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How to Start a Dog Walking Business

Overview

How to Start a Dog Walking Business

If you love dogs and spending time outdoors, starting a dog walking business can be a great way to combine the two. When you work as a professional dog walker, you’ll get to meet all sorts of dogs and help keep them exercised and entertained while their owners are away. Dog walking businesses require relatively little startup money, making this business option accessible to nearly any determined dog lover and entrepreneur.

Business Overview

Starting a business walking dogs provide important exercise and care to dogs when their owners cannot walk them themselves. Most often, dog walkers visit during the day while owners are at work. Dog walkers have access to a client’s home to retrieve a dog, then walk and exercise the dog. Once the dog is home, a walker may give the dog water or a meal, so dog walking can transition into some pet sitting at times.

Different dog walking businesses offer different types of services. Some pick up dogs from multiple homes and walk them together as a group. Others walk dogs individually. Some businesses may take dogs to dog parks for off-leash playtime, and some businesses offer more specialized services in addition to dog walking, like pet sitting, pet care, training, and more.

Running a dog walking business is hard work, but it can also be a rewarding experience. Plan to walk dogs in all weather, and realize that your clients may want you to walk their dogs on holidays, too. Many dog walkers get to know their regular clients’ dogs quite well, so keep in mind that if a client stops using your services or moves away, you may miss the dogs that you’d been walking.

Industry Summary

The dog walking industry is thriving in the United States. According to IBIS World, over 75 percent of U.S. homes have pets, and there are nearly 187 million pets in the country. In fact, Americans currently own more pets than they ever have before, and pet owners spend almost $70 billion each year on their pets. The dog walking services industry accounted for over $1 billion of this revenue in 2018.

With increased pet ownership rates and corresponding increased spending on those pets, the dog walking industry grew by an annualized 5.2 percent from 2013 and 2018. It is expected to continue to grow in the future. During that time, the number of dog walking businesses increased to 28,927, and industry employment also grew to 52,008.

Industry Trends

As the pet industry grows, it’s also going through many changes. Jump Consulting reports that one of the major trends shaping this industry is that, while Baby Boomers previously made up the bulk of consumers in the market, they’re giving way to Millennials. With 75 percent of Americans in their thirties owning pets, dog walking businesses need to learn how to market and cater to these consumers. Because Millennials largely access their information and do their shopping online, dog walking businesses need to create user-friendly and mobile-friendly websites, focus on SEO, and maintain an active presence on social media to market to this demographic.

The presence and development of dog walking apps Rover and Wag have also created competition for independent dog walking businesses, but these apps have created opportunity. The apps highlight how much consumers rely on the internet to find services that they need, as well as the value they place on being able to check in on their dog’s walking and safety using their smartphones. Dog walking businesses can embrace this technology on their own terms, creating their own apps, or creating practices of texting dog owners with updates each day. Dog walking businesses can also focus on the shortcomings of Rover and Wag in their own marketing, highlighting the benefits of their own business, like their extensive experience with dogs, to help market their own services.

Target Market

Most dog walking businesses market toward dog owners who work or have other commitments that keep them away from home for a long period of time. These dog owners need to have disposable income and the need to hire a dog walker. Some businesses focus on clients located in specific locations; by gaining clients located near each other, a dog walker can minimize their travel time and maximize their income.

 

Checklist for Starting a Dog Walking Business

Starting a dog walking business can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it’s important to make sure you’re prepared for the challenges ahead. Use this checklist to help get your business off on the right foot.

Step 1: Write your Business Plan

After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a business plan. Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.

Related: How to write a business plan

Step 2: Name the Business

Finding the perfect name for a business can be challenging. Not only does the name have to resonate with your customers, but it also has to be available to use.

Related: Tips and ideas for naming a dog walking business

Step 3: Form a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from, which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.

When deciding on which business entity is best for a dog walking business, it normally comes down to the sole proprietorship and Limited Liability Company.

