We’re a nation of dog lovers and we spend billions of pounds each year on our perfect little pooches. While most of us want to get out in the fresh air with our dogs every day, it’s not always possible.
If you’re passionate about everything canine, you may have thought about starting up a dog walking business in your local area. Not only is there a ready-made clientele there to take advantage of but the initial setup costs are among the lowest in any sector.
Here we take a look at how to start a dog walking business, what skills you need, the legislation you need to be aware of and easy ways to advertise to local clients, including setting up an attractive website.
The benefits of starting a dog walking business
- There are plenty of potential customers out there with nearly 1 in 6 of us owning at least one dog.
- Some people are busy at work and need a regular dog walker, others may have mobility issues which mean they can’t get out so often. Some people don’t like taking their dogs on long walks.
- The start-up costs of a dog walking service are relatively low compared to other types of businesses. You don’t need specialist equipment and there are no qualifications that you need to have.
- You can start small and grow bigger as your service becomes well known in the local area and you become more experienced.
While you don’t need any official training or qualifications to become a dog walker, you will need to develop business skills. Fortunately, there’s plenty of help and support for this from local community networks as well as online.
It is an advantage to have a pet first aid qualification though. A pet first aid qualification is inexpensive and can be done online or in the classroom. It shows your professionalism and gives you and your clients the knowledge and assurance that if the unthinkable happened, you can provide their beloved pet with the best possible care.
Risks of starting a dog walking business
Needless to say, dogs are live animals and they can be unpredictable. You’ll have to consider what risks are involved with certain breeds and how many dogs you can handle at one time for a walk.
What are you going to do when the weather isn’t so great or you are dealing with a dog that is aggressive or pulling on the leash?
There is also the issue of managing time and your customers and how you schedule walks so that you meet their needs but don’t overstretch yourself.
As with most business opportunities, it’s important to sit down and consider the downsides as well as the upside and how you are going to cope before you launch. Putting together a coherent business plan will help.
Check out this guide from the Government with planning templates and some sage advice.
How much does it cost to start a dog walking business?
One reason why a dog walking business is so attractive to many people is the relatively low start-up cost. You can begin with just a few fliers delivered locally.
You might, however, want to invest in transportation and some useful bits of equipment as you begin to grow and become more successful. One thing you will need is insurance to protect your business and you from anything going wrong. We’ll take a closer look at this a little later in the article.
Is a dog walking business profitable?
Your dog walking business income is going to depend on how much you can charge per hour and the time you can devote to taking dogs out. The average income for dog walkers is around £22,000 per annum.
If you are planning to scale up and bring on a team of dog walkers, your business can earn higher levels of income but it will be a lot more complex. For example, you’ll need to pay staff, vet them, have cover for them if they are sick or on holiday, train them and develop an easily recognisable brand. If your business idea is a success, you may want to grow it to other locations, perhaps using a franchising model.
Do you want to offer other dog care services?
Many dog walkers offer additional services. These can be useful in adding additional income streams, but it’s up to you which (if any) you want to offer. Whilst these can be very profitable they can take a lot of your time and energy, so it’s important that you are realistic in what you can offer or you could end up burning yourself out working all hours, 7 days a week. Some of the most popular additiuonal dog care services are:
- Puppy visits/short visits for feeding/toilet breaks and a little play
- One to one walks/visits for those dogs who can’t manage a full walk due to ill health or old age and just appreciate a little company and a short stroll or play in the garden. These are also useful for dogs with anxiety around others who need a little extra TLC.
- Pet sitting in the owner’s home is another popular service used by people going away on holiday or business. This service is mostly used by cat and other small animal owners. Many owners choose a pet sitter so their pet can stay in its familiar surrounds and their usual routine. It can be a ‘pop in’ service to feed, clean and give their pet some companionship or it can be a ‘live in’ service while the owner is away.
- Dog training can also be offered as a service if you have the appropriate experience and/or qualifications.
