According to the PFMA, dogs are the most popular pet in the UK. Overall, pet ownership has increased by 18% in 2021 compared to the previous two years
With more dog owners, demand for dog walking services has boomed. As we transition back to the office, the need for extra help when walking the dog is only likely to continue.
If you’re looking to set up a dog walking business, it pays to think about the important aspects before you get stuck in.
This step-by-step guide will walk you through how to start a dog walking business. From relevant qualifications, regulations, and marketing – we’ve got you covered.
What are the benefits of starting a dog walking business?
Before you prepare for your puppy-focused profession, here are a few of the benefits to starting a dog walking business.
As more and more dog owners require services to cater to their dogs’ needs as they return to work, high demand means there will be a market once you get your business out there.
Starting a dog walking business is a great opportunity for people who:
Love dogs – an obvious one, though this can’t be understated. You need to understand dogs and feel confident working with them in public. It also helps to know how to communicate well with their (less fun and fluffy) owners – your clients.
Want to be outside – ideal for frequent walkers who enjoy spending hours outdoors, come rain or shine.
Enjoy being on their feet – it goes without saying that you’ve got to be active, or the dogs might give you a run for your money.
Want to be their own boss – great for those who want to call the shots, schedule their own hours, and value flexibility in their job role.
How to set up a dog walking business
So, what do you need to set up a dog walking business, and what extra ideas might you want to consider?
What qualifications do you need to be a dog walker?
While there are no set qualifications to become a professional dog walker, there are a few things to look into to ensure a smooth operation:
Learning animal first aid.
Animal behaviour training.
Dog handling experience – research any local centres that may allow volunteers to receive training.
Criminal record check – to hold a dog owner’s keys and enter their home you’ll need to apply for a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check costing £23.
City and Guilds qualifications – offering certificates in animal care.
Register with NARPs – the National Association of Pet Sitters & Dog Walkers can offer you great advice on starting your dog walking business. Becoming a member can increase your credibility and show clients you take your responsibilities (and their dogs) seriously.
Pets and dogs are precious members of your client’s family, so it’s important to take care while enjoying your new profession. Showing commitment to your role will benefit your business as you begin to advertise services.
What regulations are there for dog walkers?
As a dog walker, dogs in your care become your responsibility. There are several regulations for dog walkers to consider, including:
Dog fouling – you must clean up any faeces or you could face fines up to £1000.
Dogs must wear a collar with a tag.
Using a lead to walk dogs on designated roads and pavements.
Dangerous dogs – by law, dogs must not be dangerously out of control.
Animal welfare – if walking through farmland, the dog in your care must not worry livestock. While you could face serious fines, farmers also have the right to shoot any dog causing stress to their livestock.
Find out more information about the regulations of controlling your client’s dog in public on the government website. Blue Cross is another helpful resource to read up on dog laws in the UK.
Other things to consider before starting up
Before you start daydreaming about playing fetch with your new furry pals, there may be a few other details to iron out ahead of getting started.
How many dogs can you walk?
There’s no legal limit to how many dogs you can walk at once, though it’s widely advised not to walk any more than four at a time. This is for their benefit as well as yours.
You may also want to consider your own realistic expectations – how many dogs you can handle at once, as well as per day or week. The latter may be easier to determine once you build your client base. Otherwise, this might depend on your preferred working hours.
What areas will you serve?
Where do you plan to offer dog walking services? Think about how you’ll get between clients and whether you’ll need to factor transport times and costs into your business plan. Consider the competition in the area too.
Will you offer other services on top of dog walking?
Collecting dogs from their owners rather than being dropped off.
Doggy day care and dog sitting – and could this extend to other pets?
What vehicle might you need?
Think about whether your current vehicle is up to scratch. You might need something larger if you plan on transporting multiple dogs at a time. If using your current vehicle, you may need to inform your car insurance provider.
What kind of insurance does a dog walker need?
Insurance is mandatory to protect you and your clients (of both the human and hairy variation) in case anything goes wrong while a client’s dog is in your care.
You will require public liability insurance. This will cover you if a client or member of the public is accidentally injured, or their property is damaged, due to your services. In the event you employ additional staff, you will also legally require employers’ liability insurance.
Though they aren’t compulsory, you may also want to consider:
Dog walking insurance – giving you more credibility as a professional dog walker, offering public liability cover in the process.
Equipment insurance – protecting you from theft and other damages.
Personal accident insurance – offering compensation in case of accidental injury or death.
If you plan to use your home or personal car as part of your business, you should raise it with your home and car insurance provider in case you invalidate your current policy.
How to register your dog walking business
Before welcoming your four-legged friends, you’ll also need to register your dog walking business with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to pay income tax and National Insurance.
You can set up as a sole trader where you’ll need to register for Self-Assessment and file your tax returns each year. Otherwise, you can become a limited company or set up a business partnership.
You can seek advice from an accountant or visit the government website for more helpful information on how to register your small business.
How to set prices for dog walks
Research local competitors before setting your prices. This way, you can gauge the average rate in your location and choose your charges from there.
On average, you might expect to charge anywhere between £5 to £15 per walk. This depends on location, or even the length of the walk. According to the online service Bark, the average dog walk costs approximately £12 in the UK.
If you’re starting from scratch, you could even offer introductory rates to boost new business.
It’s also a good idea to consider drawing up a service agreement with your clients to set expectations of services in case anything goes wrong.
How to organise your schedule
Keep your dog walking business on a tight lead and organise your schedule. The best way to stay organised is to create a business plan catered to your goals and stick to it.
Plan your time efficiently and stay ahead of busy schedules by setting time aside to assess your workload each week. You can even use scheduling software such as Square Appointments to manage your availability and payments for you. Using a handy booking tool can take away the pressure caused by manually organising your schedule.
It’s sometimes easy for work to run away when you’re self-employed. Make sure to factor in time for your own wellbeing, too. You’ll be your own boss, after all.
How to take payments
Before you start accepting dog walks, figure out how you plan to take payment.
Will you charge per walk? Alternatively, you might consider weekly or monthly charges for regular clients. Along with payment cadence, you might expect to negotiate fee amounts with clients as you go.
Once you start charging for dog walking services and invoicing your clients, make sure to keep an organised record – save copies of invoices and back them up safely.
You can automate your invoice system online with the help of Square Invoices, helping you to manage your payments in one place.
Make card payments with Square Virtual Terminal for easy remote billing. Or, if you regularly see clients in person, check out Square Reader to make simple card and contactless payments at collection time.
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How to market to customers
The idea of starting a dog walking business is very exciting, but how are new clients going to find out about your services? Here are a few ways to market to customers:
Social media – there’s power in paperless marketing, joining local Facebook groups and building a social media presence is a great way to boost business growth.
Square Marketing – custom design email marketing campaigns to craft your brand and expand your customer reach.
Create a website with Square Online – drive more customers to your website with seamless integration with Google, Facebook, and Instagram. Plus, if you choose to use business cards, you can direct customers to an efficient and eye-catching website.
Encourage reviews – According to the Nielsen Global Trust in 2015, 83% of people trust recommendations from friends and family. Referrals can be an excellent way to advertise services affordably. Create a space for customers to write testimonials and utilise any feedback.
If you love all breeds of dog, getting lots of fresh air and marching to the beat of your own drum – starting a dog walking business could be the smart path for you.
Invest time in doing your research, create a solid business plan, and ensure all your legal requirements are underway, and you’ll have tails wagging in no time. Don’t forget to have fun and get a little creative along the way.
Square can help small business owners every step of the way, so you never feel off-track. Explore various easy payment options and more helpful information on Town Square.
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