How to Start a Dog Walking Business

Professional dog walkers provide a much-valued and essential service to the busy dog owner.

Wed 21 Mar 2018

By Judy

How to Start a Dog Walking Business

Professional dog walkers provide a much-valued and essential service to the busy dog owner. The Dog Walking industry has seen huge growth in recent years with many people now working as dog walkers either full or part time. Setting up a professional walking service requires minimal investment, no formal qualifications, and minimal outlay or financial investment.

How to start a dog walking business

Q. Do I need any special qualifications to start a dog walking business?
A. No, no formal training or qualifications are required to start a dog walking business.

Although no formal qualifications are necessary to start a dog walking business, having the following credentials will help boost your business.

D.B.S - Disclosure & Barring Service, formerly known as the Criminal Records Bureau - A check is recommended, as this valuable document will reassure potential clients of your good character.

A Pet First Aid certificate is suggested, although not compulsory, A certificate will demonstrate your responsibilty to the safety of dogs in your care.

How much does it cost to start a dog walking business?

Starting a dog walking business does not require a huge financial investment, unlike careers such as dog grooming or canine massage. but that is reflected in lower rates of potential income.
What you’ll need to start your dog walking business

  • You will need specialist Pet Business insurance, covering public liability, as a legal requirement before you walk your first dog. There are at least 6 companies now offering cover to pet professionals, but Cliverton Insurance are difficult to beat, with friendly helpful staff, good levels of cover, and competitive premiums. It’s vital you explain all aspects of the work you intend to be doing,and take your time to check policy restrictions and levels of cover. If you decide to add other pet related services to your dog walking service, such as microchipping, you’ll need inform your insurer to arrange cover for your new pet service.
  • D.B.S. check -This is not a legal requirement for walkers but recommended. For information on applying for a D.B.S. click here.
  • Pet First Aid course certificate.
  • You may want to invest in your own business website, some basic sites are free, although you will have to pay for a domain name and hosting fees.
  • Good comfy walking shoes, and plenty of waterproof clothing! You’ll be on your feet most of the day, so invest in good quality walking boots. Branded clothing will also give you a professional feel.

Benefits of working as a dog walker

  • Dog walking offers a degree of freedom to work the hours that suit you (though you will of course be dictated to by your client’s needs).
  • You will certainly get plenty of fresh air and exercise!
  • Your doggy clients will always be delighted to see you.
  • You won’t be confined to a desk in a stuffy office.
  • Working on a beautiful summer’s day in the sunshine is one of the biggest attractions of the job.

Disadvantages of working as a dog walker

  • You’ll be out on dark winter mornings, in all weather.
  • Tiredness and burn out is a common problem for dog walkers.
  • You will be picking up lots of dog mess!
  • You may face problems with other agressive dogs.
  • Dog walking is one of the lower paid jobs in the pet industry
  • Competition is tough, with new walkers starting up all the time, often slashing rates to win business.

What else do you need to plan and consider before starting your dog walking business?

  • You will need to have good local knowledge of suitable dog walks in safe areas away from roads and livestock.
  • You must have permission of the dog’s owner before you let it off the lead. Your insurance will not cover you if you don’t.
  • The health and safety of dogs in your care is paramount. Make sure all dogs you walk are up to date with vaccinations including Kennel Cough. Kennel cough is very contagious and can seriously affect your business.
  • Ensure clients worm and flea their pets regularly.
  • Plan an emergency list of telephone numbers in case of emergency eg. vet details, police and mobile numbers for your clients.

How many dogs can I walk at any one time?

Many councils have restrictions in place, limiting the amount of dogs that can be walked at any one time, and 4 dogs is often the upper limit. You may also be restricted to walking 4 dogs by your pet business insurance policy, so do check.

It is essential that you find out restrictions in the area where you will be operating, or whether you need to apply for a licence to operate. Contact your local authority (council) to find out more information in your area.

How much should I charge for a dog walk?

