Are you a dog lover looking to leave your 9-to-5 office job? Have you ever thought about running a caring and profitable service for those lovely furry pals but don't know where to get started?
Well, now is the perfect time to combine your love for dogs with your entrepreneurial spirit. Get ready to embark on an exciting journey to learn how to start your very own dog walking business from the ground up!
What is a Dog Walking Business?
A dog walking business is about you walking other people's dogs when they are not able to do it themselves. Typically, you will pick up the dog from the owner's home, walk it for the agreed-upon period of time, and then return the dog to the owner's home.
Sounds simple, doesn't it? It's a bit more complicated than that.
As a dog walker, you should provide professional walking services for your dog clients. Your responsibilities include taking dogs on walks ensuring their safety, exercise, and overall well-being. This type of service is a thriving business, particularly among busy pet owners who are unable to provide regular exercise for their furry friends due to work or other commitments.
Why Start a Dog Walking Business?
According to the New York Times, a successful dog walker is able to earn over $100K a year with the right strategies for scaling and expanding the business. In addition to the financial benefits, there are many additional factors that should persuade you to start a dog walking service.
Let's take a closer look at some of the top reasons why this could be a smart choice for you:
- Dog walking is in high demand.
Dogs are the most popular pets in the U.S., with approximately 65.1 million households owning them in 2023. As pet owners prioritize the well-being and happiness of their dogs, reliable dog walking services are sought after to ensure their pets receive regular exercise and mental stimulation.
- The barriers to entering the dog walking industry are low.
Compared to many other businesses, starting a dog walking business often requires minimal upfront investment or startup capital. You'll primarily need a basic professional website, supplies like leashes, waste bags, and possibly a vehicle for transportation. As your business grows, you can invest in new equipment or expand your services.
- You can walk (work) on your own terms.
Running a dog walking business offers flexibility in terms of working hours and scheduling. You can choose the number of clients you take on, the days and times you're available for walks, and even offer additional services such as pet sitting or doggy daycare.
- It's good for your physical and mental health.
Spending time with dogs gives you emotional fulfillment and has been shown to alleviate stress and increase your general well-being. Dog walking allows you to combine your love for dogs with the joy of being outdoors and staying active.
How to Start a Dog Walking Business
Now that we've covered the benefits of running a dog walking business, let's dive into the essential steps to start your own dog walking business:
1. Understand your market
A thorough research of the market is important to running a successful dog walking business. As a dog walker who's about to enter the market, you should understand which dog walking services are most in demand in your local market and identify your target customer segments, understanding their preferences, location, and pricing expectations. This research will help you develop a unique value proposition and tailor your services to meet the needs of your target market.
You can make the most use of the internet to do some statistical research, but speaking with local dog walkers is indeed one of the quickest methods to get actionable tips on how to become a dog walker. Most dog walkers are usually nice and willing to talk, so you can benefit from their experience and knowledge that will be useful to your business.
Here are some typical questions for you to ask when researching your local market:
- What is the percentage of dog owners in your area?
- Where do most dog owners look for a dog walking service? (Internet, friend referral, or retail walk-in?
- Which areas do the majority of dog walkers cover?
- What is the average hourly rate for dog walkers in your area? (so that you can price your service properly and competitively)
- Is there a demand for group walks?
- What facilities are available in your target area? (Puppy-friendly public green spaces, parks, gardens, etc.)
- What other services do most dog walkers provide, and how much do they charge?
2. Draft a blueprint for your dog walking business
Creating a comprehensive business plan is essential for your dog walking business. Even the most new and small businesses can benefit from having a comprehensive business plan. A well-crafted business plan will guide your decision-making process, prepare you for potential future risks, and serve as a roadmap for long-term success.
Consider writing a concept statement in the early stages to outline your visions and goals, target market, services, pricing, marketing strategies, financial projections, and operational plans and to showcase the uniqueness of your business. I know all the aspects mentioned above might sound too much to handle, but the truth is that writing a business plan is not a daunting task at all. To get started, all you need is:
- A clear vision of what you want your dog walking to be (do you want it to be small and sweet, or scale it up to a manageable size?)
