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What is a Dog walking Business?
A dog walking business involves you walking other people’s dogs. You will usually collect the dog from the owner’s house, walk it for a pre-arranged amount of time and then return the dog to the house.
You may walk the dog while the owner is out of the house, meaning you will need to have a key or some other way of accessing the house. An owner may grant you access to their house so you can walk their dog while they are at work, running errands, or are away from their home.
Alternatively, the owner may be at home but unable to walk their dog for another reason, such as poor mobility, being ill or elderly, or because they are busy. In this case, they may invite you into the house so you can get the dog ready for their walk, or they may hand their dog over to you at the door.
You may choose to walk one dog at a time or walk multiple dogs together.
You may choose to walk multiple dogs at one time if:
- You feel confident to do so.
- The demand in your area is high enough.
- The dogs come from the same household or behave well with other dogs.
- You are able and strong enough to lead multiple dogs at once.
- The dogs you walk are sociable and don’t pose a risk to one another.
As a dog walker, you can choose to operate as an independent business owner or work as part of a larger or already established dog walking business. As your business grows, you may decide to employ other dog walkers.
You may offer dog walking sessions that last between half an hour and two hours. You can decide whether to price your services per half an hour or hour.
The UK is a nation of dog lovers, with approximately a third of households having a pet dog. Many dog owners employ the services of a dog walker to ensure their dog is getting enough exercise and attention even if their owner is unable to consistently provide them with this.
Dog walking businesses are particularly popular during the day, Monday–Friday. However, as some people who employ your services may work shifts, or at weekends, or may be unable to walk their dogs for other reasons, it may also be profitable to operate your business in the evenings and at weekends.
You may have regular clients who employ your services at scheduled times every day or week. Alternatively, some clients may be ad hoc and you may only walk their dogs intermittently, for example, if they are working late or have an event to attend.
The peak hours for walking dogs are usually between 11 am and 3 pm. However, having flexibility in your time availability can be attractive to your clients.
To be a dog walker you will need to be physically fit and strong as you must be able to lead and control the dogs you walk. As dogs sometimes run away, eat things they shouldn’t or even become involved in fights or shows of dominance with other dogs, you will also need to have good recall and authority over the dogs you walk.
To ensure your dog walking business succeeds, you will need to ensure you find customers that trust you. Many people consider their dog to be a member of their family and will therefore be unlikely to leave their dog in the care of someone they do not trust and who doesn’t have the appropriate licences and experience.
As you may also be given a key or offered access to your clients’ homes, trust, respect and displaying responsibility are also important. Having positive reviews online can also be advantageous.
If you think you have the skills above and you also have a love for dogs and a flair for business, starting up a dog walking business could be a great option for you. You don’t need any specific qualifications to become a dog walker. However, knowledge and experience of dogs are a necessity.
Types of Customers
The types of customers who will be targeted by your dog walking business will be dog owners who live in your local area. However, not all dog owners utilise the services of a dog walker.
You are most likely to receive business from dog owners who:
- Do not work at home.
- Work long hours.
- Have a breed of dog that requires more exercise (such as Labradors, Dalmatians and Border Collies).
- Have a younger dog with high energy levels.
- Have an illness or injury that temporarily prevents them from walking their dog.
- Have a lack of mobility.
- Have a long-term health condition or injury that means they are unable to walk their dog.
- Are elderly.
- Are not strong enough to lead or control their dog.
- Have a busy family life (for example, with young children).
Equipment You Will Need
A dog walking business has very few equipment requirements. The lack of equipment requirements makes this type of business a low-investment, low-risk enterprise.
Your clients will likely provide their dogs’ harnesses, collars and leads for you to use. Although, if you are walking multiple dogs at one time, you may choose to purchase a two-dog or three-dog leash, so you are not holding multiple leashes of different shapes and sizes at the same time.
Although some of the equipment on this list may not be a necessity, it can help to set your dog walking business apart from others and make it more attractive to potential customers.
