I really want to help you learn how to start your own dog walking business and come up with a dog walking business plan this month!
I quit my job at a newspaper in 2008 to start a dog walking business, and I haven’t looked back.
This article applies to anyone interested in starting a dog walking business or pet sitting business. It’s LONG, so feel free to click on any topics below to jump ahead:
IN THIS ARTICLE:
- Determine your dog walking rates
- Purchase my dog walking ebook
- Dog walking insurance
- Advertising my dog walking business
- Your dog walking website
- New client questionnaires
- Dog walking liability forms
- Taxes for dog walking
- Start walking shelter dogs
- Dog walking business cards and logo
- Apps for your dog walking business
- What services to offer
How to start a dog walking business – 17 tips:
1. Determine your dog walking rates.
There are many factors to consider such as whether you’re walking the dog as a favor for a friend or if you’re interested in dog walking as a full-time business.
You should charge at least $20 for a half-hour dog walk. That’s my short answer.
What to charge for dog walking – 3 factors to consider
- Is this a one-time thing or are you a professional?
- What are other dog walkers in your area charging?
- What kind of services do you offer?
Is this a one-time thing or are you a professional dog walker?
If you’re just walking the dog for a friend, then maybe you don’t mind doing so for free here and there or for a case of beer or whatever it might be.
If you are hoping to become a professional dog walker, then charge accordingly and charge at least $20 for a half-hour walk.
Consider these factors:
- The time it takes to drive to and from your home to the dog’s home. A “half-hour walk” could really take an hour when you factor in driving time.
- You get what you pay for, and you’re offering a high-quality service. Anyone who wants to pay $5 can hire the neighbor kid.
- You carry insurance.
What are other dog walkers in your area charging?
Search for other dog walkers in your area and charge something similar to their average prices. I would not charge less just to get the extra business or because you are “inexperienced.” I would charge something similar.
To give you an idea, when I was a dog walker north of San Diego, and I charged:
$25 for a half-hour walk
$33 for an hour walk
My rates were pretty average or slightly above average for my area, and I offered a dog running service where I ran with dogs for the same price, which few others offered.
Dog walkers in other cities are able to charge as much as $50 for a 60-minute walk. On the other hand, there are students everywhere charging just $10 per walk.
Other factors to consider
- Will you be walking multiple dogs at once from different families? (I don’t)
- How about multiple dogs from the same family? You could charge a little extra for each additional dog.
- Will you be offering pet sitting visits where you stop by multiple times per day or even stay overnight with the pets?
People don’t choose dog walkers based on rates
Trust me, most people don’t choose a dog walker based on rates. If the price is a concern, they hire a neighbor kid or ask a friend to walk the dog.
Those who look for a professional dog walker choose the dog walker based off:
- Recommendations from friends
- Online reviews on Google and Facebook
- Whoever has the nicest looking web site and shows up in Google searches.
People don’t hire the dog walker with the cheapest rates. They’re willing to pay more to get the better service because they’re giving you a key to their home and trusting you with their pets and more.
2. Purchase my dog walking ebook.
My ebook on how to start a dog walking business is the best resource available on starting your own business.
The ebook is available for $17 and includes detailed information about how to successfully gain clients fast, market your business and get everything squared away.
I also offer packages that include my dog walking business forms. No matter what your vision is, I’d love to help you be successful with your business and come up with a dog walking business plan.
3. Don’t go without dog walking insurance.
Dog walkers and pet sitters NEED insurance.
Reasons you need insurance if you are a serious dog walker or pet sitter:
Protect yourself financially
Accidents happen. Mistakes happen. Usually these accidents are no big deal, but you want to be covered in case something more serious occurs. Dogs are dogs. They bite. They break shit. They get hurt.
Dog walking business insurance is affordable
Worth the price for peace of mind if nothing else. Pet sitting is stressful enough as it is! You can’t control everything, but at least if you carry insurance you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to do IF something bad happens.
All businesses need insurance
A professional business owner carries liability insurance. Not only is this for your own protection, but it gives your customers some peace of mind too. Plus, it sets you ahead of the pet sitters who risk it and go without insurance (yikes!).
What’s covered by dog walking insurance
Obviously you would want to check with your specific policy but here are a few examples of when you might choose to file an insurance claim:
(These first two are real examples that happened to me!)
- The dog you’re walking gets a foxtail (barbed grass) stuck up his nose somehow and needs to be sedated to have it removed.