- A notion of the level of competition you may expect in this business
- Plans for how you'll manage and organize your dog walking business (do you plan to hire additional dog walkers to cover more areas? do you need special personnel to take care of the administrative task for you?).
- Ideas for services you'll provide (will you include pet grooming, boarding, or pet-sitting business in your services?)
- Curated marketing and promotion strategies (specifically, to expand your reach in the market, develop your customer base, and increase sales).
- Financial projections (the cost of business operation, financing, the revenue predicted over a given time period, etc.)
3. Calculate startup costs and seek funding
Starting a dog walking business involves a small amount of upfront costs, such as business registration, dog walking insurance, and some basic equipment to keep your business running and your furry friends entertained. Aside from these, let's not forget about the potential expenditure of promoting your business, which may vary depending on the level of efficacy you expect, but it may be a cost you can't afford to ignore.
So, here we encourage you to evaluate your financial needs and determine the best way to raise money for your business. This may include personal savings, small business loans, or partnerships with investors. Prepare a detailed financial projection to demonstrate the profitability and sustainability of your business to potential lenders or investors.
4. Set up your dog walking business
Pick a nice name and structure your business
First things first: carefully pick a name for your business that attracts the attention of your target clients and expresses your love and care for dogs. Then, register your business name and choose a legal business structure and business entity.
There are various structure options available to you. A sole proprietorship is basic and easy to run; a limited liability corporation (LLC) allows you to keep your own personal assets separate from your business's. Of course, if you're not sure what form of corporate entity your dog walking business requires, it's a good idea to pay for a consultation with an attorney or accountant to assess the pros and cons and identify the best structure for your dog walking business.
Obtain permits and licenses
Almost every municipality and state requires businesses to obtain business licenses before they are allowed to legally operate. So, if you want to start a dog walking business with just you and your four-legged friends, you'll need to acquire a permit from your local governing authority to ensure that what you're doing is legal and above board.
Simply take the time to find out the permits and licenses needed to run a dog walking service in your area. Based on our experience, usually you'll need a business license, liability insurance, and potentially pet first aid and CPR certification. Contact the appropriate authorities to understand the specific requirements and ensure legal compliance.
Purchase dog walking insurance
Most business owners have insurance in place before starting their business because insurance serves as a safety net for both themselves and their clients. The same goes for the dog walking business. I would say that the need for appropriate insurance is even greater when dealing with animals.
To begin, you'd better have a general but solid liability plan that will protect you in the event of any losses incurred while on your client's property or on anybody else's land during the walk. You should also consider personal and commercial property insurance to cover any losses or damages if dogs escape and cause harm to you or your business property. Last but not least, you should consider animal bailee insurance if you have the plan to carry dogs in your car or if you decide to include animal boarding in your services.
There are many other kinds of dog walking insurance to think about, depending on how you operate, so consider consulting a legal professional, insurance specialist, or any local governing body to make sure you have all the coverage you need before starting your dog walking business.
Establish policies and procedures for your service
Contracts, policies, and procedures allow your clients to understand the nature of your dog walking business and the specifics of the services you provide. Plus, they can also help you and your clients avoid potential confusion before, during, and after your service and make your dog walking service more legitimate.
Just determine your availability, rates, cancellation policy, and any specific requirements or restrictions for the dogs you'll walk, and clearly communicate these to your clients through the service agreement, getting them signed to set mutual expectations.
Bring in the necessary equipment
- To showcase your professionalism
While you won't need much equipment to walk a dog, you will need plenty of poop bags (I'm sure I don't have to explain this). Personalized dog walking equipment will help build your image and make you a dependable and professional dog walker. So, in addition to poop bags, you'll need some great walking shoes, extra leashes and collars, dog treats, and appropriate outdoor clothing for all weather.
If you plan to transport multiple dogs in a van, you should also consider having water and bowels in your van in case they get thirsty, as well as towels for drying off wet dogs to keep them from getting sick.
- To collect orders and payment
You should also think about how you will accept reservations and payments. It's okay to take orders manually via phone call or message at first, but once you've built up a large client base, it's difficult to keep things running without the assistance of some handy software or tools.