Some equipment you may need for your dog walking business includes:
These are a must-have for every dog walker. As you will be using numerous bags a day, purchasing biodegradable bags helps your business to be more environmentally friendly. Biodegradable doggy poop bags can be purchased for as little as £1 for 100 bags.
Treats can be useful if one of the dogs you walk needs a little extra encouragement to follow your instructions. Treats are especially helpful if you allow the dogs to be off-lead or if you walk a dog that is unfriendly to other dogs or people. Choose healthier treats and make sure the dogs you walk don’t have any allergies. Treats can be purchased for £1 a pack.
Balls and other chasing toys
Many breeds of dogs, including Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, English Springer Spaniels and Whippets, love to chase balls and other toys. If there is an enclosed field, park or other space where you can safely let the dogs off the leads, taking dog toys with you is a great way to keep the dogs entertained and ensure they get enough exercise. Dog toys usually cost between £1 and £10. Choose toys that are sturdy and are likely to last longer.
Portable water bowls
These can be filled up during your walk to ensure the dogs are staying hydrated. They are particularly useful in the summer when temperatures are higher. Portable bowls retail for approximately £5. Ensure the bowls are BPA free.
These can help keep both you and the dogs safe if you are walking them in the dark. In the winter months, the sun sets much earlier, meaning it is highly likely that at least some of the walks will take place in the dark. These LED lights can be clipped onto the dogs’ harnesses or collars and retail for approximately £5.
A good pair of walking shoes
As you are walking for several hours per day, a good pair of walking shoes is a necessity. They can keep your feet warm and dry in bad weather and offer you good support. Prices can vary significantly depending on the brand of shoes you choose.
A website is useful for advertising your business. It should contain your contact information, experience, customer reviews and could also have an appointment booking system. Design your website to include your business logo and to reflect your branding.
A mobile phone
Potential and existing clients will need to be able to contact you to make appointments and to share any necessary information about their dogs. You could also take photos of the dogs on your walks and send them as updates to your clients. The cost of a mobile phone can vary significantly, depending on the make and model, but you can expect to pay at least £100.
Business cards and flyers
These can be used for advertising purposes. You can post them through letterboxes, display them in local shops, cafes and veterinary clinics and hand them out to potential clients. Business cards and flyers are a fairly affordable marketing tool and can cost between £15 and £200 for 500. The price can vary depending on the material used, the quality of the finish and the design.
You will have access to more clients if you are not limited to those who live within walking distance of you. Your vehicle will need to have space to safely transport the dogs, for example, by having a crate or boot gate in the back, or space for a pet carrier. The cost of a vehicle can vary, depending on whether it is new or used, and the make and model of the vehicle.
A dog walking business will have very few start-up costs and running costs. Compared to other pet-related businesses, dog walking has very low typical costs.
However, being aware of the typical costs you can expect to pay is an important part of creating your business plan. It can also help you to plan your pricing strategy.
Some of the typical costs associated with a dog walking business are:
As mentioned above, equipment costs for your dog walking business are relatively low. Your equipment start-up costs should be between £30 and £200, although if you also purchase a vehicle, your costs will be significantly higher.
You can expect to pay between £10 and £20 per month replenishing equipment such as poop bags and treats. You will likely only need to replenish your toys, business cards and flyers once or twice a year.
Branding is a great way to make your business stand out, especially if you are competing with other dog walkers in the area. Branding could include creating your business’s visual identity, a logo, business name, your business website and your brand message. You can hire a professional to help you with branding or do some of the work yourself. Branding can cost between £500 and £5,000, depending on how much input you require.
Advertising and marketing
Advertising for your business may seem costly, however, it can help ensure the success of your dog walking business, especially when your business is in its first year of operation. Advertising can help you to gain clients and to become recognisable in your local community. It is recommended that you spend no more than 10% of your annual revenue on advertising costs.
