Business ideas 2021: Animal care and training

You could say 2020 has been the year of the dog. What does that mean for you?

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2020 will probably go down as one of the most stressful, uncertain years in living memory. Working from home, furlough, redundancies, not seeing friends and family, and even school closures contributed to around 37.4% of adults saying that the pandemic has affected their mental well-being.

It’s no surprise, then, that lots of us decided to invest in one of the most widely known stress relievers – a pet. In fact, official studies have revealed that being in the company of a furry friend is proven to lower blood pressure and improve mental health, thanks largely to a combination of endorphin stimulation and satisfying the human need for purpose.

But while purchasing a pet may seem like a good idea at the time, it’s not until you go on holiday or pop out for the day that you realise there’s a bunch of logistics around making sure your pet is fed, watered, and walked while you’re off doing your own thing.

With it looking like the UK will return to some semblance of normality in 2021, predicts that the demand for high quality pet care will soar, as changing attitudes towards animal care means people are looking for a professional alternative to putting their beloved new pet in a kennel or cattery when they go away.

Not only that, but with inexperienced animal-owners struggling to get their furry friend to behave, the demand for animal trainers, behavioural classes, and even animal therapists will rise too – meaning there’s plenty of opportunity for those looking for a new business venture.

Want to read about more top business ideas? Check out the full list of the best business ideas for 2021

Starting an animal care or training business – why is it a good idea?

There’s no doubt that there’s been a huge increase in dog ownership in the UK. With demand outstripping supply, the price of puppies soared over lockdown as breeders looked to cash in from the craze. In fact, a study from pet website Pets4Homes, which was featured in an article by the BBC, shows that the average price for a Cocker Spaniel rose from just under £800 to around £2,100 during the lockdown.

Further evidence that the UK went animal crazy in 2020 is shown in what people were searching for on Google. On a scale of 0 to 100, where a value of 100 is the most popular, the term ‘puppies for sale near me’ peaked at 100 in June – up from just 11 in June the previous year. In a similar fashion, the term ‘kittens for sale’ also peaked at 100 during November’s lockdown.

But what really makes us think 2021 is the year for animal care and training businesses?

The fact is, the UK has been trending towards providing better quality pet care for a number of years. There’s been a surge in premium pet supplies, from customised subscription meal plans to doggy snacks created by Michelin-starred chefs., a tailored pet food subscription service which featured in our Startups 20 campaign, has seen exponential growth since its beginnings back in 2013, and now provides meals for over 200,000 dogs across the UK and Europe.

On the animal care side of things, BorrowMyDoggy – the platform that connects pets to people who quite literally want to ‘borrow people’s dogs’ – now has over 700,000 members, and has previously secured an impressive £1.5m in funding.

The success of these ventures could come down to the fact that people are becoming more aware of their pet’s physical and mental needs. Animals also deserve a healthy, nutritious diet that doesn’t consist of the pet equivalent of a fast food meal, and dogs and cats shouldn’t have to go a whole day without human contact or stretching their legs every time their owner goes to work.

The other factor we’re taking into account is the fact that people tend to underestimate how much work is involved in owning a pet. A study by the PDSA revealed that a staggering 5.2 million pet owners in the UK didn’t carry out any research before they purchased their four-legged friend. And when it comes to dogs specifically, 36% thought a Google search would give them enough advice.

It therefore stands to reason that a vast amount of the pets that were purchased during the lockdown may require some kind of behavioural intervention. Furthermore, a movement towards ensuring animal owners are more informed prior to purchasing their pet could open up opportunities for animal advisory services.

Animal care and training: business opportunities

The key to starting an animal care, training, or advisory business in 2021 is to have some animal handling qualifications. With more people aware of their pet’s needs, they’re going to want the person looking after their pet to have experience or knowledge in things like training, nutrition, and animal welfare.

Even when it comes to animal sitting, which isn’t exactly a new concept, pet owners will be moving on from paying someone to come in and feed and walk the dog every few hours.

Instead, they’ll opt for live-in sitters who’ll be able to continue any training they may be carrying out. They'll want to trust you to take nutrition seriously (no tit-bits), and they’ll expect you to handle situations that may make their pet exhibit some challenging behavioural traits.

Thankfully, you don’t need to work as a vet or veterinary nurse to earn yourself an animal handling qualification. The Institute of Modern Dog Trainers offers a course that will see you become a qualified dog trainer in just eight days, while The Open Study College offers animal care and behaviour courses for £650.

And of course, once you have these qualifications, who's to say you can’t specialise? You could start a business that revolves around holistic animal nutrition, or even start your own puppy and adult dog training centre.

Animal care and training: Insider opinion

We spoke to Dr Sean McCormack, the head vet at tailored pet food supplier, to find out why the brand decided to enter the pet care market and why it might be a good venture for you too.

“The origin of came out of a realisation – and at times frustration – that the pet food industry was a bit behind the times in terms of catering to our pets as individuals. We're big believers that every dog is different, and knew that many pet owners were finding it difficult to find a diet that worked for their pet from ‘off the shelf' solutions.

Pets – especially in the last 10-15 years – have become more and more part of the family, and nutritionally we just felt that they weren't being catered to very well. The results speak for themselves; we're improving the lives of dogs and their owners every day helping dogs live longer, happier, and healthier lives through tailored nutrition.

I think people are becoming more attuned to and educated about the complex emotional needs of their pets. No longer are they a fun accessory or a novelty member of the family that has to adapt to living with us. In recent times the opposite is true.

We are designing our lives, habits and decisions around making our pets the happiest they can be. And there's no doubt that having the choice between going to a noisy, unfamiliar kennels or boarding facility or staying in their own home and having a dedicated carer come to look after them, pets would of course prefer the latter.”

Aimee Bradshaw Senior Writer

Aimee is Startups' resident expert in business tech, products, and services. She loves a great story and enjoys chatting to the startups and small business community. Starting her own egg delivery business from the age of 12, she has a healthy respect for self-starters and local services.

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