Starting a dog walking business, like any business, takes time, patience and lots of hard work. Dog walking can however be a rewarding and fulfilling way to earn a living – many people would love a job that allows them to be out in the fresh air and working with dogs every day.
So if you’ve decided that becoming a professional full time dog walker is your ideal career, then these tips should help give you a better idea about getting started and setting up for success.
1 / Improve your knowledge of dogs
One of the most important things you can do as a dog walker is improve your general knowledge of dogs and dog behaviour. Having a good level of understanding about dog behaviour, canine body language and how to handle a dog with behavioural issues are just some of the crucial areas you need to know about.
Not only will it make your life and job so much easier, you will be better prepared for situations that may arise during your dog walks. As with any field there is always more to learn so make keeping up to date on the latest articles and studies part of your weekly routine.
It’s vital that you learn from qualified professionals who educate using the latest research and scientific studies. There are some fantastic Facebook pages regularly posting about dog behaviour, I’ve listed them below so pop over and give them a ‘like’.
- Canine Behaviour Research Studies
- Paws Abilities Dog Training
- Pets in Practice
- Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services
- Animal Behaviour Matters
- Victoria Stillwell
2 / Establish your business goals
Conduct market research by checking out your local competition. A good place to start is to head over to Google and type in ‘dog walker falkirk (or whatever town you live in)’, you’ll most likely find a whole bunch of results. A few questions to ask yourself as you have a look through your local competition are:
- What services do they offer and do I want to provide the same?
- Do they only work in a certain area? Is it the same area I plan to target?
- What things do I like/dislike about their business?
- Are their prices available? Do I plan to charge the same, less or more?
- What can I offer that is different to make me stand out?
Once armed with all your research, it should make establishing your plans and goals for the business much easier. You will have to make projections on income, the hours you plan to work, the services you want to offer and how much you want to charge.
3 / Get dog handling experience
Walking other people’s dogs is completely different to walking your own. You know your dog’s likes/dislikes and quirks but taking out a new client is a bit of an unknown.
Dogs come in all shapes, sizes and personalities so if you only have experience with lhasa apsos and your first client is a bouncy 36kg boxer you might end up feeling a bit overwhelmed.
If you’re lacking experience in the dog walking department you could offer to walk your friends or family members dogs. Or try local shelters and rescues who are usually on the lookout for help walking the dogs in their care, it can be a fantastic way to work with lots of different breeds.
It’s also worthwhile considering how many dogs you want to take out at a time and how many you’d successfully be able to handle. You may want to take out 4 dogs on a group walk but that means 4 personalities that need to get on and 4 bodies that you need to keep an eye on.
If you are just starting out it is best to keep to 1 or 2 dogs until you get your bearings and improve your dog handling skills. With new clients a couple of solo walks will allow you to get to know the dog, their likes/dislikes and whether they could be walked with another dog.
4 / Protect yourself and your business
People are entrusting you with their canine companions and should anything unfortunate happen during a walk you need to be covered. Therefore a good insurance policy is essential and you really should not start your dog walking business until you have adequate cover in place.
There are a number of insurance policies available and the cover is typically between £70 and £200 depending on the level you choose. It’s a small invest that can save you hefty payments if something happens to a dog in your care.
Ideally you want cover for Care, Custody & Control of Animals, Employers’ Liability, Public Liability, Professional Indemnity, Custodial Responsibility and Transport insurance.
You may want to check out the following providers for quotes and an appropriate policy for your needs.
5 / Sort out appropriate transport
Having appropriate transport will be essential to running your dog walking business successfully as you will most likely have to pick up clients and drive them to your chosen walking area.
You have a few options for transporting dogs including your own car or a van – both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Using your own car
It may be more cost effective to start your dog walking business by using your own car instead of purchasing a van. However, it’s not as easy as just having a car and letting the dogs sit anywhere they fancy – you’ll need to kit it out for safe transportation.
The best way to do that is by getting dog cages or crates fitted securely to the boot of the car. The cages should be fairly large in size to accommodate larger breeds that you may have as clients and have some comfy blankets for them to lay on. This will keep them safe while you take them from a to b and saves you trying to drive with a slobbery head in your face or an over enthusiastic pooch jumping on your knee.
If you do use your own car, make sure to update your insurance to state it’s also being used for business purposes and that you will be transporting dogs.
Purchasing a van
Having a van is ideal as it can be used specially for your dog walking business, which can have a number of benefits. The only stumbling block may be the cost of buying a new vehicle if you are low on start-up funds.
The van can be fitted with a cage system for transporting the dogs in a safe and secure manner and should also have a ventilation system. You can add professional signage to the van promoting who you are, what services you offer and contact info – perfect way to advertise as you drive around town.
Which ever option you choose make sure you have adequate provisions in place for transporting the dogs safely. The United Kingdom (UK) ‘Highway Code’ states: ‘When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you if you stop quickly’.
6 / Get yourself a ‘dog walking kit’
You will need to prepare for every eventuality so it’s a good idea to have a dog walking kit containing a number of supplies to help things go smoothly.
Some equipment you will likely need on a regular basis are; leads, collars, harnesses, tick-removers, treat bags, wipes, towels, tasty treats, poop bags and a portable water dish.
Having a dog first aid kit is advisable in case you have to deal with a medical emergency while out on a walk. Dogs are unpredictable and accidents can happen, a simple first aid kit can provide vital treatment until you can get the dog to the vet. Check out my ‘14 Essentials For Your DIY Dog First Aid Kit’.
7 / Determine your advertising methods
So you’ve set up your dog walking business offering fantastic services and you’re ready to start but no clients. Don’t panic – there are a number of ways to get your name out there and clients signing up for your services.
First thing to do is set a advertising budget – when starting out you may have to invest a reasonable amount for the best chance of success.
Let’s talk about the advertising options available:-
Investing in a website is a must – not only will it convey professionalism it is a fantastic way for prospective clients to find you. A well designed website may seem like an expense you can’t afford but the benefits far outweigh the initial costs.
A professionally designed website can advertise your business online 24/7 allowing you to attract new clients and keep existing ones updated on your latest news. Click here to read our free detailed guide on designing a website for a dog business.
You’ll need a domain name and hosting for your website. Click here to get a great deal from Bluehost which includes a free domain and SSL certificate for a low monthly cost.
Business cards and leaflets
Business cards are a convenient and easy way to promote your services and provide potential clients with your contact details. Keep a handful in your pocket so you can give out to people you meet out and about or ask some local businesses if they’d mind having a pile in their shops.
You may also want to have leaflets printed to advertise your services, which you can be displayed in the local shops or vet practices.
It’s important to be consistent with your branding by keeping a similar style and colour scheme across all your marketing materials. It will help create a recognisable brand for your dog business and make you look more professional.
One of your biggest marketing tools is social media – it’s not only free but it allows you to connect with your clients and keep them updated on the latest news.
Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube are the major players at the moment and you should consider creating a business profile on at least a few of them. Don’t try to post on them all as that can stretch you thin, it is best to pick a couple and focus on building those.
Find out where your target audience is and concentrate on those social media platforms. Click here to read our tips for setting up your Facebook page.
Now I know that was a lot of take in but these tips will help you set up and launch your dog walking business on the right footing.
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