Dog walking businesses may require specific types of insurance. This could include Care, Custody and Control Cover, Public Liability, Non-Negligent Cover, Equipment Cover, Loss of Keys Cover, and Employers’ Liability Cover. You can expect to pay between £6 and £50 per month for insurance.
As you will not have premises to run, your running costs will be very low. If you utilise a vehicle, you will have to consider the costs of petrol, vehicle tax, vehicle insurance, and MOTs and services. You may also have to pay the monthly costs associated with running your business.
You may choose to hire staff as part of your dog walking business. You can choose to hire your staff as employees and pay them an hourly wage (a minimum of £9.50 per hour for staff aged 23 or older), plus benefits such as holiday pay and sick pay. Alternatively, you can hire other dog walkers as freelancers, whereby they give you a portion of their earnings or pay you a set figure every month to operate as part of your business.
Once you have determined your typical costs, you can then create your pricing strategy. You can choose to charge per half an hour or hour.
On average, dog walkers in the UK charge between £9 and £18 per dog, per hour, although some dog walkers charge as little as £5 and others as much as £25.
If you are walking more than one dog from the same household, you may offer a discount.
Dog walking businesses charge different prices depending on:
- The area they operate in.
- The demand in your local area (the higher the demand, the more you can charge).
- Whether the owner wants the dog to be walked alone.
- If you have taken any additional training courses.
- If you offer extra services such as feeding or cleaning the dog.
Safely Running a Dog Walking Business
Safely running your dog walking business helps to protect the health and safety of your doggy customers, you, and the general public.
Ensuring safe practices in your business is essential. Some ways you can safely run your dog walking business are:
Write a Dog Walking Service Agreement
This is a written agreement signed by you and your clients. It should summarise your services and responsibilities and include information about the dogs, your pricing, the length of time of the walk, any health conditions you need to be aware of and information regarding access to the home.
Obtain training and qualifications
Although training and formal qualifications are not a legal requirement, they can make you more attractive to potential clients and give your business credibility. Qualifications will also help you to keep the dogs in your care, and the general public, safe. Training related to dog care and dog walking may be particularly helpful.
Obtain the relevant insurance
You should have insurance that covers any accidents or injuries that happen in your care. For example, if the dog you are walking bites another dog. This could include Public Liability Insurance and Vet Reimbursement Cover.
If you are walking multiple dogs at one time, it is recommended that you request proof of vaccination from their owners. You may ask dog owners to provide paper or electronic proof that their dogs are up to date with all vaccines. Even if you walk dogs individually, proof of vaccination status will help to protect your business as it can prevent disease or illness from spreading between the dogs you meet on your walks.
Flea and tick requirements
To prevent an outbreak of fleas, ticks or lice, ensure all the dogs are up to date in their flea and tick treatments. You could request proof that the dogs are up to date in their treatment or ask for verbal confirmation.
Be aware of any health conditions, illnesses, injuries or allergies
This is essential for protecting the health and safety of the dogs you walk. Ask your clients to document any conditions you need to be aware of when you first begin working together and then ask them to update you if there are any changes to their dog’s health.
Conduct risk assessments
Risk assessments are only legally required if you have more than five employees working for you. However, they are still recommended to protect the health and safety of everyone involved. Risk assessments should be conducted when your business first begins operating and then updated regularly.
When operating as a dog walker, it is essential that you comply with all legal requirements. Failure to comply could result in a fine or prosecution.
Some of the legal requirements you should be aware of are:
Obtain a DBS check
If you are using your clients’ keys and entering their homes, you will need a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. A basic DBS check costs £23 and you can apply online.
Clear up after the dogs
In line with the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, cleaning up after the dogs you walk is legally required. Failure to clear up dog mess could result in a fine of up to £1,000. Always carry a large number of doggy poop bags so you never need to worry about running out.
Ensure the dogs are wearing a personalised tag or collar
Even though you are not the owner, you must make sure that the dogs you walk wear a collar or tag that details the owner’s name and address. A contact number is also recommended but is not a legal requirement.