Prices do vary through out the country, but £10 per dog per hour is pretty standard. Many walkers offer 2 dogs from the same family at £7.50 each per hour. Some walkers offer 30-minute sessions. When running your business you should issue invoices, claim expenses and generally keep proper books as you will need to present your accounts at the end of each working year and if you claim tax credits you will need to prove the hours that you work per week in order to qualify.

How can I promote my dog walking business?

  • Place adverts in pet shops, vets, newsagents and village shops
  • Place flyers in your car.
  • Offer business cards where appropriate (give to people out with their dogs, for example) and maybe consider sending a mail shot in prosperous areas local to you.
  • Advertise in Yellow Pages and Thomson Local Directory
  • Introduce yourself to your local vet and veterinary nurses. Having a good relationship with vets can be very rewarding for your business, and they are often the first port of call to potential clients looking for walkers.
  • List your business on dog and pet websites.
  • Make use of the trade association websites such as NARPS.
  • Get in touch with local agility and training classes to let them know about your service.
  • Invest in a basic website, and try and establish links with other local pet related web sites.
  • Make friends with your competitors! They may have days when they overloaded with work, and be happy to pass work your way. Remember you may also need their help one day too!

How to make your dog walking business stand out from your competitors

With the current gloomy economic climate, dog walking has become a very competitive business.So, It’s a good idea to offer your clients something a little extra to really make your dog walking business stand out. How about a pet school report or a quarterly newsletter? Owners will love reading stories and seeing pictures of their pet’s activities.

Why not enhance your dog walking service and income, by offering dog sitting, house sitting etc. if you can fit in with your lifestyle. Always ensure that you are fully insured before offering additional services. This guide is aimed at dog walkers who are working in their local area on foot, or walkers who are using their car to pick up one or two dogs. Remember to inform your car insurance company if you are using your vehicle for business. It’s always a good idea to get a good taste of the work involved and decide whether it is the career for you by working for at least 6 months. The drop out rate for walkers is high. If you’re convinced that walking is the job for you, then you may want to take your business up to the next level and consider investing in a van.

Increase your income and make your life easier by investing in a van

A custom-fitted van to transport dogs is the ideal way to boost your business. You will be able to collect more clients, and cover a larger area. A van certainly adds the professional touch, and your vehicle, complete with your company name and details will be a constant advertising tool as you go about your daily work.

Vans don’t need to be new or expensive, and bargains (with vans kitted out) are often for sale on pet website forums and classified sections of ebay etc. from just a few hundred pounds.

If you already have access to a van or large car, you can fit crates yourself and create your own dog carrier that suits your needs. Remember to make sure you are adequately insured to transport dogs before you collect clients in your vehicle.

Tips and advice from a Professional dog walker

Ruth Gillbanks runs a successful dog walking business in north London. POA asked her for advice for those considering a career in dog walking:

  • Ask yourself honestly if you are cut out for the job

“Some days you won’t see anybody you know. Get used to having long conversations with the dogs. If you are not confident, self-sufficient and self-motivated, this isn’t the job for you.”

Getting started:

"The way I started was to help other dog walkers I had become friends with - almost like an apprenticeship. I realised I liked the work and could do the job so set up on my own. Initially my clients were other people’s cast-offs. This means dogs that are not ideal in a pack situation for one reason or another, or who are geographically inconvenient. However, beggars can’t be choosers and to start with you have to take on dogs that might need to be walked alone or on lead. I used to have dogs that weren’t neutered, dogs that could be aggressive, dogs that wandered away or wouldn’t keep up, dogs that rolled in every filthy thing they could find, dogs that scavenged or stole picnics and dogs that lived half an hour’s drive away. The more business I picked up, the more I let go of the difficult ones - passing them in turn onto newer walkers.”

Working with other dog walkers in your area

“Where I live, there are an ever-growing band of us and yet there is still enough work to go around. I have spoken to some dog walkers in other areas who have trouble with competitors for business but I am lucky in that where I live we are more co-operative - we cover each other for holidays and pass on warnings/recommendations. It is a much friendlier way to work! I suppose that my best advice would be to make friends with other walkers."

You can find out about Ruth’s business at her website Big Walkies.