How to become a dog walker
Whether you love dogs, have a four-legged friend of your own, want to expand your pooch’s network or you’re just looking to make a bit of extra money doing something you love, becoming a dog walker could be an exciting new venture.
There are lots of things to consider if you’re thinking about starting your own business, but insurance should be at the top of your list. And if you want to start a dog-walking company, you’ll need to compare dog insurance before too long.
Setting up your own dog walking business can be daunting. That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide to becoming a dog walker, complete with top tips to help your business run smoothly.
How to start a dog walking business
Whilst being mad for mutts is a prerequisite for starting your own canine business, it’s important to remember that it is still a business and with that comes a lot of financial and legal responsibility. It’s not just about spending all day with your puppy pals.
It’s important to keep an eye on your accounting and taxes from the outset and to get registered with HMRC as self-employed.
Once all that’s sorted, comparing dog insurance should be next on your list. As you’re looking after other people’s pets, not just your own, this is a vital step to make sure you’re covered for all eventualities.
If you can find cover that includes public liability then this is ideal, as it protects you if a member of the public is injured because of your business or service.
Do you need a licence to be a dog walker?
Whether or not you need a licence to be a dog walker depends on the by-laws and restrictions in your local authority, according to NarpsUK (the trade association for pet sitters and dog walkers).
Depending on your area, you may be required to have a licence if you walk a certain number of dogs or use certain public areas. So it’s always good to check in with your local authority to see what the requirements are.
In addition to a licence, you will also need to complete a basic Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check if you’re offering services which mean you hold a key to your client’s property.
Whilst it is required by law, having a clear record check can also offer your clients reassurance and give you more credibility.
Marketing your dog walking business
Once you’ve got all the boring stuff like taxes, accounting and legal requirements out of the way, the fun part of starting your dog walking business can begin.
This is where you can get creative with flyers, social media posts and even newspaper ads. Hand out leaflets to local shops, hang them up in parks, and even ask your local vet if you can leave some with them for their clients to see.
Word-of-mouth testimonials are great, so if you already offer dog walking and pet sitting to friends and family be sure to include their feedback in any marketing you use. And don’t forget your business cards!
If you’re new to the game, you might need to sell yourself, so be sure to include any accreditations, courses and other pertinent information, like record checks and insurance cover levels, in your marketing content.
How many dogs can a dog walker walk?
It sounds like a bit of a tongue twister, but according to the Professional Dog Walker’s Guidelines, which were released this year and backed by well-known animal advocates such as Dogs Trust and RSPCA, it’s suggested that no more than four dogs at one time should be walked by any one person.
This, of course, depends on the experience of the walker as well as the size and boisterousness of the animals.
For the safety and well-being of the pooches, the dog walker and the public, it’s important that all dogs are kept under reasonable control.
So whilst there is no definitive answer, if you’re offering a walking service then you need to be aware of your ability to manage and handle multiple hounds.
In some areas, if you’re required to hold a licence for your pup business, there might be local authority restrictions for the number of dogs you can walk at any given time.
And in some cases, your licence or dog insurance might also contain restrictions. As such, it’s always best to do your research and read your policy small print.
What skills do you require?
Whilst you don’t need any formal qualifications for starting your own pooch business, having some courses and skills under your belt could add a little more credibility when it comes to building a client base.
You might want to consider gaining skills in aspects like animal first aid, animal medication or animal psychology.
The Kennel Club guidelines for working with dogs suggests that, at the minimum, you should have a ‘natural affinity, and understanding of dogs’, a high level of fitness and great communication skills.
Don’t forget that you will be working with owners as much as dogs, so as well as loving hounds, you also need to be a good people-person.
You might have a serious case of heart-eyes for your own pup, but when it comes to looking after other people’s animals things can be quite different. So, gaining an understanding of what it’s really like to work with dogs full time can be a good skill-booster.
In addition to understanding your canines, it’s important you understand the actual business side of things, too. If you’re not great with finance or all the legal stuff, it’s probably a good idea to swat up or take a course in these aspects.
While your new venture might not be all about the money, you definitely need to know about any legal implications of being self-employed and about any regulations surrounding animal work.
