If you’ve been thinking of starting a dog walking business, then good for you! It’s a burgeoning industry.
Just think — this field barely existed a decade ago. Most people just had their neighbors watch their dogs, or they took their pets to a kennel.
In this article, we’ll explore the basics of getting started.
Part 1: How to Start a Dog Walking Business
First, You’ll Need a Plan
Proper planning and organization are the initial steps.
One thing you may not realize is that as you are walking dogs, you may need to drive to the dogs’ location to either pick them up or walk them in their neighborhood. So factor in that time and mileage, and plan out your workdays.
This initial planning is one of the biggest startup challenges, according to Jeff Hook, owner of Jeffpet Custom Pet Care in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
“Picking up and dropping off dogs all day is not easy to coordinate,” Hook says. “To have any hope of making a profit, you have to minimize mileage. Actual car expenses can get out of control, and if you are not careful you will end up losing money.”
What’s Your Clientele Like?
Key questions to ask yourself as you consider your business location:
- What percentage of people have dogs?
- What percentage of the people who have dogs have full-time jobs?
- How is the economy in this area?
By answering these questions, you can determine whether or not there are:
- Enough dogs to support your business
- Enough people who spend a lot of time outside their homes
- Enough people who can afford to pay for extras — such as a dog walker
“Unless you live in a city, you cannot make a living walking dogs,” says Hook. “You can pick up a few bucks here and there — supplement your income — but that’s about it.”
So make sure you have enough customers to meet your business needs.
What Equipment to Buy
You’ll need a few basic things to get started:
- Different sizes of collars
- Poop bags
You can buy other equipment as needed. The cost can add up quickly, so buy in bulk from a local wholesaler to save money.
Hook has some advice: “Newbies should stick to walking small, well-behaved dogs.” Then, as you gain experience, you can add more and more equipment.
How Much Should You Charge?
Pricing your services is one of the most critical areas of any business. But how do you determine what is the “right price” for dog walking?
- Call around and find out what other dog walkers in your area charge.
- Consider whether or not you’ll offer a wider selection of services.
- Then decide if you’ll want to undercut the competition or if you’d like to offer more services and charge a bit more.
The average price for a 20-minute walk is around $15–20 per dog, plus tip.
Of course, this is a rough estimate and varies by location, time of day and length of walk. If you figure 8 dogs a day, at $16 per walk, that’s $33,000 per year, plus tips.
Cathy Vaughan, writing in How to Start a Home-Based Pet-Sitting and Dog-Walking Business, advises:
“Be careful not to overextend yourself…. You can do 10–12 visits for 4–5 days, but with any more than that you run the risk of getting run down physically, emotionally and mentally.”
You also should factor in your preferred method of payment. Many businesses accept credit cards. If you want to take credit cards, discuss this with your bank.
Know the Licensing Requirements
In many towns and/or cities, businesses must be licensed. Make sure you’re in line with the law in your area.
At a very minimum, print out a few business cards and fliers. You can hand them out and post them in areas that have a lot of “dog traffic,” such as at veterinarians’ offices and dog parks.
Start a website for your business and open accounts on Facebook and Twitter to promote yourself.
Even though getting your dog walking business off the ground may seem like a daunting task at first, with the right planning you’ll be well positioned to make it a success.
Part 2: How Getting Certified Can Boost Your Dog Walking Business
This section of the article was written by Melissa Smith, a professional dog walker/pet sitter.
Dog walking can be a fun and profitable business. It nets you fresh air, exercise and, best of all, playtime with dogs.
As a pet sitter, I offer dog walking as one of my services. But when I started my business, one thing I didn’t realize was that there are actual certification courses.
Some of the courses are online, so you can do them right from your home. Besides, with all those dogs to walk, who has time to go to a class?
What You Learn
The webpage for International Association of Professions (IAP) Career College’s dog walking certification states:
“You will learn what a dog walker does, how to develop your skills to succeed in a dog walking career, how to start your own dog walking business and how to market your dog walking services.”
Universal Class also offers a pet sitting and dog walking course.
By the end of the class, you should be able to:
- Identify whether a pet care business is right for you
- Describe preparation and training
- Know business plans and methods for protecting yourself
- Know the forms every pet sitter and dog walker should have
- Describe your equipment and vehicle
- Describe marketing your pet sitting/dog walking service
- Know how to find new clients and keep existing ones
- Describe handling difficult clients
- Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher
Considering the difficulties in starting up any kind of new business, this is handy information to have.
Why Get Certified?
Competition is fierce out there.
According to the Small Business Administration, roughly 50% of small businesses fail within 5 years, and only 1/3 make it to 10 years.
So everything you do to market yourself and nurture your dog walking business matters.
Certification also allows you to market yourself as being recognized by a legitimate institution as a knowledgeable practitioner in your field.
This can boost your business by:
- Giving you an edge over competitors
- Assuring clients that you take your job seriously as a dog walker
- Allowing you to possibly charge more than competitors for your services
There are a few cons to consider when deciding whether to attend a dog walking certification course. The biggest, of course, is cost.
