How to Start a Dog Walking Business

Along with Dog Day Care, Dog walking is one of the fastest-growing businesses in the pet industry. That’s because people love their pets. They want them to have the best of care with interaction – and a potty break – with a dog walker and not home alone.

According to statistics, more than 75% of US households have a dog! That’s a lot of potential clients looking for a dog walking service.

This article will explain every aspect of how to start a dog walking business and how to help your business thrive.

Why Start a Dog Walking Business?

Dog walking is a service that’s highly needed in many urban and suburban areas, especially where there are high concentrations of pet owners who work long hours and are unable to walk their dogs during the day. However, it’s essential to note that the profitability and popularity of such businesses can vary significantly depending on numerous factors, such as location, competition, operating costs, and client demand.

If you love dogs and enjoy going for walks, a dog walking service is a great business for you. Of course, you’ll need insurance (more on that later), but your overhead costs are low.

Current Trends in the Dog Walking Industry

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people adopted pets while working from home, which initially reduced the demand for dog walking services. However, as people started going back to work, demand began to pick up again.

Many people were using apps to book dog walking services. Companies like Rover and Wag! have popularized the use of apps for this purpose, offering a convenient way for dog owners to find and book dog walkers in their local area.

These platforms often feature profiles of each dog walker, including reviews from other clients, to help pet owners make informed decisions. Payments and scheduling are also usually handled directly through the app, making the process seamless for both the dog walker and the owner.

The Importance of a Dog Walking Service to Pet Owners

The majority of pet owners who need dog walkers are working full-time. A dog should not be confined to a house or apartment for all of those 8 or more hours.

The pet owners know that. Having a reliable dog walker will give the owners peace of mind, and also provide a respite with socialization for their pet.

What Does a Dog Walker Do?

If you’re interested in learning how to start a business as a dog walker, that starts with determining what types of services you’ll offer. Dog walkers can conduct their business in a variety of ways.

One-on-One Dog Walks

Just as it sounds, it’s the dog walker and one dog.

Group Dog Walks

The dog walker may take a group, such as a number of dogs from the same household, or take a group of dogs that get along and walk well together.

Dog Sitting Services

A dog walker may expand from the daily dog walk to add additional walks, such as when the owners are on vacation. Typically a full day of care would involve 4 or 5 visits to the client’s house to walk the dog.

Business Models for Dog Walking Companies

As you develop your business model, here are some factors you should consider:

Location: Areas with a higher density of pet owners who are also busy professionals are generally more profitable.
Competition: In some areas, there may be many competitors, including professional services, amateur dog walkers, and even app-based dog walking services. Competition can impact profitability.
Rates: The amount you can charge for dog walking services varies by location, the level of service you provide, and what the market will bear.
Operating Costs: Insurance, fuel if you are picking up dogs, equipment (like leashes and poop bags), and marketing can all eat into profits.
Client Retention: Reliable and high-quality service can lead to long-term clients and more stable income.
Scale: Walking more dogs or offering additional services like pet sitting, pet feeding, or overnight stays can increase revenue.
Seasonal Variations: Depending on your location, weather conditions like extreme heat, cold, or rain can affect your business.
Regulatory Environment: Some places require licenses or permits to operate a dog walking business. Compliance with regulations can also affect profitability.

Key Steps to Start Your Own Dog Walking Business

Before you start, take your time to do research and plan how you’ll set up your business. Start with market research.

Conducting Market Research on the Pet Business

Your market research should of course focus on similar dog walking services in the area. Those are your direct competitors.

Your market research should also consider the number of pet businesses that are in the area, such as veterinarians, groomers, pet stores and every pet baker. Knowing how many pet businesses are in the area can help you gauge your customer base.

Crafting a Dog Walking Business Plan

The majority of dog walkers set up their business as a Limited Liability Corporation, or LLC. That way, the business is kept separate from personal property.

You should develop a written business plan. The business plan should include a Mission Statement (your reasons for starting the business) along with a description of how the business is structured, such as LLC.

If you’re the sole proprietor, you should also include information about your level of experience. Every well-crafted business plan also includes plans for expansion.

Legal Requirements for a Professional Dog Walker

Legal requirements for dog walkers can vary depending on jurisdiction, local laws, and individual client needs. Below are some general guidelines that many dog walkers must follow, but it’s important to consult your own local laws and regulations:

Licensing and Permits

Business License: Many local governments require you to obtain a business license to operate.
Permits: Some cities require specific permits to walk dogs in public parks.
Insurance: Liability insurance is often required, and some clients may ask for proof of this.

Looking into Dog Walking Insurance

Liability insurance will be required, and savvy clients will ask for proof of this.

Being bonded is generally not a legal requirement for dog walkers, but it is often recommended and can offer several benefits. “Bonding” in this context refers to a type of insurance that protects your clients in case of dishonest or fraudulent activities on your part, such as theft. Here are some reasons why a dog walker might consider being bonded:

Should You Be Bonded?