How to gain dog walking experience and build your client base
Some people might think walking a dog is as simple as, well, a walk in the park, and in most cases it can be. But if you’ve not had much experience around pups besides your own four-legged friend, starting your own dog walking or pet sitting service might be trickier.
If you’re not concerned with making money right from the outset, consider volunteering for your local kennels or animal shelter. Many will be more than happy to teach you more about understanding the needs of each pup in exchange for free walks for their dogs.
Do dog walkers make good money?
If you’re thinking about running a dog walking business full time, you might be wondering how much should you get paid to walk a dog?
Well, there’s not really a right or wrong answer but one source suggests that the average dog walker charges around £14.50 per hour. However, with the nature of your potential new start-up, there’s not really a one-size-fits-all answer.
You’re going to want to do a lot of research on this topic before committing to any one rate. You’ll need to consider your expenses like the cost of travel - be that petrol or public transport – as well as insurance costs.
Don’t forget to look up your local competition to find out what rates and services they offer so you can pitch to your clients at a fair but competitive rate – you don’t want to sell yourself short!
You could consider offering varying levels of service and ‘add-ons’ like one-to-one dog walking vs group rates, or you could charge extra for cleaning the pup up before returning it home.
Depending on your client base and location, you might find you need to offer slightly different rates to different dog owners to give yourself the best chance.
As your business grows you could even evolve your walking services into doggy daycare and offer rates for full-day or half-day care. Again, contact your local council to see if there are any rules or regulations attached to doing that.
Perks of being a dog walker
There is a lot to think about when it comes to becoming a professional dog walker but the best bit has to be the perks. For many people, the idea of starting a dog walking business comes from their love of their own furry friend.
It’s a given that the biggest perk of this job would be spending more time with all kinds of pooches, from the quirky mutts to the loyal hounds and pristine pedigrees.
It’s not all about becoming Dr Doolittle though, your connections with the owners is also important. You’re likely to make some great friends along the way.
Not to mention you’ll also be getting a great workout on most days with all the long walks and physical activity that goes hand in hand with looking after multiple mutts.
Tips for becoming a dog walker
Before you meet your potential clients:
- Set yourself up with HMRC as self-employed
- Check with your local authority to see if you need a licence
- Compare dog insurance for your new business needs
- Consider taking animal behaviour, handling and first aid training courses to boost your credibility and gain confidence working with dogs
- Boundaries - if you’re required to have a licence, this might have an area boundary, if it doesn’t you might also want to consider setting this for yourself to minimise travel expenses
- Find out what type of car and car insurance you might need in order to transport the pups in your care safely
- Advertise everywhere you can - your local vets or animal shelter, social media, local stores, parks and anywhere your potential client base could be
You’ve set up your business and have a potential new client. Now what?
- First meeting - Always meet the owner and the dog before the first ‘official’ walk. This way you can gauge the dog’s behaviour, discuss requirements and learn about any special needs the pooch may have. Have they had all their vaccinations, for example? If you’re going to be walking multiple dogs at once, this is important to know.
- From top to tail - It’s important to get the dog’s medical history from the owner and ensure you have all the information you might need.
- To lead or not to lead? - Always get consent from the owner to allow their precious pooch off the lead and learn any recall commands.
- Route planner - Plan your routes and walks ahead of time so you know what to expect and can avoid any potential obstacles (like a muddy lake or farmer’s field!)
- Carry water - This is especially important in the summertime, it can get extremely hot with all that running around so always be prepared with water bottles and bowls for the pups – and yourself!
- Doggy first aid kit - Invest in a good animal first aid kit in case of any emergencies or little accidents while you’re out and about.
- The essentials - Doggy poo bags are more important than ever: you can be fined for not picking up after any pooch you are walking, so be sure to carry an ample supply.
- Little black book - Keep each dog owner’s contact details on you at all times during your walk or daycare time in case of emergencies.
Compare dog insurance
It’s bad enough if your own pooch falls ill or has an accident but what about when it’s someone else’s dog and it’s in your care?
Taking out insurance can help alleviate the pressure should anything go wrong, covering vet bills and third party liability.
Compare dog insurance with Go Get It and find the right cover for you, which can include:
- Puppy cover from 8 weeks old
- Range of cover levels
- Multi pet discounts
- Emergency boarding
- Complementary medicine
- Special diets
- Third Party Legal Liability
Get a quote today.