Love and guilt are two of the most powerful human emotions. People who own dogs frequently feel both. They feel unconditional love from their dogs when they are home. Then they feel the guilt of leaving their dog at home for hours or days on end when they head to work or on holiday. It is estimated that 27% of UK adults are dog owners and odds are, at some point, they will need someone to walk their dogs. It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the dog walking business, but if you build a reputation as a reliable dog walker, there is some serious money to be made.In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about how to start a dog walking business so that you have the perfect platform to succeed.
Build Your Understanding of Canine Behaviour and Breed Traits
There are more than 300 hundred breeds of dogs around the world that are divided into 10 major groups. While each breed is unique, you can study the common behavioural traits of each group to get a general idea of their temperaments and needs. Obviously, every individual dog is different but having a basic understanding of a breed’s behavioural traits will pay dividends once you start your dog walking business. It’s generally accepted that dogs, like humans, should get a minimum of 20 minutes of exercise a day but different breeds require different amounts of exercise. For example, a Shepherd dog could walk for 30 minutes and want to keep going while a smaller breed like an English Bulldog will easily tire after 15 to 20 minutes. You will inevitably encounter dogs that don’t enjoy walks and simply want to relieve themselves and go back inside. Once you start the business, it won’t take long for you to understand dog behaviour but studying in advance will help.
Decide if Your Business is Full-time or Something on the Side
As is standard for starting any business, you will need a plan. With a dog walking business, you should decide if you are starting a small side-hustle to make a bit of extra cash or going into it full-on as your primary business. Many dog walking businesses start out as small side businesses but evolve into fully-fledged businesses once their reputation grows. It is important not to get disheartened if it takes a little time to attract customers. This is a normal part of starting any type of business but if you follow the steps in this article, you will soon start seeing results.
Define Your Parameters
Set a radius for how far you are willing to travel to meet your customers. With petrol prices sky-high, it’s obvious that the more customers you have that are nearer to your home, the better. If you live in a densely populated area, ideally you can simply walk to your customers’ homes. If you have to drive or take mass transit, build that cost into your rate. You will also need to decide what days and hours you will work and make a list of services you will provide. Many customers that work a standard schedule will want someone to walk their dog during the day while they are at the office. Making yourself available during the day on weekdays will be advantageous to building your client base. You can also find a niche by walking dogs for clients that work the night shift. Many of your competitors will offer additional services like doggy daycare and boarding. These services can be lucrative but require a lot more time and resources but you can always start providing these services as your business progresses.
Research Your Market and Competitors
Before you can decide what your rate will be, you need to do some market research. Are there dog walkers already operating in your neighbourhood? What are they charging? What is their availability? What services are they offering? If you discover your neighbourhood is saturated with dog walkers, take a quick ride to nearby areas, visit the dog parks and pet stores there and talk with the locals to get a feel for if there is any demand for dog walkers. Or even easier, check out dog-walking websites like rover.com, type in your location, and check out your competition. Don’t be discouraged if you have a lot of competition in your area. One of the few positives to come from Covid was the outbreak of Pandemic Puppies! Canine adoptions rose sharply during the pandemic with many people stuck in lockdown who wanted a dog to keep them company. Now, many people have returned to their offices and their dogs are alone all day.
Set Your Rate
Now it’s time to set the rate you will charge for your services. Start simple and use the market research you conducted to see what your competitors are charging. Usually, charging rates somewhere in the middle is a reasonable place to start. It’s tempting to start low to attract new clients but this could appear as if your operation has lower quality. Your customers are basically trusting you to take care of a loved one, so they will want to be confident your company is not a low-budget business. Starting too high can be risky as times are tough coming out of the pandemic. Inflation is high and many people have tightened their wallets, so proceed with some caution if you plan to start out with a higher rate. Once you have built trust with your client base, you can gradually increase your prices. If your clients trust your business, they will remain loyal to you through your price rises. As you get established, do not hesitate to implement cancellation fees and higher rates for holidays.
