Let’s say you’ve been looking for a job that gives you freedom, flexibility and allows you to work outdoors. You also happen to love dogs, so why not start a dog-walking business? Like any other business opportunity, to become a dog walker, you need to craft a solid list of service offerings, assess the competition, and sharpen your marketing skills, among other things.
To find out more details about how to start a dog walking business, read on for a business overview and steps you can take.
Overview: What Does a Dog Walker Do?
A professional dog walker does various things for dogs other than taking them for walks. You may need to provide your canine customers with dog food, water, lots of pets, and a good deal of using a pooper scooper for a good clean-up. You will typically also drive to customer homes to pick up and drop off your doggy clients.
Many dog walkers increase their services to include a pet sitting business while owners go on vacation or short-term stays while an owner works late. While in possession of your doggy customers, you must also be prepared to take them to a vet in case of emergency.
Dogs need their walkies to rain or shine, so be prepared as a dog walker to conduct your business in all kinds of weather conditions. This could mean bringing extra water during the summer and walking on the shadier streets and possibly having backup sweaters ready for short-haired clientele during brisk winter days.
Good knowledge of dog behavior, canine first-aid practices, attention to detail, and in-depth knowledge about dog collars, dog harnesses, and retractable dog leashes will pay off and make you more successful at giving your customers a positive and safe dog walking experience.
Having strength and hyperawareness of your surroundings also helps since you could easily have 150 to 200 pounds of dog pulling you if a tempting or frightening distraction happens, and you need to know how to react calmly and quickly to keep your charges safe.
Dog walkers also have administrative duties, from taking calls and new bookings to marketing their business. The list could include working on a website, calling on new potential customers, or visiting local kennels and vet offices to contract your services to them. At home, you’ll need to do some bookkeeping, generate invoices, deliver them to customers, and follow up on any late payments.
How To Start A Dog Walking Business: Service Offerings and Prices
A successful dog walking business can provide a part-time or full-time income, and if you manage your expenses well, you can turn a nice profit. According to the U.S. Census, dog-walking and dog-sitting businesses are growing at a very fast rate as more people add dogs to their families . The average revenue of these businesses (before subtracting expenses) is almost $240,000 per year. Keep in mind that many of these businesses offer several add-on services in addition to dog walking.
Startup your own dog walking business with just the walking service and add new offerings as you work out the business kinks and grow your clientele. Some common add-on services could include:
- Overnight stays
- Rides to the vet or groomer
- Basic medication administration
- Individual playtime
- Bathing and grooming services
You can also provide stuffed Kong toys, treats, toys, and more for a reasonable charge.
Where to Conduct Your Dog Walking Business?
Do your homework by searching for other dog walkers in your area. Does your competition have a large business already established in your immediate locale? Is there a particular niche specializing in larger dogs, more aggressive breeds, a higher level of care, or some other added-value service that you can offer? Decide where to search for customers based on neighborhoods with little competition and provide services that others don’t so you can differentiate yourself and stand out.
Key Question: How Much to Charge?
How much do dog walkers make? On average, dog walkers charge about $1 per minute of walk time. So you could make $30 per dog for a half-hour walk. Decide how many dogs you feel you can safely walk in one session—some sources suggest walking dogs in groups of four or less. You can also schedule two or three walk shifts each day to increase your earnings.
Add-on services such as overnight stays help increase your revenue without costing you much. In terms of profits, you will need to track the amount of money you spend on dog treats, poop bags, gas, and car maintenance to carpool your pups around and the cost to purchase Kongs, toys, and any other resale items you offer for your clients.
Since you can control these expenses, work out your pricing to keep your revenue and expenditures in balance and know how much profit you want to make. Note that dog walking businesses often involve working holidays and at odd hours. Since demand for your services typically increases during the holidays, you can boost your revenue and profit by adding a surcharge for holiday hours.
Startup Costs for Your Dog Walking Business
If you’re looking for a business with low startup costs, you’re in luck! You can get started for less than $1,000, especially if you’re economical with your choices. To get your dog walking business started, be prepared to spend on the following items.
Before you get your first client, you’ll need:
Business entity registration and Employer ID Number (EIN) ($0 – $400+) – Choose a DBA (Doing Business As) if you want to run your business and file business taxes as a sole proprietor. You can protect yourself from liability more effectively with an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation), although they require some paperwork and cost to set up. You can request an EIN from the IRS at no charge.
Business bank account – ($0) It seems easy to put your business profits into your personal bank account instead of opening a new account. However, it’s much harder at tax time because you will have to determine which inflows and outflows are business-related or personal. You will need an initial deposit to open your account, which varies by bank. The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) also does not look kindly on people mingling business finances with personal finances.
Business License ($0 – $400+) – You will need a license to operate your dog walker business in your city or state, and some cities do not charge you anything. Check to verify exactly which licenses you to need. If you plan on buying any treats, collars, or toys at wholesale and reselling them to your clients, you will also need to get a reseller’s permit in your state. You will need to charge sales tax on your treats and toys and file a sales tax return each year with your state if you do wholesale.
Bookkeeping software ($10/month+) – If you use software that’s made for tracking small business revenues and expenses, you can record all of your transactions as you go. You will find it a breeze to stay current on your business paperwork, generate invoices, and have all your data ready with a minimum of sweat or tears at tax time.
