The UK is a nation of dog lovers with over 8.5m dogs in the UK. According to Tailster, UK owners spend around £1.5bn on dog walking services each year. Setting up a dog walking business could therefore be the key to launching a successful start up.
Why set up a dog walking business?
Starting a dog walking business has plenty of benefits. The average dog walker earns around £15 per hour in the UK – nearly twice the National Living Wage – according to jobs website Indeed. Professional dog walkers can earn around £64,000 each year according to 2015 research by Direct Line published in the Daily Mail, walking up to 13 dogs per day solo or in groups, as well as looking after dogs while owners are away.
Costs are relatively low, making it cheap to get started. You don’t need qualifications or special licences, either. Dog walking can be good for your health, too. Walking dogs means it’s easy to chalk up miles of healthy walking, improving physical and mental well-being. It’s also a flexible business that you can run from your home and fit in around your lifestyle.
However, being a dog lover alone doesn’t automatically guarantee success. You’ll need good business and organisational skills. You’ll also need to consider pricing, pet insurance, paperwork and marketing.
If you’re considering setting up a dog walking business, make sure it’s the right business for you. You must know about canine behaviour and dog welfare including pet first aid, along with the rules and regulations that govern controlling a dog in public. You’ll need adequate pet insurance along with the correct equipment and a marketing plan to attract new customers.
Setting up a dog walking business – is it right for you?
Before advertising your business, it’s worth ensuring that dog walking is a suitable venture for you.
- You should love or have a genuine interest in dogs.
- You need strong interpersonal and communication skills for dealing with pet owners.
- You must be physically fit. Dog walking is a physically demanding activity, with many hours spent on long walks with strong dogs pulling on leads.
- You need to be happy walking outside no matter the weather – including when it is cold, raining or snowing.
Dog walking qualifications and experience
You don’t need any training or qualifications to become a dog walker, but recognised qualifications can be useful in boosting your credibility with clients and can help with marketing. Consider taking a course in animal first aid, animal behaviour, and animal care. The National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers (NarpsUK) operates a range of courses designed to help dog walkers get up and running, with prices starting at £25.
Experience with handling dogs is essential. You need to be confident around dogs and have experience walking family or friends’ dogs, ideally with a number of different breeds and temperaments. Understanding canine behaviour is essential, especially if walking more than one dog. Consider volunteering at your local kennels or rescue centre to boost your experience with dogs. This will give you a good grounding in dealing with dogs of all sizes, ages and temperaments. The Pet Industry Federation operates My Pet People that lists member kennels, or you can find a local rescue centre at the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals.
Dog walking rules and regulations
While there aren’t specific rules for dog walking businesses, there are laws that govern how dogs are controlled in public. It’s important to keep up with the latest laws and rules to keep others safe and not put your business at risk. Gov.uk has a useful guide to controlling your dog in public, and you must ensure that you’re familiar with all legal requirements including:
- Dogs in public must wear a collar with the owner’s name and address on it.
- You can face a fine of up to £1,000 if you fail to clean up your dog’s faeces, allow it to enter land from which dogs are excluded or fail to keep a dog on a lead or put it on the lead when directed to do so.
- It is against the law for a dog to be ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place, so you must be able to keep a dog under control at all times. A dog chasing, barking or jumping up at a person or child could be cause for complaints.
- Dogs must be on a lead at all times on roads.
- It is against the law to allow a dog to worry livestock on farmland. A farmer has the right to stop a dog if caught worrying his livestock – and that can include shooting it.
- If you hold a dog owner’s keys and enter their house to collect a dog for a walk, you must have a Criminal Record Check.
Consider joining the trade association NarpsUK (National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers). It offers lots of information and advice on how to start a dog walking business, including the importance of meeting owners first and the maximum number of dogs to be walked at any one time. Telling customers that you’re a member may also give them peace of mind. Membership of the NarpsUK costs £25 per month, or you can pay a joining fee of £173 and then pay an £8 per month subscription fee.
Insurance for your dog walking business
As your start up dog walking business will provide a service that sees you spending time around people, you must get public liability insurance. This offers protection should a member of the public be injured because of your business – such as falling over a dog or lead – and decides to take legal action and sue for damages. It also covers you should their property or possessions be damaged by you or a dog under your control.
While it isn’t a legal requirement, it can be a good idea to get dog walking insurance for your dog walking business. Dogs can get lost, be injured by other dogs or can injure people while in your care. A dog walking business insurance policy offers protection, just in case something happens to the dogs you walk while in your charge. It should be able to cover any specialist equipment that you use such as leads and harnesses, and more general business items such as your laptop. If they are damaged or stolen, business insurance can get you up and running quickly to keep your business on track.
Decide how much to charge for dog walking
Dog walking rates vary by location. While there’s no set rate, expect to be able to charge between £8 and £20 per dog per hour. You can earn significantly more if walking more than one dog at a time – though there is a maximum number of dogs you can walk at once. This is set by your local council and tends to be around four dogs at once.
The amount your dog walking business earns also depends on how many hours a day you walk, and business overheads. Clients may want to negotiate lower prices, and it can be worth offering a discount for long-term customers. Find out what other dog walking businesses are charging by calling them and then set your own rates accordingly. You could also try offering a lower rate compared to your competitors when first starting out to help grow customer numbers.
How to market your dog walking business
- Word of mouth – recommendations from friends, family and existing clients is a good place to start. Ask for referrals from existing clients. Use testimonials on social media, flyers, websites and any advertising you do.
- Flyers – this is a good way to target local customers. Design and print flyers, then post them through the letterboxes of the houses in your local area. Put up flyers and cards in local vets, rescue centres, pet stores and newsagents.
- Advertise – use local newspapers, magazines and website directories for dog walking services.
- Social media – using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can help you reach a larger number of local customers. Try posting daily photos and videos of your dog walks. Remember to get permission from the dog owner first.
- Find a USP (unique selling point) – research your competitors to see what services they offer and how much they charge. Think about what you can do to stand out. Offering additional services, such as dog grooming, can give you an edge over your competitors.
- Great customer service – never forget dogs are treasured members of their owner’s family. Carefully listen to your customers need and provide a truly personal service, resolving any issues that arise quickly.
Don’t forget it’s a business
Getting paid to walk other people’s dogs may seem a fun way to earn money, but it’s important to remember you’re running a business. You have to fulfil the requirements all small business owners face such as informing HMRC of your business revenue and paying tax and national insurance on any income. Read about choosing the best business structure for your dog walking business and how to set up self-assessment.
You also need a basic understanding of bookkeeping, and a good understanding of marketing and self-promotion. Make sure you have all paperwork in place such as a service contract, veterinary release forms, booking form, report card, key release form and terms and conditions. You also need to keep client details securely stored, and ensure any personal data is collected in line with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).