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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Skills, experience, and education useful in running 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 canine 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 an 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.
Amazon has several books that go into detail on starting and running a dog walking business:
How to Start a Dog Walking Business: Tools and Practices to help you STAND OUT from the Rest of the Pack (Free on Amazon Kindle Unlimited)
30 Days To Start and Grow Your Pet Sitting and Dog Walking Business: A Step-By-Step Guide to Launch, Attract Clients, and Make a Profit
Six-Figure Pet Sitting: Catapult Your Pet Sitting Business to Unlimited Success
Pet Sitter Secrets: tips, forms, systems, and behind-the-scenes to start and grow (Free on Amazon Kindle Unlimited)
The Hiring Handbook for Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers: How to Find, Hire, and Keep the Best Staff for Your Pet Sitting and Dog Walking Business
Prosperous Pet Business : Interviews with the Experts – Volume One
Costs to Start a Dog Walking Business
Starting 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.
Common startup costs include:
- Vehicle for transportation
- Marketing materials, like brochures and business cards
- Supplies like dog treats and extra leashes
Steps to Starting a Dog walking business
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.
Step 2: Form a Business Entity
A business entity (also called a business structure or legal 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.
Related: Comparison of Business Entities
Step 3: 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.
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.
Step 5: Open a Business Bank Account
Keeping your business and personal finances in separate business bank and credit card accounts makes it easier to track the business’s income and expenses.
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.
Marketing costs can vary depending on the type and volume performed, but the more that a business owner can do for themselves, the lower they can keep their marketing expenses.
Step 7: Get Insurance
A dog walking business needs multiple types of insurance to be fully covered:
- 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.
- Worker’s compensation insurance covers expenses like lost wages or medical bills if an employee is hurt while on the job.
Specialty insurance can be found through the Business Insurers of the Carolinas.
The cost of insurance policies can vary based on the business’ location and the number of employees on staff. 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.
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 make 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.
How much can you potentially make owning a dog walking business?
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.
Things to consider before starting a dog walking business
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.
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.