Are you a free-spirited dog lover itching to break away from the corporate grind?
Do you dream of being an entrepreneur, running your own business, spending your days outside, and hanging out with furry friends? Well, you’re in good company!
Starting a dog walking business can be a really fun and exciting way to make a part-time or even full-time income. But it can also feel intimidating at first—especially if you're not familiar with the legal and technical aspects involved, like getting a business license and becoming bonded and insured. But don't worry, it's easier than you probably think! With the right guidance and attitude, starting a small business can be incredibly fulfilling and rewarding.
You'll also discover the importance of insurance for dog walking business owners, and receive recommendations for some helpful tools to get started (along with their costs).
Whether you're looking to supplement your income with a side hustle or start a full-time small business, dog walking can be a rewarding and profitable venture. So grab your leash and let's get started!
How to properly start a dog walking business
To kick things off, you'll need a few essentials, including:
- A reliable smartphone
- References that showcase your love for dogs
- Physical strength and stamina
- A dependable car to transport you and your furry clients
References that showcase your love for dogs
As a dog walker, you’ll be responsible for the safety and well-being of your clients’ pets while they’re under your care. Therefore, it's crucial to have good references that can attest to your love and passion for animals.
These references can come from various sources, including previous dog owners/clients, volunteer work at animal shelters or rescue organizations, or even from your pet owner friends.
Potential clients want to know that their furry friends are in good hands, and what better way to prove it than by providing references from people who have entrusted you with their pets in the past?
Make sure to ask for testimonials and reviews from previous clients that highlight your professionalism, reliability, and of course, your love for dogs.
Physical strength and stamina
Believe it or not, walking dogs can be a physically demanding job, so it's essential to have the physical strength and stamina to keep up with all those pups.
Some dogs are large and require more effort to handle, while other dogs may have high energy levels and require lots of exercise and playtime. Therefore, it's essential to be physically fit to keep up with their demands.
Most everyone has one of these, but it’s worth including here. Having a good smartphone allows you to send daily updates and photos/videos of your visits, so your clients can feel connected and involved in their pet's day. Plus, it comes in handy when you need to accept last-minute requests or adjust a client’s visits.
Speaking of updates and photos, it's always a good idea to send both during each visit. It not only reassures your clients that their pets are in good hands, but it also makes them feel like they're there with you and their fur baby. A cute pic of their pup on a walk can really brighten your client’s day!
Of course, having a reliable car (preferably one that isn’t too bad on gas, if it’s gas-powered) is also crucial for a dog walking business. It allows you to get to each of your clients safely and efficiently, and it opens up the possibility of expanding your services to pet owners who can't take their dogs to the park or on long walks.
But it's not just about the tools you have. Here are a couple more other things that are helpful…
Good Communication Skills
Good communication skills are key to a successful dog walking business. Understanding your client's needs and preferences is essential for creating a bond with their pets and ensuring they receive the best care possible. Clients love someone who listens to their needs and pays attention to all the little details of their pet. So take good notes.
A Fun and Catchy Business Name
Once the essentials are sorted, it's time to get creative with your dog walking business name. This is your chance to come up with something catchy and memorable that will attract potential clients. You could use your location, incorporate your dog's name, use a pun, or anything that makes your name unique.
For instance, if you're in the city, you could try something like "Urban Paws." If you're in a rural area, how about "Mountain Tails" or "Country Walks"? A great name can set your dog walking business apart from the competition and create a lasting impression in your local community.
Alright, now it's time to figure out how to set up your dog walking business…
Sole Proprietor vs. Incorporating
As a new business owner, there are a few things you need to consider when it comes to your tax requirements and the type of business structure you choose. First, you’ll need to decide on a business entity.
When it comes to legal structure, you have two main options:
- Operate as a Sole Proprietor (where you and your business are the same entity, legally speaking)
- Incorporate (where you create a separate business entity).
Lots of dog walkers start out as a Sole Proprietorship, and then move on to a more formal structure as their business grows a bit.
The simplest way to incorporate (at least in the US) usually means forming an LLC, or "Limited Liability Company". This is a good choice if you want extra protection from personal liability and more options for deducting expenses from your taxes.
Another great reason to consider incorporating your dog walking business is that it can help you keep your personal and business finances separate, including having a separate business bank account to manage your finances.
But whether you decide to go with a sole proprietorship or incorporate, make sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully and choose the best option for you and your dog walking business. And if you're curious about the specifics, you can always talk to your tax advisor and/or a local small business attorney. They can help you navigate the legal aspects of starting a business.