- The dog you’re walking gets his leash caught around the client’s solar lights and breaks the lights. Sigh …
Other potential scenarios:
- You lose a client’s key and because of this she needs to replace all her locks for safety.
- A dog you’re walking slips out of his poorly fit collar and gets hit by a car.
- A dog you’re walking bites another leashed dog.
- A dog you’re walking nips a child who comes running around a blind corner.
- A dog in your care swallows a toothpick (or a rock/toy/bone) and has to have it surgically removed.
What is not covered
No matter which company you choose to go with, make sure you understand what is and isn’t covered.
Typically, injuries to YOU (the pet sitter) would not be covered. The same goes for injuries to YOUR OWN pets. Anything that happens under the responsibility of your employees/contractors would also not be covered unless you specifically add them to your policy.
4. Do I need to advertise my dog walking business?
Yes, but it might not be the traditional advertising you’re thinking of. Here are some ideas:
Reach out to existing dog walkers.
When I lived in North Dakota, I was the established pet sitter in my town, and all the newbies reached out to me for advice. I didn’t mind this at all. I had all the business I wanted, so it was nice to have other reliable dog walkers I could recommend.
Later, after moving to San Diego, I was the new pet sitter and dog walker in town. It’s not easy to reach out to your “competition” and ask for help, but it’s well worth it.
I sent an email to one of the local pet sitters, introduced myself and invited her out for coffee. This was the best thing I could’ve done for my new business!
This pet sitter was happy to help me out, and she and I maintain a great relationship, always checking in and referring clients back and forth.
Don’t be afraid to reach out. If another pet sitter or dog walker is “threatened” by you, then it’s probably because he or she is not a very good dog walker.
When you get together, you’ll probably learn that the other dog walker doesn’t want more clients in a certain area or maybe she is booked solid on Wednesdays or maybe she doesn’t want to walk extra strong leash-pullers or whatever it might be.
These clients might be perfect for you! In most cases, there’s probably a way you can work together as far as recommending certain types of clients to each other. And if not, that’s OK. At least you have a new contact for the future.
There are plenty of clients for everyone!
Post fliers, cards or brochures at every vet’s office in town.
Just walk in, introduce yourself and ask if you can drop off business cards, brochures or leave a flier. I recommend you visit every vet office within 10 miles or so.
I’ve gotten lots more business through veterinarians than I have groomers, trainers, pet-supplies stores, etc. But you can try any sort of pet-related business or service, including shelters. I hung fliers at the dog park and at a few businesses like our dog training club.
Attend local dog events as a vendor.
When I first started my dog walking business, I didn’t put myself out there enough. Well, if you want to grow your business quickly, you just need to get out there and get involved in the community.
One way to do that is to attend a couple of local dog events. It’s worth it to attend a few of these as a vendor, and set up a table or “booth” where people can stop by and get information about your services.
Sure, these events are a lot of work and not very fun if you’re an introvert like me. But, if you attend a few the first year, you’ll never have to do so again (unless you want to!).
I recommend printing out a high-quality sign with your logo and web site and handing out something free to people like treat bags, bandannas, stickers, etc. And of course, business cards.
Post about your business on Craigslist
Don’t overthink this, but it’s worth spending a few minutes to post about your business once or twice on Craigslist. Try the pets section and the community section.
My Craigslist posts were very simple and redirected people to my web site. I had a lot of success through Craigslist without spending any money.
Word of mouth
In a personalized business like dog walking, word of mouth is the most valuable marketing technique.
I’m talking about true face-to-face conversations where one of your customers recommends your business to one of her friends, neighbors or co-workers. If this person truly needs a dog walker, she is almost guaranteed to hire you over someone else based on her friend’s recommendation.
Of course, for word of mouth to work you need to truly be awesome. Don’t track mud through the client’s home, for example. Instead, take your shoes off at the door when appropriate. Leave personal notes and cards. Leave treats. Stay in touch with your clients without being too annoying.
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, and sometimes it was on my break.
Take photos of the dogs and text them to your clients. Care the most. Go out of your way to make the pets and their owners comfortable. Be respectful and professional.
Show up in online searches
If you need to hire a dog walker, the first thing you’ll probably do is a Google search for dog walkers in your area. The businesses that appear on the first page, especially in the first couple listings, are the businesses you will check out first.
