I really want to help you learn how to start your own dog walking business and come up with a business plan.
I quit my job at a newspaper in 2008 to start a dog walking business, and I haven't looked back.
This post applies to anyone interested in starting a dog walking business, dog running business or pet sitting business.
16 tips to help you start your dog walking business:
1. Determine your dog walking rates.
I recommend you take a look at what your competition is charging, and charge something similar. I charged $28 per hour to walk or run a dog in Fargo and $20 for a half-hour walk or run. Dog runners in other cities are able to charge as much as $50 for a 60-minute run. On the other hand, there are students everywhere charging just $10. I know my services are worth more than this.
If someone is not willing to pay me at least $25 to run her dog for a half-hour, then she doesn't appreciate my value and is not worth my time. I am an experienced dog trainer and athlete and people are getting the best possible service when they hire me as a dog runner. My clients know that.
2. Purchase my dog walking ebook.
My ebook on how to start a dog walking business is the best resource available.
I also offer packages that include my dog walking business forms and an hour of consulting over the phone with me. No matter what your vision is, I'd love to help you be successful with your business and come up with a business plan.
3. Don't go without dog walking insurance.
There are several companies out there that offer insurance for dog walkers and pet sitters. Don't worry about insurance immediately, but do so once you have a handful of clients. Insurance is very affordable and runs around $200 per year. It's worth having in case a pet causes bodily injury or property damage while under your care.
4. Advertise your dog walking business like crazy.
I did some advertising that worked and some that didn’t. The best advertising is word of mouth and getting support from local rescues and dog businesses and town. I hung fliers at the dog park and at a few businesses like our dog training club. I dropped off brochures and business cards at certain veterinarians’ offices and grooming shops in town. Overall, though, the best advertising is still word of mouth.
Don't waste your time on newspaper ads. They are overpriced, and people don't read the paper. I bought a few one-inch by one-inch classified ads to run every day with a small photo for $140 a month. I got very little return from these ads. Instead, it's worth it to set up some free Craigslist ads. My Craigslist ads are very simple and redirect people to my web site. I've had a lot of success through Craigslist without spending any money.
5. Invest in your dog walking web site.
You need a web site to be taken seriously as a dog walker, and it has to be a good one. I've always preferred WordPress, which offers cheap or even free blog templates which can work well for a business site. There are plenty of computer nerds willing to help if you ask. If you don't know any, it's definitely worth it to hire a designer, which will cost about $1,000.
Make sure to include photos and information about yourself on your site. Be honest and personal. Don’t hide behind words like “we” or “our company.” This won’t impress anyone. If you’re the only one involved in the business, then say so. I also recommend keeping the site clean with as little information as possible. Don't overwhelm your visitors.
6. Create a good contact form.
All of my new clients fill out a questionnaire form that includes information about their dogs such as allergies, aggression issues, old injuries, medications and emergency contacts. You can create your own form or you can purchase my business forms bundle here.
7. Don’t worry about taxes right away for your dog walking business.
Yes, you need to pay your taxes, but don't use your fear of accounting as your reason not to start your business. The IRS is not going to kidnap your first born for not reporting the $100 you made during your first month of dog walking. Just chill out about taxes and wait until you have a substantial amount of money coming in. If you need help, definitely find a professional in your area who can answer all your tax questions.
8. Start walking shelter dogs.
I began volunteering to walk dogs with 4 Luv of Dog Rescue in Fargo long before I started a professional dog walking business. This gave me extra experience walking and running the strongest, worst-behaved dogs you can imagine.
It's not that all rescue dogs are bad dogs, but a lot of them have some serious pent-up energy. By volunteering with the rescue, I gained a lot of support from passionate dog lovers. Dog rescue and shelter volunteers are some of the most hardworking, passionate people out there. You need them on your side when you are learning how to start a dog walking business.
Walking dogs for free as a volunteer is also a good way to find out how serious you really are about this as a career. Do you enjoy it? Do you love it so much that you will do it for free? Do you mind being out in all weather?
9. Create a business card and logo for your dog walking business.
I hired a graphic and web designer to design my logo and dog walking business cards for a reasonable fee. Then I printed my cards at Kinkos. This was convenient, but you can also have cards printed with online companies for a little less. I designed and printed my own brochures, but I recommend paying a designer to do that as well.