A point-of-sale (POS) system allows you to collect orders and customer information online before going to their home to walk their dogs, offering your clients a seamless online-to-offline booking experience. You don't need to make phone calls or send emails to confirm the order, and all cancellations and refunds can be handled automatically on that system, which is a huge time saver when you're running a large business.
Build a website for your dog walking business.
Creating a decent website for your dog walking service is an important step toward launching your business. Building a website on platforms like Shoplazza is inexpensive and simple to maintain, and a business website can do you a lot of good as you establish your business's reputation.
You should include information about yourself, your qualifications and experience, areas in which you operate, your hourly rate, and ways for potential clients to contact you on your website.
Furthermore, after you have a few loyal customers, you should encourage them to provide feedback on your service so that you can display it on your website as "testimonials from satisfied clients" to increase online conversions.
Finally, make sure your website is mobile-friendly and optimized for local search engines to increase its visibility in your area.
5. Promote yourself
After you have completed all of the necessary preparations, such as registration and building a website, you are only halfway through the process of successfully running your dog walking business. In order to succeed, you need to promote yourself to get new clients coming to your business.
The good news is that not all effective marketing approaches are expensive:
- Word-of-mouth marketing
Small business owners often underestimate the power of word-of-mouth advertising, which is particularly important for small businesses like dog walking because people looking for this kind of service prefer to commit the care of their beloved dogs to recommendations from friends and family.
As a result, you should think about introducing a customer referral program to your happy customers, incentivizing them to recommend your business by awarding them with pre-determined advantages such as free walks.
- Local advertising
Let's not forget about the good old school fashion–local advertising. Printing your business cards and flyers and distributing them on the street, where most of the owners dwell, can be the fastest way for your target audience to know about your business.
You can also consider purchasing a magnetic automobile sign and printing your business profile on it. You could put these giant magnets on both sides of your car, making it the ultimate moving advertisement for your dog walking business.
- Social media
Leverage the social media platforms to spread the words about your dog walking business. Facebook page, Instagram, and TikTok can all be a good place to start, and no matter where you are, spending time searching hashtags in this formula: location+dogs (e.g., #newyorkdogs, if you're in New York), following different people who have pages set up for their pets, constantly posting your working routine, interacting with your followers, and doing whatever you can to build a trusting online profile for your business.
6. Manage Your Dog Walking Business Effectively
To run a successful dog walking business, it's your responsibility to prioritize dog safety and well-being. So, it's highly encouraged that you follow leash laws, use proper equipment, and be aware of potential hazards or aggressive dogs in your walking routes.
Furthermore, developing trust and relationships with your clientele is essential for long-term business success. In addition to providing dependable and competent service to your clients, you might also consider educating them on dog walking and pet care, implementing an effective online-to-offline scheduling system to handle appointments, and optimizing your dog walking routes to enhance their satisfaction.
Prepare for the challenges of running a dog walking business
Running a dog walking business is both fun and difficult. It's important to be aware of the potential difficulties you may face. To help you be more prepared, we've listed below some common challenges in the dog walking businesses and how you can overcome them:
- Competition: The dog walking industry can be competitive, particularly in densely populated areas. To stand out from the competition, focus on providing exceptional service, building strong relationships with clients, and differentiating yourself through specialized services or unique selling points.
- Weather influence: Weather conditions can seriously affect your ability to walk dogs comfortably and safely. Prepare for extreme weather conditions by investing in appropriate gear, such as raincoats or booties for dogs, and communicate with clients about potential weather-related adjustments to your services.
- Time Management: Managing your schedule and ensuring you have enough time to walk all your clients' dogs can be challenging, especially as your business grows. Use scheduling tools or software to organize and optimize your route and ensure that you have enough time to provide quality care for each dog.
- Pet Safety and Emergency Preparedness: Dogs can be unpredictable, and it's essential to prioritize their safety during walks. Develop protocols for handling emergency situations, such as lost dogs or injuries, and consider obtaining pet first aid and CPR certification to ensure you're prepared for any potential emergencies.