With demand for expert dog care on the up, it’s no wonder so many would-be entrepreneurs are wondering how to start a dog walking business.
- How to set up as self-employed with HMRC
- Going self-employed in the UK: a guide to get started
- Self-employed business ideas in the UK
- What is public liability insurance?
The good news is, setting up a dog walking business could be the ideal next move for those who are mad for mutts.
How to become a dog walker
If you’re wondering how to become a dog walker, there are some things you need to consider first.
The pooches could be quite a handful, so you need to understand canine behaviour and have their best interests at heart. With some dog walkers walking multiple dogs at once, this is imperative.
If you would like to gain more experience with dogs, you could always consider volunteering at your local kennels or rescue centre.
You also need to have strong interpersonal and communication skills, which will come in handy when dealing with the pets’ owners and growing your network. You need to be physically fit, too, because the walks will be long and the dogs may be strong.
And if you’re someone who balks at braving the great outdoors when it’s cold, wet or muddy, be prepared. You’ll be outside come rain or shine, so feeling comfortable in bad weather is an absolute must.
How do I start a dog walking business?
Below are some of our top tips on how to start a dog walking business, and some key things to keep in mind before taking the plunge.
Consider training and qualifications
You don’t necessarily need any training or qualifications to become a dog walker, but having them may help your credibility and professional standing when building a client base.
Some of the training and qualifications you might choose include animal first aid, animal behaviour, and animal care.
Get all the right checks
If you’re holding a dog owner’s keys and going into their house, you’ll need a Criminal Record Check. If you’ve lived at your current address for more than a year you can apply online with Disclosure Scotland for a Basic Disclosure, which costs £25.
If you’ve lived at your address for under a year, you can apply for a Criminal Record Check through NarpsUK at a cost of £65.
Understand the dog walking rules and regulations
The trade association NarpsUK (National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers) has lots of information on how to start a dog walking business, and they’re especially helpful when it comes to understanding the key rules and regulations.
Some of these rules include:
- Meeting owners prior to the first booking
- Restricting the number of dogs walked to no more than four at a time
- Keeping records of all work undertaken
- Protecting clients’ personal information
- Making sure all dogs in public are wearing a collar with the owners name and address on it
- Cleaning up faeces (if you don’t do this last one, you could be fined up to £1,000)
You don’t have to, but joining NarpsUK gives you access to lots of help and advice on setting up a dog walking business. Telling your clients you’re a member might also give them peace of mind.
Think about business insurance
And talking of peace of mind, dog owners will be putting you in charge of their pets, so they’ll naturally expect a level of care and reliability. Getting a tailored business insurance policy can help show clients that you’re serious about your work.
It could also help you sleep easy, knowing that you’re properly protected should the worst happen.
Public liability, for instance, may provide protection if a member of the public becomes injured because of your business and decides to sue.
To learn more, check our FAQ page: ‘what is public liability insurance?’ (or read on for more information on your cover options).
Work out how much you’re going to charge
As a dog walker you can expect to earn between £6-10 per dog for walks that last between 30 minutes and an hour.
If you’re walking more than one dog at once, this means you could earn a significant amount. But these rates can fluctuate depending on your business overheads, the number of dogs you take per walk, and the number of hours you walk per day. Also be prepared to negotiate on price with your clients.
Rates can also vary by location, and the nature of the business means that there is no set rate you should be charging. Research here will be key – you can find out what similar businesses are charging by calling them and setting your rates accordingly.
When you’re just starting out, you could consider offering a lower rate compared to your competitors to drive new business.
Get the right transport
While you could use public transport to get you and the dogs around (for instance, if you live in a well-connected city), it’s much easier if you own your own vehicle, especially if the owners don’t live anywhere near a place you can take the pups for a walk.
Keep on top of the day-to-day running of your business
Dog walking might not look like a traditional business, but it is still a business. You have to keep on top of your finances, including your accounting and taxes.
Read our guide to get a head start on Self Assessment tax returns when you’re self-employed.
And to grow your business and get your name out there, you need a basic understanding of marketing. Network with your clients and potentially other businesses who may be interested in working with you.
How to market a dog walking business
- Flyering. This could be an effective way to target local clients. You can print flyers and put them up in shops and veterinary surgeries – anywhere you think a potential client might see one.
- Social media. Having a social media presence can help you reach a large number of clients. Try your hand at a bit of content marketing by serving up daily snaps and videos of your dog walks.
- Collect testimonials. Testimonials from existing clients may give you an edge, wherever you choose to use them – whether that’s on your social media accounts or flyers and posters. You can hand out comment cards, ask for comments online, or just gather them in person.
- Ask for referrals. Referrals can be a powerful way to grow a business. Your dog-loving friends and family are sure to know other pet lovers who might be thrilled to use your services.
- Find a niche. A niche could help your business stand out from the crowd. Are there any similar businesses in your area, and why will yours be better? Undertake market research. Consider offering other services, such as pet grooming, to help give your business the edge.
- Provide great customer service. All of the above is moot if you’re not running a great service. Listen to the needs of your clients, provide a highly personal service and deal with any issues promptly. Always keep in mind that you’re looking after treasured members of the family!
Do I need dog walking insurance?
Although it’s unlikely to be a legal requirement, you should still consider dog walking insurance when setting up your dog walking business.
A comprehensive dog walking business insurance policy can give you protection, just in case something goes wrong. Understanding what you need can be confusing at first, but Simply Business let you combine the covers you need in one flexible policy.
Some key covers to consider:
- Public liability insurance can cover you if you cause damage to third party property, or injure a member of the public
- Employers’ liability insurance is a legal requirement if you’re going to have any employees working for your business
- Business equipment cover could cover any expensive equipment you use for your business (whether that’s a laptop or something more specific)
- Business legal protection can cover legal expenses or prosecution fees for situations like employment tribunals or civil actions brought under the Data Protection Act
- Personal accident insurance could pay compensation for accidental injury or even death
Are you looking to set up a dog walking business? Let us know how you get on in the comments.