Running a small business entails a lot of time wondering how you’re going to pay the bills and if this is actually going to work (trust me, I know). Costs for this kind of certification can range well into the hundreds of dollars.
Only you can decide if this is something your business can afford to pay and if the projected benefits will outweigh the costs.
This guy found his calling as a dog walker in New York:
It would be nice to know if the course you’re shelling out hard-earned money for is worthwhile.
You want a course that will teach you valuable skills, not one that simply offers a piece of paper at the end.
A good dog walker certification course will not only teach you skills that you can apply to dog walking, but also help you manage the business end of things. For example, IAP Career College says it will teach you how to start out on a budget and handle difficult clients.
Research your chosen course and provider carefully, and always read reviews.
If dog walker certification isn’t within your means at the moment, it’s a good idea to table it for now and make it a future goal. T
here are other things you can do to beef up your résumé in the meantime, including:
- Learning pet CPR — check with local veterinary offices and animal nonprofits to see if they offer a course
- Running a background check on yourself and offering to let clients see it
- Collecting references from happy clients whenever possible
Dog walking certification classes are a good way to learn valuable skills to help you start your business and may even help draw in new clients.
Just make sure to explore all your options and do your research before choosing a course.
Part 3: A Day in the Life of a Dog Walker
This section of the article was written by Allison Gray, a former animal shelter worker who has several years of experience as a dog walker.
When I first took a job walking dogs, I had an idea of what to expect.
And my expectations weren’t wrong. They just grossly underestimated the complexity of a job that seemed so simple.
- Each morning I walk 2.5 miles to my first client’s house.
- From there I walk 7 miles or more, looping around the neighborhood, collecting my clients’ pups and stretching their legs.
- I take notes of behavior on our walks, bathroom breaks and walking partners so I can send a little update to my clients after we finish.
- I pick up more poop than I care to mention, get slobbered on and get odd looks as I carry on conversations with my puppy pals.
But it’s an amazing job. And it’s so much more than just going for a little walk with a happy dog.
It’s Not Just About Walking Dogs
There’s more to the job than the name implies.
Dog walking, particularly as a full-time job, requires a considerable amount of planning and organization. That’s why I spend my mornings preparing for the day (and sometimes the week) ahead.
My morning agenda consists of:
- Corresponding with clients and coworkers via email
- Accepting walk requests or rerouting them to coworkers
- Double-checking and updating my daily calendar
- Mapping my walking route
- Packing my travel bag with necessities, including all the keys I need for the day
Being Efficient Means Walking in Pairs (Or Trios)
There is undoubtedly a sense of emotional reward and physical exhaustion from spending a solid 6 hours walking dogs, but for the job to be financially worthwhile, you have to be efficient.
That means getting the most out of each walk may require you to pair up compatible walking companions. To do so, you’ll want to map out an effective route.
When creating my map, I consider the time it takes to get from one pup’s home to the next and how feasible it is to create walking companions.
Taking Precautions and Being Responsible
When I walk my own dog, I take certain calculated risks that I wouldn’t take when walking my clients’ pets.
I do this because I know Babe, and I know how she’s going to react to most circumstances. I also know that she trusts and is comfortable with me.
When I walk my clients’ furry family members, on the other hand, I’m much more cautious:
- I rarely approach other dogs on our walks unless my clients specifically ask me to socialize their pups.
- I keep their leashes taut so I can quickly pull them away from other pets, garbage on the sidewalk, skateboarders, etc.
- I never let them off their leash (except in rare, specifically requested circumstances).
It’s important to be responsible about the pet that you’re caring for.
That’s why I always carry extra baggies (in case they like to spread out their bathroom breaks), and I keep a little cache of high-value treats to grab their attention for a moment of calm during our walks.
Create Your Report Card
My clients like to know how their pups did every day. They expect and appreciate an update from me.
So at the end of every walk, I take a minute or two to send a picture and text message highlighting where we went, who we met and any notes about potty breaks.
Hustle to Make Time Frames Work
Whether you’re going to drive to your dogs’ doorsteps, bike or walk, you need to keep moving to fit in all your pups.
That means you should have reliable transportation (even if it’s your own two feet) and be physically fit.
Dog walking can be really hard work:
- In a full day, I can walk up to 16 miles in a single 7-hour shift and walk 11–13 dogs.
- At the end of the day, my muscles are shot, my feet are screaming and I’m a gritty, sweaty mess.
But I welcome the challenge and finish my shift feeling accomplished.
A day in the life of a dog walker is a long one, full of walking, tugging, slobber and poop. It’s a job that is split between scheduling, administration, correspondence, exercise, training and playing.
By the end of the day, I’m covered in sweat and 15 different types of fur.
But the rewards of being greeted by one wagging tail after another as part of the job makes it worth every second.
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This article on how to start a dog walking business was written by Melissa Smith, a professional dog walker/pet sitter, and Allison Gray, a former animal shelter worker who has several years of experience as a dog walker.