They say we are a nation of Animal Lovers. Yet if you asked any dog owners the one thing they hate is dog walking. So many people lead busy lives they often do not have the time to take their dog out for their daily walk. One reason is that people are working longer and longer hours and not often getting home until late in the evening.
Another scenario could be the dog owner wakes up on a winter morning – and the last thing they want to do is go out but hey have to take the dog out for their walk.
What if there was someone that could do this for them? Yes a professional dog walker.
If you like animals and love the outdoors then this could be a perfect home business
- 50% of the UK population own a pet and 24% of these are dog owners
- 9 million households in the UK have a pet dog
- In the UK around 30% of UK householders have at least one dog
Before you decide if this business is suitable for you for consider the following key essentials
- Are you happy to be out walking dogs in all weather conditions?
- Do you like the outdoors?
- Do you have a love for dogs?
- Do you understand dog behaviour?
- Would you be patient with the dog?
- Can you handle several dogs at once (local councils have stated that dog walkers can
- only walk a maximum 4 dogs at a time)
- Are you in good health and can you walk for 1 hour at a time in all weathers
- (remember you may need to walk the dog(s) at least twice a day – seven days a week)
- Do you have good people skills? Essential as you will be dealing with pet owners who are very protective of their dogs.
- Are you reliable?
If I have not put you off read on…
Note the following:-
- Check if you need a licence from your local council
- Some local council may require you to have a particular license to operate as a dog walker in
- their local parks.
- Check your local council websites prior to starting the business.
Learn some first aid for dogs
Before you start you should try to learn some basic first aid for dogs. Pop down to your local vets for some advice and training. There may be a cost for this but it is essential and the first thing you should do as a basic start for your business. After all if the dog you are walking is involved in a fight and was injured what would you do?
Attend a Pet First Aid Course
This is really essential and a typical course would be as follows and would normally last a day.
Generally a one day course will cover essential skills including basic first aid. Courses would be theory, practical and general discussion within the group being trained
Topics covered could include:-
- How to deal with heatstroke
- How to do Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- How to deal with seizures
- How to identify poisons and how to deal with a poisoned dog
- What is normal for a dog
- How to deal with choking
Are you able to say with confidence that you can deal with any of these problems?
You should still consider attending a pet first aid course. You will normally take a test and obtain a certificate. Some courses are practical on the day but others could include an online exam.
By showing prospective clients your certificate of passing they will then be more likely to trust you with their dog.
Pet First Aid Course
Consider volunteering at a local kennels
This way you get to know all the different types of dogs and their temperament. You may find that certain dogs are too hard to deal with. That way when you target your customers you will then be more confident in dealing with all different types of dogs. You will then be able to walk a variety of dogs with ease.
How much to charge
Research has shown that as a dog walker the average rate is around £10 per hour and this would be based on walking one dog for around 30 minutes to 1 hour each day (some dog owners may want the dog walked twice a day). If you are walking 4 dogs at a time this could be around £40 a session. However with the rates you will need to negotiate with the Dog Owner.
Check out the rates in your local area just to make sure you charging the correct rate. If you are just starting out you need to build the brand so perhaps consider charging a lower rate to start with. You can market this as an introductory service. If the pet owner is pleased with the work you are doing then you can increase the rate accordingly.
Typical questions a dog owner may ask you prior to offering to walk their Dog
- How many dogs do you walk at one time? (the maximum in the UK is 4 dogs per walk)
- Are you going to be putting my dog(s) into a vehicle eg car or similar ?(some dogs do not like enclosed spaces)
- Can I see your insurance?
- Do you know animal first aid?
- Do you hold a Pet First Aid certificate from a recognised establishment?
- What is the cancellation policy?
- Where will you be walking the dog (are you going to walk them in rural areas, a busy shopping centre, along the main road/streets)?
- How large is the area you cover?
- Will there be a contract? You should have a contract when you get a new client which fully explains what is expected by both parties. Include details of the service, prices and vital who will be responsible for trips to the Vet and any ad hoc expenses.
You will need essential supplies and the first starting point is to visit a local pet store to find out the cost of the supplies you may need Leads, Muzzles and Reins. The majority of dog owners would already have these essential requirements but you should still have a set of your own. I recommend purchasing two or three sets in different sizes as you will be walking a variety of breeds of dogs.
You need to keep your dog(s) happy when out and about. Remember they are normally used to their owner walking with them. So it may take a while for them to adapt to having a stranger taking them walking. To keep the dog(s) happy purchase a large selection of healthy dog treats from the local pet shop but check with the owner of the dogs prior to the visit as there may be certain treats the dog(s) really like or absolutely hate. Also check with the owner if the dog has any allergies.
By having treats available you can use the treats to reward the dogs for good behaviour (essential if you are out walking them), also it will build trust with them.