Now, let’s talk about taxes. As a dog walking business owner, you'll probably have different types of income, like regular/repeat clients, one-off pet-sitting jobs, and even app-based gigs (like Rover).
To keep track of everything, it's important to keep good records of your income and expenses, like your mileage and any supplies you purchase.
If you’re in the US, you'll need to file a form called Schedule C to report your income and expenses, and you'll include this with your personal tax return. Depending on how much you expect to owe in taxes for the year, you may also need to pay estimated taxes quarterly. (If you’re outside the US, check with your local, state/provincial, and national tax requirements.)
To make tax time easier, use a spreadsheet or accounting software to keep track of your income and expenses, and save all your receipts from any business-related purchases.
Finally, let's talk about deductions. Deducting expenses can help lower your tax bill, but there are rules and limits to follow. In the US, you can only deduct expenses that are necessary and reasonable for your dog walking business, such as:
- Supplies like poop bags, extra leashes, and dog treats
- Marketing strategies like business cards and website costs
- Travel expenses like vehicle mileage
Just be sure to keep good records and only deduct what you’re allowed to!
When it comes to choosing a legal business structure for your dog walking company, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Take your time, weigh the pros and cons, and don't be afraid to seek advice from professionals if you need it. But don’t get overwhelmed! You can start simple (as a sole proprietor) and formalize things a bit later.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a solid foundation for your business that allows you to thrive, while also providing the protection and peace of mind you need to start a walking dog business.
Do you need insurance as a dog walker?
Whether you’re looking into how to start a dog walking business in your neighborhood or how to start a home-based pet-sitting and dog walking business, it's important to understand the need for insurance when dealing with animals.
You see, accidents can happen at any moment, and those accidents can lead to unexpected financial expenses and legal liabilities. Pets can damage furniture, chew up personal belongings, and even get into fights with other animals. Additionally, individuals can get injured while working with animals. That's why having dog walking insurance is a no-brainer.
Not only does insurance protect you and your clients, but it can also save you from the nightmare of losing a potential client. Trust me, investing in insurance is a small price to pay for protection and peace of mind.
In the United States, there are several options for dog walking insurance. Here are four popular providers to consider:
- Business Insurers of the Carolinas: This provider offers General Liability and Bonding specifically for pet care businesses. To be eligible for their coverage, you must belong to one of the organizations they partner with, such as PSI or NAPPS.
- Pet Sitters Associates: Their basic coverage starts at $190 USD annually, with options to add on policies for different specialties like pet grooming, dog training, and boarding.
- Kennel Pro: Offers all-encompassing insurance policies that cover dog walking, as well as various other types of insurance policies tailored for pet care professionals.
- Pet Care Insurance: If you’re just starting out, Pet Car Insurance offers several options of policies at an affordable annual cost of $129, suitable for dog walkers, pet sitters, and groomers.
Now, if you're up north in Canada and looking to start your own dog walking business, check out these providers:
- ProFur: With customizable insurance options for pet professionals in Canada, ProFur is a top choice.
- Canadian Pet Pro: This provider offers liability insurance for pet sitters and dog walkers, making it a great option for those starting a pet care business in Canada.
(If you live outside of the US and Canada, a quick Google search for “pet sitters insurance” is a great place to start.)
Where to find your first dog walking clients?
Starting a dog walking business is an exciting venture, but getting your first clients can seem like a daunting task. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to kickstart your business without breaking the bank.
First things first: referrals and online networks are your friends. Platforms like Care.com and Rover are full of pet owners looking for reliable dog walkers and pet sitters. But don't just sit and wait for the clients to come to you…
Put yourself out there! Post your flyers and business cards in pet-friendly places like veterinarians' offices, pet stores, local cafes, and dog parks. You never know who might see them and give you a call.
Once you've got a few clients under your belt, word of mouth is instrumental in helping you grow. Happy clients are more likely to tell their friends about your business, which can lead to even more clients.
Having a website can also make a big difference in your business. A well-designed website gives you credibility, showcases your services, and helps you book clients more easily.
And don’t forget about social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. These platforms can be powerful tools to promote your services, show off your furry friends, and engage with potential clients.
Remember, starting a dog walking business takes time and effort. But with a little bit of creativity and hustle, you can build a thriving business in no time.
How much should you charge as a dog walker?
Pricing for dog walking isn't one-size-fits-all. It depends on factors like location, services, and experience.
If you're traveling to clients who are further away, it's fair to charge extra for travel time and expenses. An example would be charging an additional 50 cents per mile after the first 5 miles.