Pay attention to dog restrictions
Your local council will put up signs if there is an area where dogs are prohibited from entering. This could include some parks or beaches. There may also be areas where you can walk dogs, but they must remain on the lead. Be aware that dogs must always remain on the lead when on a road or street. Failure to comply with these restrictions could result in a fine.
Keep the dogs under control
Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, all dogs must be kept under control at all times. This is to prevent dogs from injuring people or other animals. If you are walking a dog, ensure it does not jump up at people, show signs of aggression or hurt them in any way. Failure to comply with this Act could result in prosecution.
Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, you will be judged guilty of an offence if a dog you walk worries livestock on agricultural land. This includes not being on a lead and chasing or attacking livestock.
Comply with regulations on the maximum number of dogs you can walk at one time
There is no national limit on how many dogs you can walk at once. However, each local council is responsible for setting its own limit. The majority of local councils set the limit at four dogs, although you may be able to apply for a special licence to walk more dogs. Contact your local council for more information.
Register as self-employed with HMRC
Running a dog walking business as an individual or as a self-employed person requires you to register with HMRC. You will need to register your business name and keep records of all your income, profits and expenses.
Positives of Owning a Dog Walking Business
Running a dog walking business can be extremely rewarding in a number of ways. Some of the main pros of dog walking are:
Get fit and active while you work
Your job means that you will be out walking every day, regardless of the weather. You will likely run multiple sessions per day, meaning you could be walking for several hours every day. This will help you to stay fit and active and can be extremely beneficial to your health.
Good for your mental health
Multiple studies have shown that dogs are good for your mental health. Even if you don’t have a pet yourself, dog walking can give you companionship, keep you active and help you to meet new people, all of which are good for reducing both stress and anxiety. Animals, and especially dogs, are considered to be therapeutic and spending time with them can have emotional and health benefits.
You can spend your days with dogs
Dog walking will sound like a dream job to many animal lovers. You can spend your days walking them, playing with them and getting lots of doggy attention.
Very low start-up costs and running costs
A dog walking business has very few equipment requirements and start-up costs. As you won’t have to pay overhead costs, such as water and electricity, and will have very few running costs, a dog walking business is a low-investment enterprise. This can make it much easier for you to make a profit.
High customer retention
Once many dog owners find a dog walker that they know and trust and their dog is comfortable with, they are highly unlikely to change to a different one. You will likely get return custom and even client recommendations.
Pick and choose the clients you work with
You can choose to take on as many or as few clients as you want. If you walk a dog that has behavioural issues or doesn’t socialise well with the other dogs you walk, you can cease working with them whenever you want, as a fixed contract will not apply.
Be your own boss
You can choose your working hours, decide how many days a week your business will operate and even determine your prices.
Dog walking can be both financially and emotionally rewarding. You will be earning money from spending time with dogs. If you are an animal lover, making a profit from doing something you love is hugely rewarding.
Get to know your local community
Not only can you build great connections with your clients, but you will also meet many people when out walking the dogs every day. Dog owners are renowned for being very friendly and always stopping to talk. You will likely find yourself meeting the same walkers every day, giving you a great opportunity for socialising. Getting to know dog owners on your walks is also a great way to get you and your business well-known, they may even recommend you to other dog owners.
You can run your business full time or part time
Because you will be in control of your appointments, you can choose how little or often to work. You can run your business full time, or walk dogs part time, around another job or your home and social commitments.
Unlimited income potential
A dog walking business can be extremely lucrative, especially if you walk multiple dogs at the same time. You will also have the opportunity to expand your business by hiring other walkers in your area or expanding to other areas. This gives you the opportunity to earn an unlimited income.
Negatives of Owning a Dog Walking Business
However, there are some important negative aspects of owning a dog walking business that you should be aware of:
Dealing with clients directly can be difficult
Many people don’t realise that dog walking is a business. You might have to deal with late payments and cancelled and rescheduled walks regularly. Not only can this have a negative effect on your profits, but it can also be stressful.
