How to start a dog walking business: 4 simple steps
In the dog-eat-dog world of business, pet setting and dog walking can lead you straight to success. Read on to find out how you could become a dog walker now…
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With recent figures showing that Brits spent more than £4bn on their beloved pets in 2015, you’d be barking mad to think the recession has impacted on the UK’s pet spend.
Marking a 10% increase on pooch spending from 2010, it’s not only large retailers benefitting, with many entrepreneurs realising there’s opportunities to be had in the pet industry.
The average dog walker now earns 20% more than the average UK salary, so it’s clearly a viable and potentially profitable business opportunity.
Of course you’ll need to have a genuine interest in dogs as well as a good knowledge of the various rules and regulations surrounding the industry – and it’s a fairly business marketplace.
However, with plenty of doting pet owners out there, finding a good niche can still present great opportunities.
Sound interesting? Then read our four simple steps to help you become top dog in the industry.
1. Experience is essential
It may look leisurely, but the real truth is that dog walking is far from a walk in the park – and experience is simply essential for anyone wanting to get involved in the industry.
While it’s not imperative to have a career background with animals, you should at least be confident around dogs and at the very least have experience in walking a family or friend’s pet.
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” for anyone wishing to pursue a career with man’s best friend.
If you’re in need of experience in handling dogs, you might want to consider volunteering at your local kennels or rescue centre. They’ll often house a good range of dogs of various sizes, age and temperament, so you’ll be fit to face whatever comes your way.
Consider attending courses in animal first aid, pet medication or even animal psychology as gaining a diploma or certificate in any of these would showcase your commitment to the dog’s welfare and impress clients.
2. Remember, it’s a business
While any animal lover might feel like they’ve died and gone to doggy heaven, remind yourself that your dog walking business is just that – a business. As such, you’ll need to possess all the regular entrepreneurial skills required for founding and running a successful company.
Having a basic understanding of bookkeeping is important as you’ll need to be able to balance your own books and fill in your self-assessment tax return. Remember that this is your livelihood and not a hobby, your income should reflect this.
Similarly, a good understanding of marketing and self-promotion will be needed to get your business off the ground.
Flyering is perhaps one of the most effective ways to target clients in your local area and you should be able to get 5,000 flyers professionally printed for around £100.
Finally, an ability to network and negotiate with both your customers and local animal industry is key. Never underestimate the potential for clients to try and negotiate price or you could find yourself working for substantially less than you might have hoped.
3. Be aware of the rules and regulations
Although there are relatively few regulations specifically targeted at dog walkers, businesses providing a service must get public liability insurance.
If this is the start-up business idea for you, be aware you may have to deal with dogs injuring other dogs or people while in your charge.
It’s vital to have the right insurance cover to deal with legal claims, should they arise.
While by no means compulsory, it would also be advantageous to join the trade association, the National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers (NARPS).
They can help provide you with support and advice on dog walkers’ insurance and training, plus your membership will give your clients confidence.
To ensure you abide by key regulations, Narps suggest you should:
- Meet owners prior to the first booking
- Restrict the number of dogs walked to no more than four at a time
- Keep records of all work undertaken
- Protect clients’ personal information
All dogs in public must wear a collar with the owners name and address on it and you could be fined up to £1,000 if you fail to clean up its faeces.
While not the most exciting element of running your own business, it’s crucial you keep abreast of the latest rules and regulations to ensure you’re not jeopardising the safety of others or the reputation of your business.
4. Find a niche in the market
Given the popularity of setting up a dog walking business, it’s very probable you’ll have to find a niche to distinguish yourself from the crowd.
Above all else, carry out market research and see if there’s actually room in your area for another dog walker.
A simple google search or contacting NarpsUK will help a lot in this regard.
Consider offering pet sitting as well as dog walking. Much like babysitting, you’ll mind your client’s pets at their home while they are away, as well as feeding them and attending to any medical needs such as medication or fulfilling dietary requirements.
Having a diploma in pet medication would be advantageous in this instance as it would allow you to cater to a specific group of dogs.
Provided you are properly trained, you could also offer grooming services such as hair cutting or washing.
Offering one-to-one intense sessions with larger dogs could also widen your appeal.
Some dogs simply won’t be satisfied by a trip around the block and will require a more strenuous workout.
For more information on starting a dog walking business, take a look at our in-depth guide to help you prepare for the launch of your start-up.