A partnership opens the owners up to unnecessary personal liability because if a partner does something to get the business sued, or runs off with cash from the business, the other partners are personally liable to repay. The corporation can be a good choice because it separates the business assets from the owner’s assets. If the corporation is sued or certain business debts can’t be paid back, the owners aren’t personally responsible to repay them. The downside to the corporation is that it is more complicated than all the other entities and requires more administration than the LLC. If you plan on raising a lot of investment though, the corporation is usually the better choice.

That leaves the sole proprietorship and LLC.

The sole proprietorship is the least expensive and easiest entity to start which is appealing. The downside is the owner is personally liable should anything happen to the business, which is an important consideration. The LLC offers the ability to operate as a sole proprietorship with the liability protection of a corporation. Depending on the state, the cost to form an LLC runs from $40 – $500, which is pretty inexpensive for protecting the owners from business-related lawsuits and certain debts.

Related: Guide to forming your LLC
 

Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.


Some popular LLC formation services include:


IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

IncAuthority - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent the first year!

ZenBusiness - $49 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

Step 4: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

There are only a few cities that require professional dog walkers to obtain a dog walking license; however, there may be additional local, state, and federal registrations depending on where the business is located.

Many local areas have dog sanitation regulations, which require people to clean up after their dogs and leash laws.

Additionally, an pet care business may need general business registrations such as a state sales tax permit and Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.

When starting your business, it’s important to find a way to set yourself apart from the competition, including the walkers that dog owners could find on apps like Rover and Wag. Taking a course in canine CPR and first aid or bringing a background as a dog trainer to the position are just a few ways that you can make yourself stand out.

Related: Common business licenses, permits, and registrations by state

Step 5: Open a Business Bank Account

Keeping your small business and personal finances in separate bank accounts is important to track the income and expenses of your business and identify trends.
 
Many banks offer free business checking accounts, so be sure to find a cost-effective option for your business.

Step 6: Get your Marketing Plan in Place

Good marketing is important to a dog walker business’ success. Marketing helps generate initial business, and those customers can turn into repeat customers when the business delivers quality service. Dog walking businesses can use many different marketing techniques, from social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, to Craigslist, to online job boards like Rover or Wag!, to print advertising, flyers, and even the development of a website. Developing relationships with other pet-related businesses such as pet stores, groomers, and dog kennels can also be a healthy customer referrals source.

Two associations, Pet Sitters International (PSI) and The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS), provide great member resources, but they also let members list their business on their Pet Sitter Finders.

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Every business is going to need a logo. Make a professional logo in no time with the free Canvaa logo maker!

Step 7: Get Business Insurance

There are several types of insurance to consider when starting a dog walking business. A few of these include:
– General liability insurance protects the business from any injuries that might happen while working, like a pet biting someone else during a walk. It can help to cover lawsuit expenses and medical bill expenses.
– Care, custody, and control insurance protects a business if a dog in the dog walker’s care is injured or gets lost.
– Commercial vehicle insurance covers business-owned vehicles and can pay for expenses or lawsuits that result from a car accident. Personal auto insurance may not pay should an accident happen while on business time.

The cost to insure a dog walking business can vary based on a number of factors. To get the most accurate idea of what insurance will cost, request quotes from multiple insurance companies. Compare those quotes and be sure to look at different factors like premiums, deductibles, and policy exclusions to determine which option is best for a business.

Related: Types of insurance your business may need

Step 8: Hire Employees

Depending on the size of a dog walking business, it may be necessary to hire multiple dog walkers. According to PayScale, dog walkers earn a median payment of $14.51 per hour, with some dog walkers earning as little as $9.69 per hour, while others earn as much as $25.59 per hour.

Along with budgeting for employee pay, a business may also need to plan to pay workers comp insurance and contribute to health insurance, and paid time off for employees.

