Note: This post has been expanded to an ebook on how to start a dog walking business. My ebook is guaranteed to be the best resource available for starting a dog walking business!
A step-by-step guide on how to start a dog running or dog walking business
I quit my job as a newspaper copy editor and page designer in August 2008 to start a dog running business.
I now have time to walk and train my mutt Ace as often as I want. My “jobs” consist of Fargo pet sitting, dog walking and dog running. From time to time I foster dogs. I also write and maintain this dog blog.
Quitting my job at The Forum newspaper was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Here are just a few reasons why I’m glad I quit my job to start a dog walking business:
1. I’m doing things I love.
2. I have more freedom.
3. I’m not wasting my life away at a desk.
4. I am never bored.
5. I hang out with dogs.
6. I take vacation whenever I want.
7. I don’t have to ask permission for anything.
8. I haven’t been sick in more than 17 months.
9. No one tells me what to do.
10. I’m not helping someone else get rich.
I could go on and on about why you should quit your job (you probably should), but I intended this post to be about how to start a pet-related business. Since my business is primarily dog walking and dog running, that’s the example I will use. I will use dog walking and dog running interchangeably throughout this post.
Anyone can start a dog walking company. There’s no secret on how to do it. I’m here to make it even easier.
How to start a dog walking business:
1. Don’t worry about money.
If money is your primary concern, then you shouldn’t start any kind of business.
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?”
Unfortunately, others will judge your success based on your salary and not by your happiness. Don’t fall into their trap. Expect people to take their insecurities out on you, because they will. Most of them won’t even realize they are doing it.
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.
2. What should I charge for dog running?
I charge $25 to walk or run a dog for an hour in Fargo and $18 for a half-hour walk or run. Dog runners in other cities are able to charge as much as $50 for a half-hour. On the other hand, there are students in Fargo who charge $5 for a half-hour walk. I know my service is worth more than this.
If someone is not willing to pay me $18 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 in Fargo when they hire me as a dog runner. My clients know that. More information about what to charge for walking dogs is available in my dog walking ebook.
3. Start walking shelter dogs.
I began volunteering to walk dogs with 4 Luv of Dog Rescue in Fargo long before I started a dog walking business. This gave me extra experience walking and running the strongest, worst-behaved dogs you can imagine. I also had support from the rescue volunteers. Dog rescue and dog shelter workers and volunteers are the most hardworking, passionate people out there. I need them on my side.
4. Find one person who believes your dog walking service is valuable.
If one person thinks you’re the greatest, they 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.
It takes more than an animal lover to be a dog runner. 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.
6. Advertise your dog walking business.
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 hang fliers at the dog park and at a few businesses like our training club. I drop off brochures and business cards at certain veterinarians’ offices and grooming shops in town. These are mostly to catch a few new clients here and there. The best advertising is 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.
7. Create a dog walking web site.
You need a dog walking web site to be taken seriously as a dog walker. For a couple bucks and less than an hour, you can set up a WordPress blog template and turn it into a basic web site. There are plenty of computer nerds willing to help if you ask.
Put some 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.
8. Don’t worry about taxes right away for your dog walking 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, find a professional in your area who can answer all your tax questions.
9. Get some pet sitting insurance once you have a few clients.
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.
10. 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. More information can be found on creating dog walking business forms in my ebook.
11. Create a good contact form.
All of my clients fill out a form that includes information about their dogs such as allergies, aggression issues, old injuries, medications and emergency contacts. See my post on dog walking business forms for more info.
12. 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 quarter of the price. I designed and printed my own brochures, but I recommend paying a designer to do that as well.
13. 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.
14. 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 am not a fast runner. My average pace is about a 10-minute mile. But what I can do is run forever. I am the toughest person 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. 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?
15. 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.
And don’t skimp on running shoes.