10. Outlast your competition.
Most people who start a dog running business will give up within a month. The rest will give up after six months. It takes a lot of time and work to gain enough clients to feel and be successful. The job itself is hard work. Those who can maintain a successful dog running business are the people who give 100 percent and truly believe in what they are doing. Whoever works the hardest will gain the most clients and be successful.
11. Believe you are an authority on dogs.
It takes more than an animal lover to be a dog runner. You need to be able to handle powerful dogs, and you need to know what to do in an emergency.
I have lived with sporting breeds my whole life, and I worked at a boarding kennel throughout high school and college. I took my golden retriever through formal obedience training and trained my out of control mutt into a decent pet. I consider myself an expert on dog behavior. That’s why I started this dog blog.
Now that I run dogs, people trust that I am knowledgeable about dogs’ needs. I don’t let the dogs run out in front. They are always at my side. I work on basic obedience and manners, but most of all I give the dogs a good mental and physical workout. I know how to control large dogs that pull, jump or want to attack other dogs. I’m comfortable running with two or three dogs, but I also know and admit my limits.
12. Find one person who believes your dog walking service is valuable.
If one person thinks you’re the greatest, she will tell others. This will give you confidence, and at least you will be getting paid for something you love. Starting out small will give you a sense of whether or not this is something you truly want to do.
I found a couple people in my apartment complex who were in need of a dog walker. These neighbors of mine worked 12-hour shifts and were leaving their dogs home without a bathroom break. When they saw my fliers, they were thrilled I could walk their dogs for them. I didn’t even have to quit my job. Sometimes I walked these dogs on my days off. Sometimes it was before work. Sometimes it was on my break.
13. Offer many services, and be creative. This is your dog walking business.
Be flexible and think about the variety of services you can offer and what you’d like to offer. You can always make changes later on.
I offer pet sitting where I visit pets in people's homes. I allow dogs to stay in my home overnight or for dog daycare when it works with my schedule. In addition to dog walking and dog running, I simply let dogs out to go to the bathroom when their owners can't make it home from work.
There is so much more I could say about a dog walking or pet sitting business. My best advice is don’t copy everything I’ve said or everything someone else did. Use your own ideas and creativity.
14. Don’t worry (too much) about money.
If you do what you love and do it well, the money will follow.
Unfortunately, if you do start a dog walking business, there will be people who will make comments like, “Is that really a good idea?” or even flat out, “How much money do you make?”
When I quit my job, not all my friends and family members supported my choice. Most of them voiced no opinion at all, seemingly hoping I would forget about the idea and get a “real job.” I was lucky to have a very supportive boyfriend who was basically begging me to quit the job I hated. Thanks, Josh!
I would have been laid off by now had I stayed at The Forum newspaper. Instead, I got out of there on my own and now I'm doing something better. Think of it this way, what would you do if you were “laid off” today? Might as well get started on your dog walking business plan.
15. Admit if you are athletic or not.
I never thought of myself as an athlete, but I am. I swam butterfly and freestyle sprints in high school. I played rugby for eight years. In college, I began running six days a week and later started running half marathons. I've since complete a marathon, and now I run up to 18 miles in an average day.
I am not a fast runner. My average pace is about a 10-minute mile. But what I can do is run forever. I am one of the toughest people I know. I run outside when it’s –20 degrees or colder. I run when it’s 90 degrees and humid. I run in the snow, the rain and the wind. I run when I’m in pain.
There’s nothing wrong with sticking to strictly dog walking, but it’s a lot better for your business if you can offer dog running or jogging or hiking. Can you run 10 miles without stopping? Can you handle 30 miles in a week? 50 miles? Have you been running for at least a few years?
16. Create a liability form for your dog walking business.
I will not run someone’s dog until they have signed my liability form that states the owner is responsible for providing ID tags and vaccinations. The owner is also responsible for any damage the pet causes on or off his or her property. I also gain permission to take the animal to a vet if necessary.
*You can purchase an editable copy of my liability form in my business form bundle here. (These are word docs you can download and edit.)
Good luck with starting your own dog walking business!
P.S., do not skimp on running shoes. Buy a good pair. Replace them often!