Related: Hiring your first employee

Step 9: Set up an Accounting System

Setting up an accounting system for your dog walking business is critical to your business’s long-term success and makes invoicing customers easier.

Staying on top of taxes not only keeps the business out of trouble with the government, but the numbers can be used to track and monitor trends and cash flow in the business and maximize profits.

Related: Setting up the accounting for your business

The thought of accounting can be intimidating for a lot of new entrepreneurs. There are a number of ways of handling bookkeeping, from DIY to hiring a bookkeeper. These include:

- Pen and paper - Low expense, but difficult to track.
- Spreadsheet - Low expense, but easy to make errors.
- Accounting software - Medium expense, but owner typically inputs expenses. Some great accounting software programs include Freshbooks or Wave Accounting.
- Hire a bookkeeper - Higher expense, though very affordable at $100-$200 per month in most cases. A dedicated bookkeeper will probably save money because, in addition to handling all of the bookkeeping (so you can focus on the business), they also provide personalized tax advice and ensure the business is in compliance.

Find bookkeepers in your local area or use a service like 800Accountant.

How much does it cost to start a dog walking business?

The cost to start up a smaller pet walking business is highly affordable since no physical space or inventory is required. The largest expense will be transportation to get to the customers’ homes, but purchasing a used, instead of a new, vehicle can help to keep costs minimal. Expect to spend around $2,000 to start a new business using an existing vehicle.

Some common startup costs include:
– Vehicle for transportation
– Website
– Marketing materials, like brochures and business cards
– Supplies like dog treats and extra leashes

How much money can you make dog walking?

According to Glassdoor, dog walkers make an average salary of $27,634 per year, with some making as much as $42,000 per year.

Your income will depend on many different factors, from the number of years you’ve been in business to the number of clients you take on and the rates you charge. Offering complimentary services, like nail trims, training, and pet sitting can also increase your business’ potential income.

Are there grants to start a dog walking business?

It’s extremely rare to find a grant to start a dog walking business. If you search for business grants, you will come across a lot of scams and misinformation. Occasionally an organization will offer grants to start a business, however, be skeptical and don’t provide any sensitive personal information or pay money to get more information.

Legitimate federal grants can be found at Grants.gov and you can check on your state’s economic development office to see if they have any grants available.

What skills are needed to run a dog walking business?

While it’s possible to start a dog walking company without a business degree, certain skills and experience can increase the chances of success.

Dog handling and care experience. Dog handling and care experience is a must when starting a dog walking business. A background in dog behavior and training can help keep both the dog walker and the dog safe and make the walks more enjoyable. Basic canine first aid skills, such as triaging a wound and recognizing if a dog is experiencing heatstroke, are also important and can build a dog owner’s confidence in a business.

Organizational skills. Good organization is important when creating and maintaining a schedule of multiple dogs that need to be walked. A well-organized walker can ensure that they arrive at each home on time, and prompt, dependable service can help win loyal, repeat customers.

Attention to detail. Dog walkers also need to pay careful attention to detail in following a pet owner’s instructions, making sure that they always arrive for every appointment, and even working with different types of harnesses and collars to ensure that a dog is safe.

Customer service skills. A dog walking service that provides excellent customer service will stand out from other dog walkers. Communication skills, both over the phone and through text, are important for any dog walker. A dog walker should also know how to address customer concerns and worries about their dog.

Management experience. For entrepreneurs who want to build a larger business with multiple dog walkers, employee hiring, management, and training experience can help with the growing business.

Marketing skills. Any dog walking business will require active marketing to gain new customers. A business owner who can do at least some of their marketing themselves can save money over the cost of hiring a professional marketer.

What is the NAICS code for a dog walking business?

The NAICS code for a dog walking business is 812910, which is classified under Pet Care (except Veterinary) Services.

The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.

Related: What is a NAICS code and how to find yours

Resources:
International Association of Canine Professionals
International Organization of Professional Dog Walkers

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