Register Your Business
Some independent dog walkers choose to run an under-the-table operation and not register their business to avoid paying for licenses, insurance, and taxes. This is a terrible idea, especially if you plan on expanding your business. Legitimize your business by registering as either a sole proprietor, partnership, or a limited company. Simply put, if you are a sole proprietor, you are personally responsible for any debts your business incurs during the operation. If you set up a limited company, it provides padding for your business against any liabilities. Do your research into what type of registry suits your business the best. It will also look tidy in your marketing campaign.
Procure the Necessary Insurance & Licenses for Your Business
We live in a litigious society. It is imperative that you obtain dog walking insurance to protect yourself and your business. You and your business are fully responsible for the client’s dog and all liabilities lie squarely on you should something go wrong. Showing that your business is insured will sit well with your clients and will also be a solid addition to your marketing strategy. As of 2022, you do not need any licenses in the UK to start a dog walking business as long as you are strictly walking dogs. However, if you start boarding dogs, you should contact your local authorities and find out what you need.
Laws, Rules and Regulations for Dogs in the UK
Some of these are obvious and some are a bit dated (Dogs Act 1871) but for the sake of covering all of your bases, let’s quickly take a look.
The Control of Dogs Order 1992: All dogs in a public place must wear a collar with the owner’s name and address on.
The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005: You could be fined up to £1,000 if you: fail to pick up faeces; fail to keep a dog on a lead or put it on the lead when directed to do so; allow a dog to enter land from which dogs are excluded.
Dogs Act 1871: It’s an offence if a dog is dangerous and not kept under proper control such as not on a lead or muzzled. The law applies wherever an incident happens.
Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953: It’s against the law to allow a dog to worry livestock on farmland.
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991: It is against the law for a dog to be ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place. The Kennel Club says something as simple as the dog chasing, barking at or jumping up at a person or child could lead to complaints, so make sure it is under control at all times.
The Road Traffic Act 1988: Dogs must be on a lead at all times on roads. If the dog you are walking is injured in a car accident, it is up to the driver to stop and give their details to you.
Another consideration to take is checking with your council to see how many dogs you are allowed to walk at once, as this regulation is not set by the UK national government. It is usually between 4 and 8 with each dog requiring its own lead but do your due diligence and check. Also, be aware that certain beaches have a total ban on dogs during the summer.
Design a Marketing Strategy to Promote Your Business
Dog walking is a competitive market so constantly promoting yourself and your business is imperative. You should use all social media platforms. Set up a business profile on Facebook and Google and set a budget for purchasing social media adverts. All of the major platforms will assist you in setting up and even designing the ads. TikTok has an excellent system in place to help design your ad campaign with them. While digital marketing is important and often the primary focus of most types of businesses these days, in the dog-walking business, guerilla marketing can be equally if not more effective. Take it old school and print some business cards, put them in your bag, and go for a walk to the dog park or pet shop. Strike up conversations and hand out your business cards religiously. Build relationships the old-fashioned way, face to face, but don’t be too aggressive with your self-promotion. If you are able to read the situation correctly and learn how to approach different people, you will set a solid foundation for a potential future relationship. Even if a customer interaction does not lead to a gig, if their impression of you is positive, they now have your information. Perhaps they will need a dog walker at a later date or they will recommend you to someone they know that can use your service. Animal shelters and rescues can also be a path to connecting with new customers. Become friendly with the staff, and volunteer to take the sheltered dogs on walks. Not only will they appreciate your kindness but they will often return the kindness by referring your business to new adoptive owners. Finally, set up a profile on Rover.com which is a platform that connects you with clients that are looking for dog walking or boarding services. It’s an excellent way to get your business started. You will be able to set your own price, but be aware that they do take a rather steep 20%. Pawshake.co.uk is another excellent option should you choose this initial path with the platform taking a 19% fee.
Reputation is Everything so Deliver Excellent Service
You can follow every step listed above, but if you don’t deliver excellent service, it will all be for nothing. Your clients are trusting you with one or more of the most valuable possessions in their lives. Making them feel comfortable and secure is the secret to success for your business. Be genuine and loving to their dogs, be honest, professional and punctual, and you will retain loyal customers for as long as you are in business.
Let’s face it, dogs are better to be around than most people. Getting paid to walk around with dogs all day doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Like any business in a competitive industry, it will take determination and persistence to be successful. Hopefully, this article on how to start a dog walking business has given you the foundational information to be a big success. Best of luck!