- Dog Boarding in your home is always in demand, but if you offer this service you will need to check local regulations. In the UK you must have a licence from your council to board dogs or cats.
Do I need a dog walking license in the UK?
You might be surprised to learn that there are specific laws relating to dogs in the UK that you need to comply with when you are out and about. The main pieces of legislation concerning dogs and their owners or walkers are:
- The Dogs Act 1971
- The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005
- Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 3)
- The Control of Dogs Order 1992
- Animals Act 1971
- The Road Traffic Act 1988
- Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953
- The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010.
While there are currently no regulations that state you need a licence to be a dog walker, you do need to stay within the law, keeping your dog on a leash in certain areas and picking up waste. If you are boarding dogs as well as walking them you will need a licence from your local council. You can find more information regarding boarding at gov.uk/animal-boarding-establishment-licence.
One organisation that is useful to join is the National Association of Pets Sitters and Dog Walkers or NarpsUK which acts as the governing body for dog sitters and walkers. It tries to set high professional standards within the sector. Being a member gives you access to a range of support and guidance but also acts as a sign for potential clients that you take your responsibilities seriously.
For example, NarpsUK has a code of conduct for dog walkers that include:
- The number of dogs that you should walk at one time.
- Guidelines for meeting dog owners.
- How to record the work that you have done.
They offer different levels of membership which include membership certificates, a listing on their site, a useful member’s forum and support for setting up your business with templates and discounts on insurance.
Another good organisation is the Pet Industry Federation or PIF, which is the UK trade association for pet businesses. Membership for a small business is £172.80 per year. Membership includes access to a legal helpline, excellent rates on business services, qualifications, events, templates, documents and much more. For more information on the benefits of joining PIF, take a look at here.
Qualities you’ll need as a professional dog walker
While it can seem like an easy job on the surface, there are certain characteristics you will need to bring to the table when you start your dog walking service:
- TIME MANAGEMENT: Dog walking is physically demanding, especially if you do it as a full-time career. You will need to think a lot about how you manage your time and how to give yourself rest periods while still delivering on the needs of your client.
- COMMUNICATION SKILLS: As with any business, communication with clients is essential, whether that’s writing up advertising or talking them through your service.
- EXPERIENCE WITH DOGS: If you’ve never owned a dog or taken one for a walk, you may want to get some experience first, for example, by helping out at the local shelter or RSPCA.
- UNDERSTANDING DIFFERENT BREEDS: There are more than 350 different dog breeds around the world and it’s important to do your research before taking on a client and their dog. Basset Hounds and Golden Retrievers, for example, often come with health issues that need to be taken into account.
- CALMNESS: While dogs can get over-excited, you must be calm at all times and know how to handle the dogs in your charge.
- FLEXIBILITY: Running a business like a dog walking service means you have to be responsive to your client’s needs. That requires being flexible in your approach so you can maximise profits.
How to price your dog walking service
The most difficult decision new dog walking businesses have to make is how much to charge. This is going to depend on several different factors, not least what the competition is charging. It’s important to do some market research here and get your pricing right from the start.
Average rates vary from between £10 and £20 per hour per dog walked. If this is your full-time job, however, you’ll have other considerations.
How many hours a day, for instance, can you physically cope with walking dogs? How many dogs can you take out at one time and remain safe?
Another consideration is how much tax you are going to have to pay and what overheads are going to eat into your profits (such as fuel for your car or van). It’s also important to define your dog walking service area. While we all want to take on as many clients as we can, it can become inefficient and unprofitable to take on a client who lives many miles away.
Time spent travelling to collect dogs for their walk, is time being spent not providing payable services. If you live in an urban area, maybe a five mile or so radius would be more than enough as you will have a higher density of clients in built up areas, but traffic can be heavy around peak times. If you live in a rural area you may need to cover a larger area, but will have lighter traffic and less traffic lights to contend with! If you don’t have a car or van you will need to work a smaller area that is workable on foot.