Making your business succeed can be difficult
With more people than ever working from home, dog walking may be less popular than before the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, if there are already successful dog walkers operating in your area, making your business succeed can be difficult.
You have to clean up after the dogs
Picking up dog poop is one of the worst things about dog walking. If you are walking multiple dogs at once, that means you could be cleaning up a lot of mess.
You may lose business if you take time off
Your clients will rely on you for regular dog walking, which is great for repeat business. However, if you need to take time off for a holiday or because you are ill, your clients may find a new dog walker, meaning you will lose business.
You will be responsible for the health and safety of the dogs you walk. If they eat something they shouldn’t, become injured, bite a person or another dog, or run away from you, you will be responsible. As dogs are much-loved members of their families, you could be dealing with angry owners or even receive a visit from the police.
Dog walking can be physically demanding, as you will be walking so much every day. The strain of holding the leads and controlling the dogs could also result in wrist or arm injuries. You will also be taking part in manual handling activities such as repetitive movements and bending down which can result in musculoskeletal disorders and other injuries. As you will be on your feet and active for a lot of the day, this can be both physically demanding and tiring.
You will have to walk no matter the weather
If a dog owner has paid you to walk their dog, they will expect you do it whether it is raining, snowing or blowing a gale outside. Dog walking can be great in the summer, but much less enjoyable in the winter.
It can be stressful
Being solely responsible for the success of your business can be stressful. You will be responsible for finding clients, advertising, making appointments, taking payments and ensuring the health and safety of the dogs. This can be stressful. As you could also be in charge of locking and securing your clients’ homes, this extra responsibility can also be stressful.
Work can be inconsistent
There may be times when you have fewer dogs to walk. For example, during the summer and the school holidays, more people take time off work. This can result in inconsistent profits.
Planning Your Dog Walking Business
When starting up a dog walking business, an effective and well-designed business plan can help you to plan your business more efficiently and can help your business to be more successful.
When planning your business, there are some important considerations you will need to make:
Who will your target customers be?
Your target customers will likely be dog owners who live in your local area. Consider ways you can access your target customers and plan your advertising and marketing strategies accordingly.
How many dogs will you walk at one time?
Some of your clients may prefer you to walk their dog by itself. However, being able to walk multiple dogs at one time can help you to earn more money and maximise your profits. Consider the limits set out by your local council, your strength and fitness levels, and how many dogs you realistically think you can control and keep safe at one time.
What will your working hours be?
Are you going to work set hours every week or change your working hours based on demand? You should also decide if you are going to work weekdays and weekends. You may choose to only operate during the day or to also offer evening walks. Your working hours will impact the customers you are likely to attract.
What is your local competition?
Look at other dog walking businesses that operate in your area and how you can make yourself stand out. You should also make sure there is appropriate demand in your area that will allow your business to succeed.
What are your equipment requirements?
Look at the equipment list above to help you plan your requirements. Consider which equipment is necessary and which will help your business be more attractive to prospective customers.
What are your financial requirements?
Although a dog walking business is a low-investment enterprise, you should still be aware of what your potential start-up costs and running costs will be. This can help you to plan your pricing strategy and calculate your potential profits.
What is your pricing strategy?
Once you have calculated your running costs you can consider your pricing. Look at other dog walking businesses in your area and consider what prices are both competitive and offer you a good profit. You could also consider offering discounts for multiple dogs from the same household.
What are your business objectives?
Determining your business objectives can be a great way to ensure the success of your dog walking business. They can help you to grow your business. Business objectives are also key to creating your business plan.
Your business objectives should be SMART:
- S = Specific
- M = Measurable
- A = Achievable
- R = Realistic
- T = Time-bound
Check you have complied with all legal requirements.
Look at the list above to determine what legal requirements you must comply with. You must follow all guidelines and regulations every time you walk the dogs. Failure to comply with the legal requirements could result in a fine or prosecution.