How to start a dog walking business
There are a number of reasons for wanting to become a dog walker. Perhaps it's a passion for pooches, the desire to be physically active, or the chance to earn some good money. In fact, research shows that dog walking jobs can pay approximately £22,044 per year.
However, setting up a dog walking business is not necessarily a walk in the park. There are a number of things you should consider before launching your business. We spoke to the owners of professional dog walking business The Fairy DogMothers to get their thoughts on what you'll need to consider.
1. Qualifications and experience
Whilst you don't need a degree to become a dog walker, it goes without saying that experience with dogs is an absolute must. If you don't have your own pooch, try asking friends, family and neighbours if you can take theirs out to build your experience. If you're going to develop a dog walking business, you'll need to enjoy being around dogs and feel confident handling them - there's a lot more to it than playing ball.
You could also offer to volunteer at a local animal shelter where you can get to know various different breeds and develop an understanding of how to manage a number of different animals at once. Dogs often behave very differently in a pack environment, so it's vital that you have experience managing more than one at a time before beginning your business.
You can also take courses in things such as pet first aid, dog handling and animal care to boost your attractiveness to dog owners. You may also benefit from some basic business courses if this is your first business venture, though this is not compulsory.
2. Complying with the law
There are a number of rules, laws and regulations that you will need to comply with when setting up your dog walking services.
- HMRC: You should register with the HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) and become responsible for paying your tax and National Insurance. If you are self-employed, you will be expected to complete a self-assessment tax return annually, and pay income tax and National Insurance too, depending on how much you earn.
- Keep records: Keeping records of all the dogs you've walked and each payment is legally required, but will also ensure you pay the right amount of tax. You also need to record 'expendable' items you've had to buy as part of your business such as dog bowls, leads and marketing. This will help ensure you don't overpay tax. As part of the record-making process, you also need to ensure you protect your customer's information and are compliant with GDPR (The EU General Data Protection Regulation).
Canine laws: Ensure that you know the various government laws relating to dogs:
- The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005: Under this act, you could be fined up to £1,000 for breaching Dog Control Orders introduced by some local authorities for offences including failing to remove dog faeces and not keeping dogs on leads
- The Control of Dogs Order 1992: This mandates that any dog in a public place must wear a collar with the name and address of the owner engraved or written on it, or engraved on a tag
- The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991: It is a criminal offence to allow a dog to be 'dangerously out of control'
- Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953: Your dog can't worry (chase or attack) livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and poultry on agricultural land. If your dog does do this, the farmer has the right to stop your dog, including shooting it in certain circumstances
For more information, take a look at the Kennel Club's handy flyer on dog law. It's also worth bearing in mind that certain laws and regulations might differ slightly depending on where you live, so it's a good idea to speak to your local council to find out whether there are certain restrictions relevant to your local area.
3. Think about how many dogs you can walk
There is no nationwide limit on the number of dogs you're able to walk. It depends on where you live and regulations set by your council, as well as where you want to walk and what kind of dogs you will be walking. For example, walking three large Alsatians in an urban area is very different to walking three small terriers in the countryside.
Although there is no set limit in many parts of the country, you should be wary of trying to walk more than four dogs at any one time. The more dogs you walk, the less control you will have over the group, which can be a particular issue around areas where the dogs are more at risk of injury or getting into trouble -such as at a busy road crossing or sheep-filled paddock. The more dogs you walk at any one time, the less likely that you'll be able to provide each one with the attention that they require. If one dog starts to chase something then you may find the others follow, so walking a manageable number is vital. It's also important to spend some time getting to know each dog's temperament, so you can pair them up.
As well as thinking about how many dogs you can walk at once, think about how many dogs you can walk over the course of a week. It's important that you manage client expectations and don't take on more than you can handle. Each dog is someone's baby, and they're trusting you to give them the right level of care, attention and exercise.
4. Consider the costs
Becoming a member of NARPs (National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers) may be an important step for your dog walking business. Belonging to the association ensures you're up to date on all things relevant to the sector and also provides assurance to dog owners that you're taking your responsibilities seriously. Costs start from £25.00 per month (as of April 2019).
You may also want to consider a DBS check (Disclosure and Barring Service) to show clients that you are a trustworthy person. This costs approximately £25 for a basic background check.
There are many free ways to publicise your business such as putting a note in your local shop, but most ways will cost money such as printing out professional looking flyers or advertising in your local newspaper or community magazine. Make sure you take these costs into consideration when budgeting.
There's also a world of pet technology out there that can help you stay heads (and tails!) above the rest. You can read five of the most popular here.
You should also think about insurance to help put your mind at ease. Find out more about our dog walkers' insurance.
5. Your terms of service
You'll want to work out what the terms of your service are - what days of the week will you operate in? Are there any breeds you won't walk? How long is each walk going to take? You will also need to think about how much you charge per hour. You should find out what your competitors charge in order to ensure that your services are priced right. Whilst starting out, you may want to offer lower rates compared to your competition to attract new business.
As your business grows, you may also want to think about other support you can offer such as dog sitting services, or even consider getting qualified as a dog groomer. You will also need to think about whether you are going to need to hire temporary or full-time members of staff to support you as business grows.
You should also develop a 'terms of service' or contract that you can share with your clients which outlines your service and what will be covered.
6. Your brand
Once you're fully up to speed on the serious stuff, it's time to start thinking about your brand. What do you offer that makes you stand out from the competition? It's a good idea to conduct some market research to work out what your competition is and how you can do things differently or fill a market need.
Develop a business name as a first port of call. Many people will use their personal names if looking to start as a sole trader, but if you're looking to start a larger business, you may want to consider a brand name. Check that the name you've chosen isn't already in use and that website domains related to your name are available. But building a brand is so much more than just choosing a name. We spoke to branding experts at global marketing agency Mediacom, to hear their tips.
You may also want to create branded jackets, hats or dog toys with your logo on to increase awareness of your brand when passing dog owners whilst out on walks. It will also help your brand appear professional.
7. Promoting your business
You need to think about how to market your business in order to generate awareness of it within your local community. There are a number of ways to do this:
- Word of mouth: ask for your friends, family and customers to recommend you to other dog owners that they may know. There is nothing more powerful than personal recommendations. It's important that you retain great relationships with existing clients and provide fantastic customer service so that they wouldn't hesitate to recommend you to others
- Place adverts: depending on where you live, it might be worth putting adverts into local newspapers and magazines, as well as putting notices up in local shops. If you do this, make sure you're able to track the success of your adverts so you can find out whether they are worth the investment
- Flyers: you can also think about printing out flyers and putting them through the letterboxes of your local community. Make sure that your contact details are clearly listed and that you outline the benefits of your service and your experience/ accreditations. Keep this brief though, you want the information to be clear and concise. No one will read a flyer that is really wordy
- Social media: this can be a great way to generate awareness locally. For example, start a company page on a platform like Facebook and ask friends to like and follow it. You can also develop social media adverts and target them at dog lovers within your local community. Make sure you track conversions - either phone calls made to your business number or traffic to your website
8. Get the right dog walking insurance
In addition, you need to think about insurance to help put your mind at ease. There are unique potential hazards to being a dog walker that you will need to think about and take precautions against. These include if you are negligent and the dog you are responsible for is injured or causes damage to someone's property, or if they cause injury to another animal of person as a result of your lack of control or actions. The other benefit in having specialist dog walkers' insurance is that it will reassure your clients that you take your responsibilities seriously. Find out more about our pet business insurance here.