How many dogs can you walk at the same time?
If you are walking four dogs at a time and charging £10 per hour, you’re going to be earning £40 ph which is way above the national minimum wage. You do have to be sensible about this, however, and not put profit before safety.
Most dogs are suitable for group walks. You can walk four well behaved and sociable dogs with ease (group walks are by far the most popular service you will provide.) But If you have large powerful dogs who pull on the leash or show aggression, one or maybe two dogs from the same home should be your limit.
We’ve all seen people being pulled along as there pouch powers forwards taking their owner for a walk! If you’re taking multiple dogs out, it is vital that you can control them. If you feel that a dog is too powerful or aggresive to be walked in a group, you can offer a one to one walk to your client. Solo walks are usually charged at a higher rate per walk than the group walking rate. Consider safety first as it’s the most important thing.
If a dog has an accident or runs off and gets lost, it can cost you money and damage your reputation, which will put a severe dent in your business.
Taking out dog walking insurance: What do you need to cover?
We advise that you back up your business with the right insurance package. This needs to be public liability insurance as it covers you for a variety of things, including:
- If the dog you are with gets out of control and bites another dog or even a person, you are covered for costs such vet and medical bills as well as personal injury claims.
- If something happens to the dog in your charge, you are covered for claims from clients if you have been negligent or are at fault in any way.
- If you lose a key or a whole set your policy will cover the cost of replacement keys and/or change of locks.
- If you damage anything in the owner’s home or grounds your insurance will cover it, so if you’re leaving your client’s house with an excitable dog and accidentally knock over a Ming vase it won’t come out of your pocket!
- If you have staff working with you to provide your dog walking service, you will also need employer’s liability insurance.
The good news is that there are several insurance products out there that are designed specifically for dog walking services. It’s important when you are selecting your insurance to make sure that it covers your business for everything you need it to. Prices can vary but expect to pay around £125 a year for full coverage. It will also cover other services you may want to offer such as pet sitting or dog boarding.
Certain factors will affect the premium such as your location, turnover, how long you have been in business and any previous claims. If you are you are using a car or van to collect the dogs, you will also need the correct vehicle insurance. You will need a business use policy as standard insurance policies don’t cover your vehicle for anything connected to your business.
Running your business
While a dog walking service has unique characteristics associated with it, you will share some that are common to all businesses and it’s important to focus on these.
You will need to register as self-employed with the HMRC and complete an annual tax return. That means also keeping track of your services, invoicing properly and noting down expenses associated with your business. The majority of dog walking business start-ups register as sole traders. But you can form a Partnership, Limited company or Limited liability partnership.
Each structure of business has pros and cons. You will need to decide which structure fits your business best. For information on how to register as your chosen business formation, take a look at gov.uk/set-up-business.
The easiest way to keep track of your services, invoices etc nowadays is to download an accounting app. There are plenty of these available and they normally only charge a small monthly fee.
You will also need to learn how to market and advertise your business so that you have a steady stream of clients hiring your services, which brings us to…
How to find dog walking clients and market your business
While you may have all the infrastructure in place for your dog walking business, the next big step is how to find your customers. That means advertising and reaching out to potential clients in various ways.
While you may be constrained by your budget, the eventual aim should be to develop an online presence with a website outlining your services, what your prices are and how to book.
8 dog walking advertising ideas
It’s important to look at all the available dog walker advertising ideas and find those that fit with your business and deliver results. Return on investment or ROI forms the backbone of any marketing activity.
What ROI defines is how much time, effort and money you put into various approaches and the profit it gives back to your business.
1. MAGNETIC CAR/VAN SIGNS OR CAR DOOR DECALS
Be seen even when you’re not there! Having your business details on your vehicle means you can advertise your dog walker services everywhere you go. So if you’re parked at your local park on a rainy day, those soggy dog owners will see there’s a way that their pooch can excercise without getting wet themselves – let a professional dog walker get wet instead!