Pet Care Insurance for Professionals ($130+) – You will need to get a dog walking insurance cover your dog-walking activities. You can get policies covering other pet care activities like grooming, pet sitting, training, and boarding activities. This gives both you and your clients important financial protection, and you could lose potential customers if you choose not to insure yourself and your business.
Basic marketing – ($60 and up) – You can get a simple, few-page website and host for $50 or even less, so shop around. Your first marketing material should be business cards. For about $10, you can design your own online and have them shipped to you within a week or so. Check print-on-demand sites such as Vistaprint.com.
Certifications ($200+) –Getting a certification isn’t required but can quickly provide you with helpful training and skills. You can also use your certification to set yourself apart from other dog walking services.
Pet First Aid class-($50 to $200 and up) – One of your selling points to clients could be your knowledge of doggy first aid. Dogs are family members to many people, and your clients trust you to be equipped to handle any health emergencies while their fur baby is in your care. You can take online or in-person classes in basic pet first aid and pet CPR.
Establishing Your Company Name, Logo, and Website
This step seems easy, but it’s where many people get stuck. Your company’s brand is an integral piece of your marketing effort. However, at some point, you want to get to work and start making some money, so don’t overthink this part.
Ideally, your business name gives people a hint at what your business does. A good dog walking company has a brand name that is short, easy to say, and maybe a little quirky so that it stays in peoples’ minds. Let people know through your business name if your business is all about fun or a high-end affair.
If you have veterinary skills or credentials, you can find a way to relay that through your company’s business name. Check that no other business already uses your name. You don’t have to have a logo right away, but it helps people remember your business and makes your business cards look professional. Visit an online marketplace such as Fiverr to get a logo for a reasonable price.
At the most basic level, websites serve as an online business cards. You can have a one-page site that lists your contact details, service offerings, and price list. At the other extreme, you can also have several content pages, helpful articles, an online store, and more.
When getting started, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on an elaborate website. Start with the basics and grow your website along with your business. Alternatively, you can skip the traditional website and use a site such as Facebook to establish a business page and connect with your customer base. You can ask people to leave testimonials, publish business updates, and do other activities.
The Legal Stuff: Contracts, Policies, and More
Contracts and policies sound like a hassle until you have a customer disagreement that would not have happened if your terms were clearly stated in writing upfront. These documents protect both you and your customer and spell out clearly what’s on offer, how much it costs, and what will happen in the event of any issues.
Before you start working with a new client, set up an initial meeting to go over your policies and procedures and get clarity about your client’s needs. This is usually when your customer signs the contract for your services. You will probably have a phone conversation first to set up an in-person meeting time and discuss what will occur.
The documents make your business dealings more professional and detail your policies regarding things like how and when you expect payment and what customers should do if they need to cancel. You might have other specific document needs, but the following list can get you started.
The service contract: This describes precisely what services you’ll provide, the cost to the client, the delivery timeframe, billing details, and anything else relevant to performing your services.
Payment Authorization form: Include this with your service contract. It specifies how the client will pay you. You can ask for their credit card details to keep on file and have them sign to authorize you to charge their card upon service completion.
Cancellation policy: Have your clients sign this form so that you both agree on the cancellation timeframe and any associated costs. Your time is valuable, and although emergencies do come up, you still deserve compensation when a client cancels at the last minute.
Medical release form: This document, signed by your client, authorizes you to seek emergency medical care for the dog in your care if needed.
Key Handling Policy: This form details your policy for handling the key to a customer’s home. It specifies details about the key location, locking the house, and other relevant information. As you land more clients, you may have dozens of keys (or more) to keep organized.
Software Tools for Dog Walkers
You can thank yourself at tax time if you use bookkeeping software. Free options exist, and you can often do most income, expense, and invoicing transactions right from your mobile phone. You can also investigate software expressly designed for dog walking businesses.
If you want to make your dog walking the business cutting edge, consider a software app such as the best dog walking apps today. This is a mobile app, and both you and your customer use the app to set up walks, and you can invoice through the app as well. The app has GPS tracking so that your customers know where their beloved dog is and includes photo updates, emailing capability, and in-app messaging.
This won’t replace accounting software altogether but can certainly make it more efficient for you to schedule, communicate, and bill clients. You can add additional dog walkers for an extra fee, and the app also has a payroll option if you need to pay several of your dog-walking helpers.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Do I need a Licence to start a dog walking business?
You don’t need a license from the federal government to operate a dog walking business, but you will probably need one from your city or county.
2. How much can you make with a dog walking business?
On average, dog walkers charge $1 per minute of walk time and take three or four dogs out at once. Walks usually last 30 minutes, so you can make about $30 per half-hour per dog. You can also have multiple walk sessions per day. Expenses include poop bags, gas to pick up/drop off dogs, and accessories such as water bowls. If you add on services, some will incur additional expenses, but make a great way to boost revenue and profits.
3. Can a dog walking business be profitable?
A dog walking business can certainly be profitable. The cost to set up and pay for any supplies is meager, and you can make, on average, $30 per half-hour walk per dog. Managing expenses is essential for any business, but with the low expenses of dog walking, you stand to make a nice profit.
4. How much should I charge to walk a dog?
You can charge from $19 to $30 for 30 minutes of walk time for a basic walk. The average cost in 2020 was $22.56, although your charges may vary depending on your area’s demographics, competition, and any additional service you may offer.