How to start a dog walking business

Starting a business can be tough, it’s a dog-eat-dog world after all, but starting a dog walking business is a fun and flexible option, perfect for an animal lover who values being active. In this article we’ll outline everything you need to know to start a successful dog walking business.

In the UK we are barking mad about our pets. Recent figures suggest that Brits spent £24.5 billion annually on dogs alone, with the average dog owner spends £240 a month.

Companies across the UK are cashing in on our adoration of man’s best friend, but it’s not just large retailers benefitting. Many entrepreneurs are claiming a slice of the market, grabbing emerging opportunities in the pet industry.

According to Indeed.co.uk, the average dog walker charges £14.50 per hour, so there’s real potential for a profitable business.

There are two vital things you’ll need to be a successful dog walker. The first; a genuine interest in dogs (we can’t help you there). Secondly; a good knowledge of the various rules and regulations surrounding the industry (that’s where we step in).

If this sounds appealing to you then read on for all the information you’ll need to start a successful dog walking business.

Experience, experience, experience

Dog walking can be fantastic but it’s not always a walk in the park. Experience is essential in this industry, knowing how to handle dogs will be invaluable if something is to happen.

A dog walker needs to be at least be confident around dogs, even if that just means you 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
• A high level of fitness” and, naturally,
• An affinity with, and understanding of dogs

If you’re lacking dog handling skills, fear not, you could always volunteer at your local kennels or rescue centre. A kennel or rescue centre will offer you a good range of dogs of various sizes, age and temperament. This experience will mean you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way once you’re dog walking.

You might also want to consider attending courses in animal first aid, as gaining a certificate would no doubt impress clients, showcasing your commitment to the dog’s welfare.

It’s a business

If you’re an animal lover, you might have to pinch yourself to believe that it’s your job to walk dogs all day. But it’s essential that you remember that you’re running a business. You’ll need all the same entrepreneurial skills required for founding and running any other successful company.

You’ll also need to register with HM Revenue and Customs to set up your own business., as with any new business venture. If you’re working on your own, make yourself the ‘sole trader’ of your company, you’ll be responsible for things like tax and National Insurance.

With this in mind, there are a few things it will be incredibly useful to know. Possessing a basic understanding of bookkeeping is important, you will not only need to balance your own books, but you’ll also be required to fill in your self-assessment tax return. Once again, remember; this is your livelihood and not a hobby, you have to make sure that this is worth your while.

Getting your business off the ground will be will be a lot easier if you have a good understanding of marketing and self-promotion. Flyering can be a great way to do this, as it targets your local area, and with 5,000 flyers professionally printed costing you around £100, it’s a fairly affordable way of reaching customers.

Lastly, your success is dependant on your interpersonal skills. An ability to network and negotiate with customers and local animal industry is vital. Being friendly is important but being professional is vital. Your clients may well try to negotiate price, be clear on your pricing and whether you have any wiggle room, otherwise you may be caught off guard and end up working for substantially less than you had hoped.

Rules and regulations

There are relatively few regulations specifically targeted at dog walkers, but public liability insurance is a must. If you’re around the public a lot (which you will be), public liability can help you cover fall out from incidents. For example, a member of the public might trip over your lead and injury themselves or a client might claim something was broken as you collected the dog.

You might also want to consider business legal protection and protecting dogs against injury or illness under your public liability insurance.

Its not compulsory, it might be wise to join the trade association, the National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers (NARPS). They offer support and advice on dog walkers’ insurance and training, not to mention your membership will give your clients confidence.

To ensure you abide by key regulations, NARPS suggests you should:

• Meet owners before the first booking
• Keep the number of dogs walked at one time to no more than four
• Keep records of all work undertaken
• Protect clients’ personal information

It’s also worth remembering that all dogs in public must wear a collar, carrying the owners name and address and that you could be fined up to £1,000 for failing to clean up faeces.

It’s not glamourous but it’s really important that you keep up to date with the latest rules and regulations, this way you’ll ensure the good reputation of your business and make sure no one gets hurt.

Find your niche

Dog walking businesses are a popular and new ones will spring up all the time. It’s advisable to find a niche, distinguishing you from the crowd.

The first, and probably most important, thing to do is carry out market research and assess whether there is room in your area for another dog walker. A simple google search will do the trick, or you could contact NarpsUK.

Consider offering a pet sitting service as well as dog walking. Having a diploma in pet medication will allow you to cater to a specific group of dogs, widening your appeal.

Assuming that you are properly trained, you might also consider offering a grooming service, for example, hair cutting or washing. Some dogs will require a more strenuous workout, you could market yourself as a dog runner instead.

 For other great ideas on starting a pet related business, check out ‘Pet business ideas for animal lovers‘.

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