Magnetic car/van signs start at around £15.00 and can be easily put on and taken off your vehicle as and when you want. Decals start at around £13.00 and can only be applied once, once you take the decal off your vehicle, you can’t restick them back on, so they are more suited to a car/van that is solely used for your business.
Vistaprint have some great signage products at reasonable prices and their easy to use deign software makes it quick and simple to get signage which can be made to complement all of your branding and marketing materials, giving you a professional and unique look that showcases your dog walking business.
2. BUSINESS CARDS
It’s always worth keeping some business cards on you. When you’re out and about you can always say hello to anyone walking their dog, and after talking about the weather and their little (or big) fur baby, you can tell them that you are a professional dog walker and give them a brief overview (within the conversation!) of the pet care services you provide. When saying your goodbyes, give them a business card and even if they don’t need your services, they will think of you first if they ever do need a pet carer. They may pass your details on to a friend or family member that are looking for someone just like you!
3. FLYERS AND LEAFLETING
This is a relatively cheap option and flyers still have a big impact when it comes to advertising. You can also choose which areas to target and keep control of your marketing activity. Our advice: keep your message simple and don’t try to include too much information. An attractive image is a must.
As well as door to door flyer posting, you can also ask your local vets if they will put a few flyers in their waiting rooms or on their notice boards. You could also put flyers on local notice boards in parks, but check with your local council first though, you may need permission!
4. USE SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media platforms such as Facebook are brilliant for local businesses and getting noticed. Find groups that offer products and services in your area and engage with them. Post content, images and video of you at work walking dogs.
5. ADVERTISING IN LOCAL SHOPS
While it has a limited reach, advertising in local shops is worth a go if you have somewhere that’s a hub of the community like a corner store or nearby supermarket, and of course don’t forget local pet shops that will have your potential clients in and out on a daily basis.
6. THE POWER OF WORD OF MOUTH
One of the best marketing tools ever invented is word of mouth. If you do a great job and have a brilliant service, people will talk about you and recommend you to friends and family.
7. JOINING ONLINE LISTINGS
Online listings such as Google My Business and Yelp are great for local searches and give you real visibility. Combine that with a dedicated website and you should find more and more clients asking about your services.
8. CREATING YOUR DOG WALKING WEBSITE
While creating a website seems a big step, it gives you complete control over your marketing. It’s also not that difficult to set things up. A well-designed website gives your dog walking business the professional look that clients will trust in. Having your own dog walking business website is your best and most powerful advertising tool.
Setting up online
It’s relatively easy to move your business online and you don’t need a great deal of technical expertise to start with. There are a few things that you need to be aware of such as SEO and mobile readiness but these are simple to understand.
Working with a qualified web designer can help if you don’t feel that you want to get involved in the creation. A little investment can go a long way and help you build an online dog walking service that delivers a great ROI.
The benefits of a dog walking website design
Clients are not going to hand over their precious dog to just anyone. A professional website with great visuals and clear content, give you a chance to stand out from the crowd and convince them you’re the person to hire.
Most people nowadays will search online to find a local service which is why it’s important to stand out and achieve a high ranking. The vast majority of people will use a search engine like Google. If you have a well-written, optimised website you suddenly become something more than a quirky brand name. With good SEO applied to your website, you’ll be seen by your potential clients and you’ll have the advantage of being seen before your competitors website’s.
Finding the right dog walker website template
You’ll need three things to create a website:
- A unique URL or address for your site such as https://mydogwalkingbusiness.com.
- You’ll need a content management system or CMS to create and edit your site for publication.
- You’ll need a host, a business that specialises in uploading your site to the internet so that it is visible and fully operational.
Many website companies nowadays offer both hosting and CMS in the same package and you don’t need much in the way of technical expertise to create something that works for your business. If you can use software like Microsoft Word, you can certainly use a web creation platform.