Here's a breakdown of how much you can charge for different dog walking services (prices are in USD):
- Standard dog walk: $15 to $25 for a 30-minute walk, and $20 to $50 for a 60-minute walk.
- Pet sitting services: anywhere from $20 to $75 per night, depending on the duration and location.
- In-home pet-sitting services: can range from $40 to $90 per night, whether it's in your home or the client's home.
- Pet taxi services: $20 to $50 per trip, depending on the distance and time.
To ensure that both you and your potential clients are on the same page, you’ll want to have a service agreement or a dog walking contract that outlines the terms and conditions of your services, including your fees and any extra charges. This can help avoid misunderstandings and make sure that everyone is aware of what’s expected.
Remember, pricing your services will vary depending on your experience, location, and services offered. It's essential to research local competitors and consider your expenses when setting your rates. With a little time and experience, you'll be able to adjust your pricing to better suit your needs and local market.
What qualifications do you need to be a dog walker?
Becoming a professional dog walker doesn't require any kind of degree or official certification. In fact, the dog walking industry is largely unregulated, so there are no specific qualifications needed to get started.
Of course, having a passion for pups and a willingness to learn about pet care is crucial. But if you really want to stand out from the crowd, consider getting Pet CPR certified.
It's also a good idea to receive formal training in pet first aid, so that you're prepared to handle any situation that may come up while you're out and about with your furry clients.
How much does starting a dog walking business cost?
Starting your dog walking company doesn’t have to break the bank! You can easily get everything up and running for less than $500! That includes all your startup costs, like getting your business license, dog walking insurance, business cards, and flyers, and setting up your website.
Keep in mind that your business needs may change as your business grows. For example, you may want to invest in a dog walking CRM software, like Practice, to help you manage your clients, dog walking schedule, in-person consultations, and billing. A dog walking CRM software is a great tool to keep things organized and running smoothly.
You may also want to consider consulting with professionals like an accountant or an attorney to help with the financial and legal aspects of your business. But don't worry, it's not necessary to hire anyone right away. And usually, a quick meeting or two will give you all the info you need for quite a while.
Overall, starting a dog walking business can be a fulfilling venture. With a little bit of investment, a lot of passion, and a whole lot of puppy love, you can turn your dream into a successful reality!
Business model options and services you can offer, plus the tradeoffs of each
As a dog walking business owner, there are several business model options you can consider. Here's a list of various dog walking services and their tradeoffs:
- One-on-one walks: walking one dog at a time. This is the most common service dog walkers offer. The tradeoff here is that it can limit your income potential since you can only walk one dog at a time. However, you can charge a higher rate since the service is more personalized.
- Group walks: walking multiple dogs at once. By doing this, you can earn more income since you can walk more dogs at once. However, it can be more challenging to manage multiple dogs with different personalities and needs. Plus it has to be geographically feasible.
- In-home pet sitting: offering pet-sitting services in the client's home. This can provide a higher level of comfort and familiarity for the pet since they're in their own environment. However, it requires more time and effort to travel to and from the client's home.
- In-your-home pet sitting: offering pet-sitting services in your own home. The tradeoff here is that it can provide a more controlled environment for the pet, and you can potentially care for multiple pets at once. However, it requires a suitable home environment and may not be ideal for all pet sitters or pet owners.
- Pet taxi service: transporting pets to and from appointments, or to a boarding facility. This can provide a convenient service for busy pet owners. However, it's important to keep in mind that transporting dogs can cause wear and tear on the inside of your vehicle (depending on the vehicle), which means a lot more fur and slobber to clean up.
Congratulations on taking the first step toward starting your own dog walking business! It's understandable to feel a bit nervous about embarking on a new venture, but please know that you have what it takes to succeed.
As you start your journey, one tool that can be incredibly helpful for managing your dog walking business is a CRM (customer relationship management) software like Practice.
This versatile software makes it easy to schedule appointments, track client information, and even automate invoicing and payments. With Practice, you'll save time and provide a more professional and efficient service that your clients will love.
In addition to using a CRM software, it's really helpful to establish a strong online presence through social media and/or a website. This helps potential clients find and learn more about your business. You can also offer promotions or referral incentives to attract new clients and build a loyal customer base.
Remember, it's not just about the business tools. It's also about the love and care you give to each and every dog you walk. When you walk a dog, you're not just providing a service, you're making a difference in both the dog’s and the dog owner's life.
Starting a dog walking business doesn't have to be scary or overwhelming. With the right tools and mindset, you can turn your passion for pets into a successful and fulfilling career. So go ahead, take that first step, and let Practice be a helpful part of your dog walking journey!