Portable water supplies
The dogs may get very thirsty especially if the weather is hot and humid. So purchase a few portable water bottles and dishes that are suitable for all dog breads. A well-watered dog will be hydrated and happy.
Yes you will need to pick up dog poo. There is no nice way of saying this! So scooping items are essential and this includes plastic disposable bags and pick up rakes and claws.
Remember many Local Authorities in the UK will fine you if they see you not picking up your dog poo (see below re UK Fowling Law)
UK Fouling Law
One thing you must find out is where the poo bins are as you simply cannot just put the poo (bagged) into any local rubbish bin. If in doubt take it home and dispose of with your weekly rubbish.
Did you know that there is approx. 1,000 tons a day of poo waste generated by dogs? A dog owner (or a dog walker in your case) could be fined £50-£80 on the spot if you fail to clean up after the dog
Some UK local councils will offer free poop scoops so it is worth checking with your local animal warden unit at your local council to see if they have any free scoopers.
You can be fined in some local council for not carrying a poo bag or pooper scooper. The price of the fine can vary from council to council and you could even land up in court! It has been reported recently that the fine could increase to over £1,000 if you do not bring your poo bags with you when walking the dogs.
In another area of the UK a recent law was launched that stated that dog owners should always carry two waste bags with them when walking their dogs. If not they could be fined around £80 which could increase to £1,000 if the fine is not paid within a specific time frame.
The only exception is for registered blind dog owners as quite rightly they do not need to clean up the dog poo of their guide dog.
Dog Fouling Law (Scotland) Act 2003
There is a slightly different law in Scotland. It is considered an offence for a person in charge of a dog in a public open space not to clean up after the dog has defecated.
The maximum fine in Scotland is £500. Currently, the maximum fine for the offence in Scotland is £500. Scottish authorities authorise wardens to issue Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) for dog mess offences. Police in Scotland can also issue a Fixed Penalty Notice which currently stands at £80 (increased from £40).
Initially check how many pet related services are in your area and spend one day going round to each of these business owners. Introduce yourself and leave a flyer. Try if you can to get a meeting scheduled for later the following week. On your flyers offer a free trial that way you are more likely to get customers interested. Of course this means that you may not make any money in the first month or so – but it is about building up trust – after all dog owners treat their dogs like a part of the family.
When out and about delivering your leaflets look out for households where you think they could have a pet and enquire if the owner is interested in have a dog walker.
Good places to leaflet drop are
- Dog Grooming business owners
- Pet Shops
- Dog Food suppliers
- Animal sanctuaries
- Dog Kennel centres
- Dog training classes
Attend local dog exhibitions
Try to visit any local dog exhibitions in your area to meet dog lovers – why not consider major dog shows as well?
Meet with other dog walking professionals in your area
This may seem a strange thing to say as you are potentially meeting with your competitors. However, competition is good. You only have to look at your local high street to see all the fast food chains, coffee shops etc. all competing with each other – yet they all make a living. In fact some of your competitors may be able to offer you some work when they are very busy or standing in while they go on holiday.
Considering getting a plastic coated poster placed on your car with your full contact details and a few pictures of dogs. You never know who will see the sign and think of the places you drive to on a regular basis – plenty of people will see your sign and may want to use your service.
Supermarket boards – Many major supermarkets let you advertise on their boards and often for free
Local newspapers – Ask if they would like to do a feature on your new dog walking business.
Advertise on Gum Tree – A quick look on Gum Tree I noticed there were serval adverts for Dog walkers. It would be a good place to also advertise your business
Type of wording to use in your advert
- I am a professional and insurance dog walker
- I cover xyz area
- Services offered (list your services and hourly rate)
- I am available on (state days and times you are available)
- State that costs include travel time
- Mention that the dog(s) will be picked up by transport which is suitable for the dogs/or you will pick up directly from the house and start the walk immediately.
- State that the dogs will be returned home fed and watered
- Confirm that you will stay with the dog on their return until they are settled before you leave
Donate to a charity auction – Many local fairs and small organisations have regular charity auctions. So why not help out an organisation by offering a few free dog walking classes as part of the prize pot. This will get the word out about your business.
Join a dog walking trade association – A simple ‘google’ will bring up many organisations and there could be one in your local area. A registered trade association will provide useful advice to small business owners in the pet industry. A bonus is they normally have forums where you can obtain valuable advice which in turn will only aid your dog walking business.
Be Niche specific
One way of standing out from your competitors is to have a niche – consider some of the following:-
- Specialise in one type of dog eg large dogs or smaller dogs
- Walk only one dog at a time (although your earnings could be lower)
- Cater for one type of breed
- Considering offering different types of walks eg strolls in the park or action packed walks
- Work with dogs who are suffering from anxiety (you can make them feel relaxed)
- Walking dogs for business owners during office hours
Good Trade Associations
The National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers
Professional Dog Walkers Association
As you can see this business is fantastic for anyone who loves animals (especially dogs).