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The ASPCA estimates there are over 78 million dogs owned in the United States. A vast majority of those canines are left alone each day as their parents go to work. Presented with the option, many pet owners would happily give up a portion of their budget to ensure their dog isn’t cooped up inside all day. Enter the dog walker.
Who is this business right for?
Whether your goal is to supplement your income or set a new career path entirely, dog walking is a rewarding and dynamic profession. If you enjoy the company of dogs and are ready to be your own boss, owning a dog walking business could be the change you’re looking for.
What happens during a typical day at a dog walking business?
Most of your days will be similar in nature - you’ll pick up your charges, take them for a walk, and drop them back off at home. Where you walk the canines, for how long, and at what time will vary, depending upon who you’re walking that day.
In addition to walking dogs, there are a number of administrative duties you’ll need to attend to each day. Once your business has grown, you’ll want to consider hiring someone to handle the office duties.
What is the target market?
Anyone that owns a dog and works outside of the home regularly stands to benefit from your services. Your ideal customer, however, is the consumer who is concerned for his or her animal being left alone and who has the means to pay for your services on a regular basis. Recent studies indicate that Millennials and Baby Boomers are the age groups spoiling their four-legged family members the most.
How does a dog walking business make money?
Your business will generate revenue from each canine you walk. Many professional dog walkers offer additional services to increase their company’s profits. Examples of these additional services will be provide in a later section of this article.
What is the growth potential for a dog walking business?
While competition in this field is strong, there are many opportunities for growth. Revenue in the pet industry is growing an average of 5% annually, exceeding $62.75 billion in 2016. Consistently strong customer service and educating the public on the benefits of using your services over the competition will be critical to your business’ success.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful dog walking business?
As with every entrepreneur, strong business and marketing acumen will be fundamental to your organization’s success. You should be detail oriented, organized, and have strong interpersonal skills. Remember, you’ll be spending each day with animals, but your clients are the dog owners. They’ve hired you to ensure their pets are well cared for, so it’s important to prove your value with each visit.
While it’s not required that you have experience in dog training, your clients’ dog’s safety is in your hands. A basic understanding of canines and the characteristics of each breed would prove beneficial. If you’re able to read their mannerisms, you’ll be better equipped to predict and head off a dangerous moment before it occurs.
What are the costs involved in opening a dog walking business?
Unlike most startup businesses, your initial investment is fairly small. Most dog walkers report start-up costs of less than $10,000.
A few items you’ll need are:
- Chew toys and treat dispensing toys
- Dog treats
- Slip leads
- Carry-all treats dispensing bags
- Crates for transporting
- Business cards
- Website - make sure your site is informative and that customers have the ability to make appointments online
- Attorney services to assist you in writing a contract to be signed by each new client
- Reliable transportation
What are the steps to start a dog walking business?
Once you're ready to start your dog walking business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your dog walking business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your dog walking business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
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What are some insider tips for jump starting a dog walking business?
The following are some tips from experienced, professional dog walkers who have chosen to make a career out of their passion:
- Educate yourself on canine behavior
- Set up a system of policies and procedures and stick with them
- Understand the risks of being a professional dog-walker
- Research the safest dog walking areas in each part of town
- Avoid dog parks, as they’re prime spaces for aggressive dog behavior
- Carry a canister of citronella spray at all times. Safer than pepper spray, it will spray 10-12 feet and will deter 95% of approaching animals
- Join a professional organization and become certified in pet first aid
- This is a physically demanding job and often requires you to work inconsistent hours. Before getting started, be sure you’re ready to take this on.
- Keep in mind that this type of business can take some time to grow. Be patient.
How to promote & market a dog walking business
As with every modern business, online marketing should be an integral part of your marketing strategy. Include a blog on your website, offering pet owners tips, tricks, and advice on raising a canine. Share your blog on social media and request to be a guest blogger on other well-known industry blogs. Add your listing to Dog Service Search, which helps consumers locate the services they need in their area.
Upon opening your business, issue a press release to local papers announcing your grand opening. Network with pet stores, veterinarians, and dog groomers in the area. These businesses regularly come in contact with dog owners with a new puppy or an elderly canine that might need to be walked more often than most. Most importantly, show them why/how your services stand out above the competition.
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How to keep customers coming back
Customer retention is a critical component to your business’ success. Always keep in mind the motivation behind your customers - they’re looking for an individual who cares for their canine the way they would. Send them texts or emails with updates on their dog’s activities for the day. You could even send each canine home with a “pet report card,” informing the parents of the events of the day.
How and when to build a team
If your goal is a small-scale, local business, you’ll want to start out as the only dog walker. As your local business grows, you could begin to build a team, with each member targeting a specific part of town.
If you’re dreaming big, another option is to set up dog walking services nationally. To do this, you would need individuals across the country who can be trusted with your client’s canines. This will require a more complex, interactive website and, for best results, a mobile application. Regardless of how big or small you desire to be, you’ll need to perform a background check on each new team member. This should include running both criminal and driving reports, as well as a basic canine knowledge test. Your clients are hiring you to care for their furry “children,” so it’s critical that you hire only the best.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Dog walking businesses are typically not required to obtain any particular licensing or permits. However, it is advisable to look into the particularities of your municipality:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Typically dog walkers provide their clients with a dog walking contract to decrease legal liability and encourage transparency. A sample contract can be found here.
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How much can you charge customers?
Fees are based on the specific services needed of each client/dog. On average, professionals charge $15- $17 for a 15 - 20 minute walk and $18 - $22 for a 30 - 40 minute walk. For a 40 - 60 minute walk, you could charge between $22 and $27. If your client requires late night or early evening walks, many dog walkers charge an additional fee of $5 per dog.
What are the ongoing expenses for a dog walking business?
Much like your startup expenses, ongoing expenses are minimal. While you’ll need to keep a steady supply of dog treats on hand, the rest of your initial purchases should last for several years. The bulk of your budget will go towards fuel costs, vehicle maintenance, and insurance. These costs will vary depending upon your location and how wide of an area you serve.
To avoid the costs associated with hiring employees, many dog walking business owners hire individuals as freelancers. Just be sure to set aside a portion of your budget for “employee” background checks, as this will prove to be an important component to your organization’s long-term success.
While free social media will encompass much of your marketing campaign, you’ll want to invest both time and money each month into marketing your business. If this isn’t your strong suit, many marketing companies offer basic packages starting around $50 per month.
How much profit can a dog walking business make?
For the sake of determining your business’ profit, let’s use an example of a dog walker that can walk four dogs an hour at $20/hour. Let’s assume they’re able to walk sixteen dogs per day and work five days per week. In this instance, that’s an annual salary of $83,200. And this is based on your services alone. As the business owner, you’ll collect a portion of the fees each additional dog walker is able to charge, which could add an additional $15k - $17k per year, per walker. Exact figures will vary depending upon how much you’re able to charge and how many canines you’re able to walk each day.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Building a loyal client base takes time. The following are a few strategies other dog walking professionals have implemented to ensure a more profitable business:
- Offer dog running for those high energy dogs. In larger cities, walkers are able to charge $30 for a 30 minute run, or $200 for 5 45-minute runs per week.
- Include additional services, like feeding, watering, and strength and agility training/exercise
- Include overnight services/pet boarding in the services you offer
- Become a certified dog trainer
- Teach dog training/educational classes - this can be done online or in person and can cover a variety of topics