If you need flexibility, like being outdoors, don’t have much start-up cash, want to meet lots of like-minded people and like four legged animals, then why not start a dog walking business?
Unleash your canine passion: how to start a dog walking business
Before you leave your day job do your homework. We can’t stress this enough. Research dog walker services in your area. Are there any? What are their rates? How do they advertise? Make sure that you know what's involved before you take up working with animals.
Remember that you’re going to have to build your business up from the ground so make sure you have the financial means to support yourself. If cash is tight why not start doing it part time in the (summer) evenings and on weekends or bank holidays?
Have you ever noticed how people will talk to you when you have a furry friend at your side? Walking more than one dog at a time can be tricky but you will be sure to get the attention of other dog walkers. Make sure you have busienss card son you at all time because people are likely to stop you and ask questions.
Before you take the plunge, let's consider what's involved.
It's more than just a walk in the park...
Looking after other people's pets is a big responsibility. You will need dog whispering skills and human communicaiton skills too if you want to be successful. You will also need stamina and a level of personal fitness- especially if you are going to be walking larger breeds of dog.
Are you happy to go out in all weathers- rain or shine to exercise your charges? If you lack expereince you might want to consider volunteering at your local dog home or kennel before you start up to make sure it's a business you can handle.
Think about what you’re going to offer.
Will it just be straight dog walking? Will you walk a pack of dogs at a time? Will you combine pet sitting and dog walking services? We have a friend who takes in small creatures like rabbits, mice, and guinea pigs when their owners go away. Could you offer a pet feeding service? Popping around to houses while owners are away?
As wilth all business ventures there are lots of questions you will need to consider.
How are you going to get around? It might be wise to restrict yourself to a particular area to save on travelling times. If you live in a small place you may be able to drive between appointments, but in bigger cities like London this could take time and will incur parking costs (which you’ll need to factor in to your costs). A bicycle or scooter could be the solution to get you from A to B quickly, cheaply and efficiently (and adds to your daily exercise quota!).
Once you’ve decided on an area check out the open spaces available to you. You will need a park or similar to exercise the dogs in and if there is nothing in your area, consider the next closest location. Whichever suburb you set your sights on make sure you know it well.
Make sure you know where local vets are in your chosen area – in case of an emergency or injury to one of your charges.
Setting up a dog walking service isn't difficult. It's a good idea to check out Narps UK- that's the The National Association for Pet Sitters & Dog Walkers. You will also want to get dog walking insurance, Direct Line and a variety of vetinary practices offer this kind of insurance but be sure to shop around.
You will need business insurance and public liability insurance so you will need to research the best cover. Some dogs can be worth a small fortune so if you want to look after expensive breeds it will give your customers peace of mind if you can provide evidence of a criminal record check on yourself or staff you employ.
You will also have to register your business with HMRC. All dogs in the UK have to be microchipped by law so this is something you need to check with your clients – to avoid a £500 fine!
As you grow your business your primary aim will be to give the pets owners (your prespective customers) peace of mind. Be sure of being able to demonstrate that you are responsible and a safe person to entrust their beloved pooch to. Having appropriate insurance cover and proof of a crb check will help assure clients and enable you to manage your own risk too.
Know your dog psychology
It seems obvious, but you will need to know something about dogs and their behaviour. It might be wise to read up, google or watch lots of episodes of The Dog Whisperer (Cesar Milan). On a more serious note it makes sense to have a bit of training (and there are lots of ways you can do this for little or no cost online) and to understand how and why dogs behave in particular ways. Not all dogs you walk will be angels and you may meet some badly behaved dogs when you’re out and about. It’s best to be as prepared as you can. Dogs need to know who is in charge – and it’s not them!
Remember you will be responsible for your client’s dogs so you need to be able to control them and think about when and if it’s safe to let them off the lead or whether they are socialised to cars (very important, especially in areas of high traffic), other dogs (again, super important as if dogs are not socialised they can be aggressive towards other dogs and people) and people. It might be wise to develop some kind of initial questionnaire which you and your client can fill out during your first interview covering all of the above and things specific to their dog and its needs.
Sort the paperwork
You will also need a simple client contract (easily obtainable online) and a way of keeping records. It is really important to keep track of your clients and to hold their information in a database. Naturally your most important tool may be your diary - all phones, tablets and computers have very efficient (and free) calendars into which you can put all relevant information and set reminders. Make sure you are very clear about your appointments – check weekly and daily so that you don’t let any clients down. Do you have a system for cancelling appointments if something comes up? You will also need a reliable way for clients to get in touch with you to change or cancel appointments. Think about how you will store clients’ personal data and things like their keys – a small key safe might be a good investment.
After consultation with owners invest in some dog treats, poo bags (lots of poo bags) and perhaps an extra lead or two just in case. You will also need appropriate all-weather clothing and shoes (this is the UK after all).
Once you know what you’re offering and have set up a competitive pricing system you will need to market your business. There are many ways to get your name out there. Set up a website (there are lots of cheap, simple options), print flyers and put them up in local shops, vets, parks – anywhere where dog owners might congregate,. You could even stick them through letterboxes, although this might be expensive initially. You could have business cards printed. Use social media to your full advantage, set up a Facebook page, tweet, Instagram – anything to draw attention to your new venture. And talk – talk to everyone and anyone about your new venture. Hang around parks and chat to dog owners (might be easier if you have a dog, but if not borrow one!), let people know you’re there and ready to take on clients.
Pooper scoopers, poop bags, water to hydrate you charges and the occassional snack or trick will all come in handy. Get yourself and spare lead and collar and a comfortable backpacks to put all your kit into. Don't forget yourself; decents shoes, a hat, suncream- you get the idea.
It's all about trust dawg!
When dog owners hire you they want to know that they can trust you. That means being clear and open in your communication. They will want to know that they can rely on you. Work out a schedule and make sure your time keeping skills are impeccable.
Are your communication skills up to scratch? Your reputation will be the cornerstone of your business. Dog lovers talk to each other and if you can build a reputation for providing a good service then word will spread fast. Just remember though that bad news will spread even faster!
Put a portfolio together with all your insurance documents, testimonials and refrences so that you can show it to prospective customers.
Once you start getting clients, if you’re efficient, competitive, professional (important for every busieness) and reliable, you will soon have lots of word-of-mouth recommendations. Don’t forget to ask satisfied clients to recommend you. Get some testimonials which you can use to promote your business.
Good luck and HAVE FUN – what could be better than spending your days outside in the fresh air with a pack of furry friends!