If you love animals then walking dogs could be the perfect side hustle for you. Many people are too busy (or lazy) to walk their own dogs, offering you the perfect opportunity to profit.
While it would be nice to just start taking on customers, there are actually quite a few things involved in setting up a dog waking business. How to incorporate, do you need a permit, what should I charge, do I need insurance and how to market the business are just a few of the questions you will need to answer before starting your dog walking business.
First Things First – What Does A Dog Walker Do?
As you may have guessed by now, dog walkers are employed to walk dogs. There are many reasons for people to employ a dog walker such as:
- The owner works long hours and doesn’t want the dog inside for extended periods.
- The dog is a puppy and can’t go for longer than 4 hours without relieving itself.
- The person is incapable for physical reasons of walking the dog.
- The person is just too tired at the end of the day to walk the dog.
Obviously there are other reasons, but these are the most common. Your main job will simply be to take the dog out for a walk around the neighborhood for 15-60 minutes. You can also add additional services such as pooper scooper, doggy playtime, pet grooming or administering medication. Each additional offering is a chance for you to upsell your customer and make additional revenue, so consider carefully what you will offer and how much you will charge. Which brings us to…
How Much to Charge for Dog Walking Services
I’ve looked at the rates for cities from 150,000 to millions in population across the US and there isn’t much difference in general to the prices being charged for dog walking services. In general a 30 minute single dog walk is $20. If you choose to do pack walks the typical fee is around $15 for 30 minutes. Be aware that the chances of poor behavior are increased with pack walks. You also need to coordinate the locations of your clients, however if you have several clients in the same vicinity it can make sense to do pack walks.
As I mentioned above there are additional services you can offer as add-ons and these should be priced accordingly. You can also offer discounts if people purchase multiple walks at one time. This can be a good way to level out your income as well as creating a reliable stable of clients.
What About Permits and Insurance for Dog Walking?
Currently the only city I am aware of in the US requiring a dog walking permit is San Francisco, who passed into law a requirement for dog walking permits on Jan 1, 2012. Toronto in Canada requires commercial dog walker permits also at a cost of $226 annually. The UK also has some areas which require a dog walking permit if you walk more than 4 dogs, however the permits are free.
Of much more concern to the potential dog walkers out there is insurance. You definitely don’t want to get caught uncovered in the case of an accident in your client’s home, a dog attack or any other unfortunate event. Luckily you do have several options for insuring yourself when working as a dog walker or pet sitter.
In the U.S. you have several options all tied to pet sitter associations. Membership in the Pet Sitters Associates runs $174 per year and includes basic insurance coverage. To get insurance for your clients personal property costs an additional $100 per year. Both Pet Sitters International and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters give you the option of purchasing insurance through Business Insurers of the Carolinas once you become a member. Their insurance starts at $470 per year. Additionally, members of the International Association of Canine Professionals can get general liability insurance coverage through Royal Sun Alliance Insurance as well as professional liability insurance underwritten by Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America.
Those living in Canada also have two options for dog walkers insurance. Canadian Pet Pro offers coverage starting at $600 per year. Those who are members of the All Canadian Pet Services Network can get coverage through Horizon Insurance for $575 per year.
Those in the U.K. have perhaps the most insurance options at their disposal. National Pet Sitters offers insurance as part of their membership dues. You can also get coverage through Pet Secure and Pet Business Insurance.
Those thinking of starting a dog walking service in Australia can contact Barker Meier Insurance for their coverage requirements.
Organize Your Dog Walking Business
While you could certainly begin with your client with a verbal agreement and some hand written notes about their dog and their requirements, this is definitely not the best way to go. If you plan on expanding beyond a handful of clients you will want to get organized by using several different forms. It may be a pain to get these set up, but trust me when I tell you that they will save you countless hours of your time and will also help avoid potential problems later.
At a minimum you want to have the following forms for your dog walking business:
- Service Contract – This will specify your business name and address as well as the name and address of your client and will give you permission to be on the clients property in the course of caring for their dog. It should also spell out what service you will be providing, the schedule and duration of service, the price of service, cancellation policy and information about liability issues.
- Dog Info Sheet – This is a basic document that the client will fill out letting you know the basics about the dog. The dogs breed and age should definitely be included along with any special needs the dog has and some information about the dogs personality. It should also include the dogs license or chip number as well as the name and number of the dogs veterinarian and any health history. Finally, the sheet should have a space where the client can write down their expectations for the care of their dog.
- Veterinarian Release Form – Basic form giving you the right to take the dog to the veterinarian if necessary. It should also specify who is responsible for any veterinarian charges.
- Report Card – This will be the form that you leave behind for the client after every visit. It should include the duration of the walk, whether or not the dog did its business, the mood of the dog during the visit and any other relevant information based on your agreement with the client.
Marketing Your Dog Walking Business
If you want to grow your little side hustle dog walking gig into a full scale business you will likely need to advertise or market the business at some point. Word of mouth is a great way to start spreading the news, but there are other ways that can reach far more people much more quickly than word of mouth. There are many options for advertising and while some can be quite expensive (yellow pages, Valupak) others are well within your reach as a small business owner. Give some of these a try, but be sure to track the response rates so you know if your time/money is being used well.
- Flyers – You can design and print a flyer advertising your dog walking business from your own computer, making this very cost effective. Print the flyers out and keep them in your car. Then whenever you are out and come across a bulletin board post your flyer. Not only does this get you some clients, but it also puts your brand in front of many people. They may not contact you based on the flyer, but they will now know your name and if they come across you a second and third time you will have an easier time getting them as a client.
- Website – Setting up an informative and locally targeted website will be a great way for you to advertise your business. It is also a great way for new clients to find you, assuming you are certain to target your local area with the website. You can make this option free as well by using Blogger, WordPress or one of the other free blog services. If you go the free route I recommend that you purchase your own domain at least because it will make you look more professional to prospective clients.
- Local Newspapers – This type of advertising can be a bit expensive, but it has the benefit of being very targeted to the area in which you work. Some have found it to be very effective while others claim they get very little return for this type of advertising. The best way to find out if it will work for you is to test a small ad when you have the income to do so.
- Veterinarian Referrals – This is one of the very best ways to advertise your dog walking business. A referral from a vet gives you credibility and makes your business appear professional and trust worthy in the eyes of clients. Start out by visiting area vets and asking them if you can display your flyer or a business card holder in their reception area. Improve your chances of acceptance by bringing a nice pet care basket with you when you show up.
Hopefully this guide has given you some ideas. If you love animals why not turn that love into a stream of income, maybe as a side hustle and maybe as a full time gig. You might not think you can make a good wage as a dog walker, but if you are reliable and professional you will soon have more clients than you can handle and that’s when things really get exciting. If you truly want to turn your dog walking into a business you can subcontract others to do your walking, literally getting paid even when you aren’t walking the dogs. And by expanding into other pet care services (pooper scooper, pet sitting/boarding, grooming) you can really grow your business just from your existing clients. So don’t poo poo the idea of becoming a professional dog walker. It is definitely “woorf” it.