If your own website doesn’t rank for local terms (for example, Solana Beach dog walking), it can be just as effective if your Facebook page ranks, assuming you have positive reviews.
Things you can do TODAY to get your business off on the right track:
Start a waiting list of clients so you have some lined up sooner rather than later.
Start going crazy with fliers NOW, before you’re actually ready to take on clients. Word of mouth takes time! You want to get the word out there early.
Overall, though, the best advertising is still word of mouth.
Focus on providing the best care, and word of mouth will work in your favor. You will get lots of referrals. Pretty soon you’ll be thinking of increasing your rates rather than charging less to get more business.
Here’s a short video I made with tips on how to get your first dog walking clients:
5. Invest in your dog walking website.
You need a nice dog walking website to be taken seriously as a professional dog walker.
I’ve always preferred WordPress, which offers cheap or even free website templates which can work well for a business site.
You can also find free design themes using Shopify or Wix.
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.” If you’re the only one involved in the business, then say so and be personal.
I also recommend keeping the site clean with as little information as possible. Don’t overwhelm your visitors.
6. Create a new client questionnaire.
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.
For more information, see my article on dog walking business forms.
7. 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.)
8. Hire someone to help with taxes 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.
9. Start walking shelter dogs.
If you’re not already volunteering with a local shelter or rescue group to walk the dogs, I highly recommend you do so, even if it’s twice a month or so. It’s a great way to help dogs in need while meeting other dog people.
The group will more than likely be happy to promote your services to new dog owners in return. It may be able to post your flier at its facility or link to your web site from its web site. Another option is asking the group to mention you on its Facebook page or newsletter.
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? And do you mind being out in all weather?
I also recommend you put together some sort of gift basket or gift cards for the rescue group to use during its fundraising events such as silent auctions, raffles or other events that involve prizes. In the past I’ve given away 10 free walks, buy-one-get-one coupons and so on.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. Apps to help you run your new Dog Walking and Pet Sitting Business
- Quickbooks Self Employed
13. Get Google Reviews for your Dog Walking or Pet Sitting Business.
I would also include positive Facebook and Google reviews under word of mouth. Positive Facebook comments are important too, as well as your clients sharing your website with their friends. If someone hears about your business through a friend, that is so much more valuable than if she finds out about your business through an ad or a flier or a search listing.
How to get google reviews for your dog walking business
Simply ask people to leave them! Send out a thank you email after the first couple of appointments and ask the client for their feedback. Assuming it’s all positive, send them a link to your page on Google and your Facebook page and ask them to leave you a review.
14. Offer many services, and be creative. This is your dog walking business.
Focus on becoming the best dog walker in your area.
It’s really not as hard as it sounds. It’s just a matter of caring the most and offering a unique service.
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.
What makes you different from other dog walkers?
Do you offer a running service like I did? Do you only walk one or two dogs at once, focusing on high-quality, individualized care?
I offered pet sitting where I visited pets in people’s homes. I allowed dogs to stay in my home overnight or for dog daycare when it worked with my schedule. In addition to dog walking and dog running, I simply let dogs out to go to the bathroom when their owners couldn’t make it home from work.
If your area is saturated with dog walkers, you’ll need to do something to make your dog walking business stand out. Word of mouth will take over after that, but you need to do something to attract the initial customers.
Offering dog running or dog jogging sessions could be an option. Or, perhaps you take dogs on off-leash adventures or on two-hour hikes. Or maybe you are unique because you specialize in senior dogs or puppies. Maybe you cover a certain part of the county other dog walkers aren’t willing to travel to. A lot will depend on your area and what other dog walkers are already offering.
15. Consider offering a dog running service.
There’s nothing wrong with sticking to strictly dog walking, but it might be better for your business if you can offer dog running 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? Then offering dog running might be an option for you.
I’ve 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 completed several marathons and ultramarathons.
I am not a fast runner. My average pace is about a 12-minute mile. But what I can do is run forever. I run outside when it’s –20 degrees or colder, and I run when it’s 90 degrees and humid. If it’s snowing, I run. Same is true if it’s raining or if it’s windy. If this sound like you, then maybe offering dog running is right for your business, too.
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’m very knowledgeable 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.
17. Don’t worry (too much) about money.
If you do what you love and do it well, the money will usually 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!
Good luck with starting your own dog walking, running or pet sitting business!
P.S., do not skimp on running shoes. Buy a good pair. Replace them often!
Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training and behavior, healthy raw food for pets and running with dogs.