There are advantages to taking steps to be bonded:

Client Trust: Knowing that you’re bonded can offer peace of mind to your clients. It assures them that you’re a professional and that they’re protected against potential losses.
Competitive Edge: Being bonded can give you an edge in a competitive market. Clients comparing different dog walkers may prefer someone who is both insured and bonded.
Legal Protection: In case something unfortunate happens, such as an accusation of theft, being bonded can provide some financial and legal protection.
Business Relationships: Being bonded may open doors to working with more upscale clients or commercial contracts that require these kinds of financial assurances.

Steps to Get Bonded:

Find a Surety Company: This is the company that will issue your bond. You may be able to get a bond through the same company that provides your liability insurance.
Apply: You’ll need to fill out an application and undergo a credit check.
Pay the Premium: Once approved, you’ll need to pay a premium for the bond. The cost will depend on the amount of the bond and your creditworthiness.
Get Your Bond Certificate: You’ll receive a bond certificate as proof that you’re bonded. You may need to show this to clients or include it in your professional portfolio.
Renew as Necessary: Most bonds are time-sensitive and will need to be renewed periodically.

While bonding might be an additional expense and not strictly necessary for all dog walkers, it could be a wise investment, especially if you’re looking to expand your client base and increase trustworthiness in your services.

Pricing Your Dog Walking Services

Determine Costs

Overheads: Include any costs for marketing, insurance, fuel, and dog walking supplies like leashes, poop bags, etc.
Time: Consider how much time it takes to complete one walking session, including travel, preparation, and the walk itself.
Expertise: If you have special skills or certifications, you might be able to charge a premium.
Operational Costs: Account for vehicle maintenance, administrative tasks, and any other behind-the-scenes work.

Pricing Models

Per Walk: Charging per walk is straightforward, but consider offering packages for multiple walks per week at a discounted rate.
Per Hour: Some walkers charge by the hour, especially for more involved pet-sitting services.
Additional Services: If you offer extra services like feeding, training, or administering medication, consider how these will be priced.
Multi-dog Discount: Offering a discount for multiple dogs from the same household can be attractive to clients.

Pricing ModelDescriptionConsiderations

Per WalkCharging customers for every single walk.Consider offering packages for multiple walks per week at a discounted rate.

Per HourCharging based on the time spent walking the dog, often seen in more involved pet-sitting scenarios.This model can cater to clients wanting a longer walk or additional attention for their pets.

Additional ServicesPricing for other services beyond just walking, such as feeding, training, or administering medication.Determine a set price for each additional service or offer it as an add-on to other packages.

Multi-dog DiscountProviding a reduced rate when walking multiple dogs from the same household during the same session.Attract clients with multiple dogs, but ensure the discount still covers operational costs.

Getting a Small Business Website

Definitely set up a small business website and a social media presence, starting with a Facebook page. Clients love to connect with social media while at work and are gratified to see their pet enjoying a walk and attention.

Learning Pet First Aid

While not always legally required, some jurisdictions and clients prefer or mandate dog walkers to be certified in pet first aid.

It’s also extremely important to have a client consent form. The client consent form includes clear instructions and consent from the dog’s owner that allows you to walk and feed the dog, as well as seek medical treatment if necessary.

How to Run a Successful Dog Walking Business

Now, the actual nuts and bolts of running the dog walking business.

Safety Protocols for a Dog Walker

Dog walkers must, of course, follow local leash and poop-scoop lawns.

An important part of the walk is to secure the dog. Many dogs left at home will rush to the door when they hear the dog walker arrive. To maintain safety, in some cases, you may ask the owner to have the dog restrained in a room (behind a pet gate) or in a crate.

Most importantly, they must maintain control over the dog or dogs they are walking. Although it’s more efficient to walk more than one dog at a time, you should only do that when it’s safe to do so.

If you’re walking a dog using a leash and collar, the type of collar is important. A “snap together” collar is not as reliable and sturdy as a buckle collar.

Let the dogs and your level of experience dictate that. Also, provide the service that the customer wants – customers may feel their pet would not relax and enjoy a group walk.

Efficient Scheduling and Route Planning for Dog Walkers

Scheduling can be tough. Most clients are going to leave for work in the morning and want their dog walked at midday. That means you’ll be walking dogs during a relatively short time frame.

Although each dog has a set time for a walk, you also have to consider your travel time to the next client’s house.

Customer Relations and Communication with Dog Owners

Dog owners love to hear about their dog’s walk, even if it’s a short text with a picture. That also lets them know that the service has been provided.

As someone who sees the pet regularly, you may also notice changes in the dog’s health, such as a slight limp or poor stool. This should be noted to the pet owner.

Marketing Your Dog Walking Business

Once you’ve sorted through the top dog walking business names and created a strong brand, you’ll be posting information about all the pet-related businesses in the area (as allowed), including animal shelters. But don’t stop there. Place information in all the local businesses which will allow you to do so. Always carry a business card while you’re walking dogs – this is a great way to build a business in a neighborhood where you already have clients.

Online, encourage clients to share your posts about their dog.