You can also opt to have your dog walking website template created specifically for you by a professional web developer. This is not as complicated or as expensive as it might first seem. What it gives you is a site that is tailored to your needs, is unique and which is highly secure and can be developed as your business grows.
Pet business website design: 10 Things You Need to know!
Any dog walking website template needs to be easy to use and understand. You want something that looks attractive and delivers all the functionality that you need.
- THE RIGHT TEMPLATE: Not all dog walking website templates are made equal. Cheap, generic templates can be overburdened with code and are slow to download which can lead to frustration when someone visits your site. Take your time to look at the different options available and choose the one that works for you.
- MAKE SURE YOUR SITE IS SECURE: Even if you don’t accept payments online, security is essential with any website. It’s important to have an encryption which protects your site from hackers. Google is also now penalising sites that don’t have the right security in place which makes it even more important. If you’ve picked the right host, this should be fairly easy and cheap to put in place and usually comes as part of the package. Google does not rank websites without the green padlock very highly or even at all. However good your site is, if Google ranks your dog walking business website on page 100, your potential clients will never see you.
- CHOOSE A DOG WALKING MOBILE-READY WEB TEMPLATE: Most of us nowadays look at the internet using a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone. Being mobile-ready means your site looks just as attractive and easy to use as it does on a laptop.
- CREATE CONTENT: The biggest challenge for new businesses is creating great content. That’s not just the words you use, but how you navigate your site and the template design. You can also use your website to display your terms and conditions, state what insurance you have and even include videos and images of your happy, furry customers! Also, make sure you include an ‘About’ page that talks about you and your experience. Clearly stating what areas your dog walking services cover is a must, it’s great to get people visiting your site, but you don’t want clients that live hundreds of miles away requesting your services!
- ADD YOUR CONTACT DETAILS: One element that new businesses often forget is to add their details to the site – this is important to give visitors confidence that you are a bonafide business.
- MAKE IT EASY FOR CLIENTS TO HIRE YOUR DOG WALKING SERVICE: Too often, sites can be difficult to navigate and calls to action are hidden away. The purpose of your site is to attract customers – make sure you give them every opportunity to contact you.
- GET TO KNOW LOCAL SEO: Local SEO or search engine optimisation will define which pages your site appears on when someone looks for local dog walkers. It involves using the right keywords and a whole other range of factors. Get it right and you could be the first choice when people click on the page result links.
- USE QUALITY IMAGES THAT ARE OPTIMISED: Big, unoptimised images can be a key factor in slow websites. You can optimise these quite easily so that they render almost immediately. This will stop your potential clients getting frustrated and looking somewhere else.
- LINK TO SOCIAL MEDIA: You can double the power of your marketing by linking to your social media accounts through your website so that potential clients can stay in touch and get to know you more.
- BUILD AN INTERESTING BLOG: Adding a blog to your website allows you to talk about your experience, give visitors useful advice about dogs and bring more traffic into your business that is likely to convert into paying customers.
Setting up a dog walking website can take a fair amount of time and effort but it’s one of the most powerful and cost-effective tools in your marketing armoury. What’s more, that website will continue to work for you 24/7 and while you are on holiday.
How to grow a dog walking business
Finally, once you’ve got your new dog walking business up and running and have a few clients and happy pooches, it’s time to think about what the future holds. You may want to keep your business fairly small and niche. That’s fine.
On the other hand, you might want to expand to other areas and start taking on staff who can do the walking for you while you manage everything.
It’s important to have a detailed plan in place if this is the case. You’ll need to look at opportunities such as franchising, make sure that your dog walking website reflects your growth and invest more in the future of your business. We’ll be taking an in-depth look at growing your dog walking business in a future post. Make sure you subscribe below, so you can get notified when we publish a new post!
In the meantime, check out this simple guide from the Government about planning that next important step.