly increase your reach. When you get new clients onboard try to get them to follow you too. A great way to do this is to post pictures of their dogs while you’re out on your walks (but make sure you get their consent first).
Beyond this, try to build engagement on your social media profiles by running giveaways, sharing tips and posting pictures of your dog walks.
Google My Business listing
The last foundation I’m going to cover is Google My Business. This is your local business listing within the Google search results.
You will have no doubt seen it hundreds of times before when googling something online.
It’s really important as anyone that is searching for a dog walker will normally include their city or town in the search.
To get setup:
- Go to Google My Business
- Create a google account if you don’t have one already
- Fill in the details about your business, including a link back to your website, images of you walking dogs, opening hours and as much as possible.
As your business grows it’s worth asking clients to leave a review on your Google My Business page to help add credibility and build trust.
Step 5: Get organised
To finish things off we need to talk about how you stay organised, manage your clients and get paid.
Booking in new clients and keeping on track
When those new enquiries come in it’s important to get back to them quickly and organise a face to face meeting.
At the initial meeting, it’s useful to go through a booking form with the client so you get all the pertinent information about their dog and can ask any follow up questions. It’s also a useful tool to keep your meeting on track if you’re not too confident meeting new people.
I recommend collecting the following information:
- Details about the pet – age, breed, medical issues, allergies and vaccinations details
- Information about the owners – names, address, contact numbers (multiple), email address and prefered payment details
- Pet behaviour information – do they pull, are they reactive, what is their recall like etc
- Can they be let off the lead?
- Consent to share pictures of their pet on social media
Terms & Conditions: Making sure everything is clear
Having clear terms and conditions and making sure clients agree to them from the outset is a vital part of any business.
It makes sure that if things go wrong and a disagreement occurs there is a signed document both parties can fall back on.
If you’re a member of the National Association for Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers then you can get access to their pre-written contracts. Alternatively, you’ll need to contact a solicitor in your area to help you prepare a suitable document.
Pro tip: Make sure you get every customer to sign a copy of your terms and conditions before you start any work, either electronically or at your initial meeting. Also, make sure you keep a copy on file.
Once you’ve been underway for a little while the admin side of your dog walking business will soon become a large part of your weekly routine. Managing new clients, appointments, invoicing and chasing payments.
To make sure your dog walking business remains a profitable venture you need to make sure you have proper processes setup to keep your admin time to a minimum.
To combat admin fatigue, I suggest you start your dog walking business the right wayusing a complete pet management app.
By having one central location for customer information, appointments, pet details, invoicing and payments, you can easily keep track of everything.
They also offer a customer portal so clients can make changes to appointments and even track the walks you complete.
Transport: is a car or van better for dog walking?
Unless you’re based in the middle of a city with all your clients nearby you’re going to need some wheels to transport your dogs. But is it better to use an existing car or purchase a van?
Well for most people it’s easiest to start with a car as they’ll already own one, but consider that you need to transport dogs safely in crates or using harnesses. Within a car you’ll be limited by how many you can transport at one time.
If you go down the van route, you can install multiple crates into the back of the van and most likely carry more dogs in one go. The downside of this option is the increased expense, both the initial outlay of the van but also running cost and tax.
My suggestion is you start out using with your own car and as your business expands consider getting a van.
You’re all set! Now let’s get walking
Congrats, you’ve reached the end and you’re ready to start a dog walking business. Walking dogs for a living is such a fulfilling job and can be a super way to gain financial freedom. Good luck!
Got a question? Drop me a comment below.