How to set up a dog walking business

Published: 08/11/2021

Us Brits are a nation of animal fanatics, and the COVID pandemic has highlighted that more than ever with the number of households opening up their door to a four-legged friend booming over the past 12 months. 

Being stuck at home with more time on our hands has given dog-lovers the perfect opportunity to settle their new fur babies in and provide the care and attention needed.

That said, as the world begins to reopen post-COVID demand for expert dog care is set to skyrocket, as owners seek to keep their pets cared for and pampered to the standard they’ve grown accustomed to.

The takeaway? It’s the perfect time for anyone with a passion for pups and an entrepreneurial spirit to take the plunge and start a dog walking business, and in this article, we’ll explain how.

1. Suitability

Before we dive into how to get the ball rolling, it’s important you work out whether a career as a dog walker is really the right path for you. Only you can really answer that question, but there are a handful of traits that will be important for anyone in the industry:

  • Canine knowledge - a love for dogs is great, but do you have a solid grasp on canine behaviour? It’s important you understand their wants and needs as some dogs can be quite a handful, particularly if you walk multiple dogs at once. 

Training courses can help if you want to brush up - more on that shortly. Another option is to volunteer at your local dog shelter before taking the plunge. 

  • Communication skills - it’s not just the dogs you’ll be dealing with but their owners too, so having strong communication skills is a must. This will help with the likes of marketing your business and networking too.
  • A thick skin - dog walkers brave the elements no matter the condition, come rain or shine you’ll need to head into the great outdoors, is that something you’re willing and prepared to do?
  • Fitness - now we’re not saying you need superhuman strength, but dog walks can and sometimes should be long and some dogs are super strong. A level of physical fitness will be necessary to succeed. 

2. Training & qualifications 

There are no regulations to say you must have certain qualifications to be a dog walker, but having them will mean:

  1. You’re clued up and confident on the ins and outs of canine behaviour.
  2. Your business is viewed as more credible, and
  3. The added professionalism will boost your marketing efforts.

There’s a whole variety of courses you can choose from, including animal behaviour, care, and first aid. If you’re not sure where to start, City and Guilds offer four animal care qualifications in colleges up and down the country:

  1. Technical competence in pet sitting (level 2)
  2. Technical competence in dog walking (level 2)
  3. Technical competence in animal nutrition (level 3)
  4. Technical competence in animal health, husbandry and handling (level 3)

The National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers (NarpsUK) also offers comprehensive online courses, collated by experts, designed for people looking to start their own pet sitting or dog walking business. 

3. Rules & regulations

There are key rules and regulations in place for dog walkers, so it’s important you wrap your head around them upfront. We won’t cover them all here but a handful of them include:

  • Meeting dog owners prior to the first outing.
  • Keeping up-to-date records of work carried out.
  • Protecting the personal information of your clients.
  • Making sure a collar with the owners’ name and address on it is worn by all dogs in public places.
  • Scooping up their poop - failure to do so could land you a hefty £1000 fine.
  • There are regulations in place limiting the number of dogs allowed to be walked at once, the limit varies depending on location, so check with your local council area. 

4. Checks & insurance

If you plan to arrange a service whereby you enter your clients’ homes to collect their dogs and you’ll therefore have a copy of their key, you’ll need a Criminal Record Check aka Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

You can request your own check here and it’ll cost you £23 (correct as of October 2021). 

A dog walking insurance policy is also wise as full liability for your clients’ dogs will lie with you when they’re in your care. Taking out a policy will give you peace of mind and could also help you attract more business. 

5. Business plan

Mapping out your business plan before you get started will help you stay focused throughout your journey of business ownership and flag up any potential obstacles for you to tackle early on.

Pssst: you can learn how to start a small business including an in-depth guide to business planning here. 

As part of your business planning, you’ll scope out the opportunity and do some competitor intel e.g. snooping on the competition to inform things like your pricing and points of differentiation.

During the process of business planning, you’ll want to land on a name for your business so again look to the competition to make sure it’s not already taken, and consider registering your business with Companies House - you can read up about this here. 

6. Cost & payments

There’s no set fee for dog walkers, it’ll vary based on things like location and experience. Some sources reference £6-10 per hour as the average going rate whereas others state £17 per hour is typical with less than £15 unheard of. 

A good idea is to look to others in the field locally and base your pricing accordingly - if you go too high you run the risk of being undercut by others.

Top tip: Offering an introductory or discounted rate to get the ball rolling can help you get your business off the ground.

When it comes to getting paid, working out how you’ll accept payment is important early on - you can learn all about payment solutions for dog walkers in our handy guide.

7. Marketing

Marketing is mission-critical, particularly for up-and-coming businesses, it’s how you’ll spread the word and start to attract paying customers which is ultimately the aim of the game. 

There’s heaps to cover, but at takepayments helping small businesses get off the ground and flourish is our bread and butter, so we’ve got you covered with more guidance and resources than you can shake a stick at. 

Social media

Social media use has grown astronomically over the last decade and it’s now one of the most powerful marketing resources in any business toolkit. You’ll learn everything you need to get started in these guides: 

Online

The majority of consumers head to the web to compare the market before making a buying decision, so ensuring your business is found when they’re doing their research is super important. Discover how to establish your business and ensure you never get overlooked in these guides:

Email 

For decades email took the crown as the most effective outreach marketing avenue, and these days nearly all of us have access to our emails in the palm of our hand thanks to smartphones, so don’t overlook the power of emails: 

Reviews

And don’t forget, once your business has launched, to ask your happy clients to leave you reviews online, they’re incredibly powerful and will work wonders for your reputation not to mention bookings. 

No matter how much effort you plough into advertising your business, consumers will trust the words of a peer 92% more than anything you say, so getting glowing testimonials online can be a goldmine.

We wish you every success in your new venture as a dog walker! If you want to find out more about your options for accepting payments head to our website or reach out and chat with one of our friendly experts on 08082 397003. 

Remember, you’ll find resources on every aspect of running your small business over on our dedicated blog. 

Bryony Pearce

Bryony Pearce

Copywriter

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