How to Get Prospective Clients for Your Dog Walking Business

When you get new clients, find out how they heard about your service. If a certain local pet business becomes a main source of your new customers, set up a meeting. Let them know you appreciate their role in building your clientele, and think of ways you can partner to help each other’s businesses grow.

For example, if you’re getting new clients from a pet groomer, recommend the groomer to your dog walk clients.

Essential Tools for a Dog Walking Business

The overhead costs of equipment for a dog walking business aren’t high.

Dog Walking Gear

You’ll need a great pair of walking shoes or boots and the right apparel as the weather dictates.

Software and Apps for Dog Walking Businesses

Apps such as Rover and Wag! are commonly used by walkers and clients to set up walk times. Keep your customers in mind since there may be some who aren’t comfortable using Apps.

Vehicle Requirements

Of course, it’s important to have a reliable vehicle to get you to customers’ houses. You should also have a backup plan for renting a vehicle should your vehicle need repair or break down.

Dog Walking Franchise vs. Independent Dog Walking Business

There are pros and cons:

Yes, there are dog walking franchises that offer individuals the opportunity to start their own dog walking business under a recognized brand name. Franchising can offer several benefits over starting a business from scratch:

Advantages of Franchising:

Brand Recognition: Operating under a well-known franchise can give you immediate credibility and help attract clients.
Business Support: Franchises usually offer support in the form of training, marketing materials, and business plans. This can be very helpful for people new to running a business.
Networking: Being part of a franchise can provide valuable opportunities to network with other franchise owners and share insights and advice.
Bulk Purchasing: Some franchises negotiate deals with suppliers, which can save you money on things like dog walking supplies or branded apparel.
Ongoing Support: Franchises often offer ongoing training and support to help you adapt to changes in the industry and improve your business skills.

Disadvantages of Franchising:

Initial Costs: Buying into a franchise usually involves a substantial initial investment.
Ongoing Fees: Franchisees are typically required to pay ongoing fees, which could be a percentage of your revenue.
Less Autonomy: When you’re part of a franchise, you must follow the franchisor’s rules and policies, which might limit your creative freedom.
Contractual Obligations: You will likely be bound by a franchise agreement that dictates how you run your business, possibly including territory restrictions.

AspectAdvantages of FranchisingDisadvantages of Franchising

Brand RecognitionOperating under a well-known franchise can give you immediate credibility and help attract clients.-

Business SupportFranchises usually offer support in the form of training, marketing materials, and business plans.-

NetworkingBeing part of a franchise can provide valuable opportunities to network with other franchise owners and share insights and advice.-

Bulk PurchasingSome franchises negotiate deals with suppliers, which can save you money on things like dog walking supplies or branded apparel.-

Ongoing SupportFranchises often offer ongoing training and support to help you adapt to changes in the industry and improve your business skills.-

Initial Costs-Buying into a franchise usually involves a substantial initial investment.

Ongoing Fees-Franchisees are typically required to pay ongoing fees, which could be a percentage of your revenue.

Autonomy-When you’re part of a franchise, you have to follow the rules and policies set by the franchisor.

Contractual Obligations-You will likely be bound by a franchise agreement that dictates how you run your business, possibly including territory restrictions.

Franchising isn’t for everyone, but it can be a good fit if you’re new to the business world and appreciate having a structured support system.

FAQs: How to Start a Dog Walking Business

How profitable is a dog walking business?

There are a number of factors that affect your bottom line.

Rates: The amount you charge per walk can vary depending on your location, the demand for dog walking services, and your level of expertise. Rates can range from around $15 to $40 per walk per dog. So, for example, if you’re providing a half-hour walk per dog from about 11 am to 1 pm, with travel, you may be walking 4 dogs. If that’s at $40 per dog, you’re making $160. If it’s 5 days a week, it’s $800.
Number of Walks: Your earnings will depend on how many dogs you can walk in a day. Some dog walkers walk multiple dogs at once, which can increase revenue.
Additional Services: Offering services like pet sitting, feeding, or basic grooming can add to your income.
Regular Clients: Consistency is key. Regular, long-term clients can provide a stable income.
Specialized Services: Specializing in walking certain breeds or offering specialized training during walks can also add value and allow you to charge premium rates.

How do I set prices for my dog walking services?

Each area and client base will present different considerations. As part of your market research, you’ll learn what others are charging. That will give you a guideline for setting prices for your new dog walking business.

Consider your costs including administrative work, time and travel.

You can charge per walk or per hour. You can offer discounts for multiple pets, or for senior customers. You may also be able to charge for add-on services (feeding, picking up poop).

Do Pet Sitters employ Dog Walkers?

Yes that can happen. The Pet Sitter who is providing care during an overnight stay may not be able to also handle the dog walking needs during the day.

Dog walkers are more apt to employ dog walkers! Because of the window of time when dogs need to be walked, a dog walker may quickly become over booked. Or, because of injury, illness, vacation or other event, the dog walker may need to hire a substitute. Either way, if you hire an employee there are additional requirements, such as providing workers compensation.

Image: Envato Elements

This article, “How to Start a Dog Walking Business” was first published on Small Business Trends