How to start a dog walking business

Britain is a nation of dog lovers, but dog lovers who don't always have time to walk their own dogs. That provides ample opportunities for would be entrepreneurs

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Dog walking business opportunities

It's often said that Britain is a nation of animal lovers, but in credit crunching and belt tightening times, animal care is, err, going to the dogs, as owners put longer and longer hours in at the office in an attempt to pay off their debts.

There's no doubt, then, that Britain's dogs are crying out – pining, even – for attention, and if you're an animal lover with an entrepreneurial streak who empathises with these oft-overlooked victims of the economic downturn, then starting a dog walking business could be right up your alley.

Despite reports that dog walkers have suffered from the effects of the credit crunch, a report by insurance company, found that with 6.5 million dogs in the UK, dog walkers can earn up to £8 per hour per dog from time-strapped workers.

Marilyn Lewis from the National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers, or NarpsUK says: “Pet owners are now more aware that it is unfair for a dog to be left for long periods with no company or exercise. More owners are now employing dog walkers to visit and walk their dogs during the day, usually with other dogs, so they get their time out of the house.

Pet sitting and dog walking is one of the fastest growing industries in the UK and can provide a respectable income, adds Lewis. To demonstrate this, NarpsUK provides an income calculator so anybody interested in starting a dog walking or pet sitting business can estimate how much they might earn.

“Many of our members left their jobs in the city for a calmer life,” adds Lewis. “They started on their own walking dogs and running pop-in services but now have staff working for them or even run an agency which brings them a higher income than their previous jobs.”

Skills required: who is dog walking suited to?

Dog walking is a very flexible business to go into. Although a background working with animals is preferable, it's not essential, and as long as you are confident around dogs, it shouldn't be a problem.

But Marilyn Lewis, from the National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers (NarpsUK) says: “Having some kind of experience with dogs is essential, even if this is only through owning a dog, you can also get experience of handling dogs by volunteering at your local kennels or rescue centre.

“To get the most out of running a pet sitting or dog walking business, it is essential to be an animal lover,” she continues. “A business of this kind should not just be seen as an easy way to earn some extra cash.

“There are many responsibilities in looking after someone's pets and their homes. Most pet sitters will hold keys for their client's properties, so being responsible and putting your client's mind at ease is essential.”

NarpsUK runs several courses to help potential pet sitters to get started, covering areas such as how to run a pet sitting business, first aid for pets, animal healthcare, and animal law.

The Kennel Club's guidelines for people working with dogs advises “strong interpersonal and communication skills”, as well as “a high level of fitness” and, naturally, “an affinity with, and understanding of dogs”.

You will also need all the usual entrepreneurial skills – from a being able to balance your books and fill in your self-assessment tax return to a basic knowledge of marketing and an ability to network and negotiate with people in your local animal industry.

How much will it cost to run a dog walking business?

Start-up costs are relatively low for dog walking businesses. Your major expenditures at the beginning will be:

  • Public liability insurance – covers you in case a member of the public makes a claim against you if they are injured. This will probably cost you between £80-£150 per year.
  • A police CRB check – Not compulsory but recommended to reassure your clients you are reliable. This will set you back just over £30.
  • Flyers and business cards – flyering is still one of the most effective ways to target clients in your local area. You should be able to get 5,000 flyers printed for around £100.

Membership of the National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers (NarpsUK) requires a joining fee of £144, followed by a subscription of £8 a month.

Bearing in mind you can charge between £10 and £20 per hour for walking a dog, which is somewhat dependent on location and demand, there's good money to be made.

Customers will almost certainly want to know how credible your business is, so being a member of an organisation that provides certification for courses undertaken, criminal record checks, and insurance, will reassure them that their pet is in good hands. It can also help you justify charging a premium over competitors.

To help itemise the costs you need in your dog walking business plan you may find it useful to download our free business plan template.

Tips and advice for the dog walking industry

  • Join NarpsUK “Giving your business credibility provides your customers with confidence” says NarpsUK's Marilyn Lewis. “We can provide you with everything you need to get started including business plans, accounts packages, flyers and marketing advice, business management software, and a members' forum.” The site also offers a postcode searchable database of members.
  • Research your competitors “Find out whether there are people operating in your area and what prices are being charges. This will give you an idea of demand and also how much you can earn.”
  • Enrol on a course NarpsUK runs a selection of pet sitting and dog walking courses costing from £25.”

Useful business contacts

  • National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers (NarpsUK) PO Box 206, Erith, DA8 9FX
  • The Kennel Club 1-5 Clarges Street Piccadilly London W1J 8AB 0870 606 6750
  • RSPCA Wilberforce Way Southwater Horsham West Sussex RH13 9RS 0300 1234 555
  • Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Sir Frank Whittle Way Blackpool Business Park Blackpool FY4 2FE 01253 336000

Photograph courtesy of Christine592

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