How to Start a Dog Walking Business, Part 1: Overview, Services, Service Area & Hours
This series of articles will be on all the aspects of how to start a dog walking business as well as a pet sitting business. I’ll cover services to offer, pricing, getting clients, online presence, hiring walkers and much more.
I will NOT cover things like writing a business plan or using forms to give to your clients. I did a lot of that, and to be honest, none of it matters. To understand my approach, here’s my business plan: Make money walking dogs! Feel free to use it.
Here is how I started walking dogs. I was laid off in September of 2007. I took a few months off and then started interviewing. In July 2008 I noticed that there were no job postings coming up in my custom searches in the various job posting sites I used back then. It appears the corporate world knew the banks were going to fail before it was ever reported on the news.
A month later I’m at a local tavern watching a baseball game and enjoying a simple meal with my favorite beverage. I was talking to some people sitting next to me about my situation and they said, “You should you try walking dogs.” And that’s how it started.
I was able to contact a woman I knew who had a dog walking business. She gave me some pointers on how to get started and then I did some research of my own. I’ll cover all that research and more in this and articles to follow. Here are the main areas that I will cover in this articles and future articles:
- Services to offer other than dog walking
- Determining your service hours and the range of your service area
- Determining rates and forms of payment
- Overview of getting bonded & insured and a Pet CPR & First Aid certification
- Deciding how many clients can you handle
- Getting clients and the different methods to get people to contact you for your services
- Meeting potential clients and their pets
- The walking and sitting part: basic tips for making sure the pets are safe and your job goes smoothly
- Web presence: social media, website and blog posts, online groups and forums, etc.
- Getting reviews and testimonials from your clients and having clients act as references
- Management: collecting payments, scheduling walks and visits, keeping a list of your clients’ contact information, emailing clients, hiring walkers and sitters, and more
- Miscellaneous tips, tricks, and insights
Step1: What pet services are you willing to offer?
Although this article is about how to start a dog walking business, I will also cover other services. Most “dog walking” companies offer additional services, as do I. So the first thing you want to think about is what services other than dog walking do you want to offer.
Do you only want to do dog walking in the middle of the day on weekdays? How about pet sitting or pet boarding on the weekends? You need to decide what you want and can do.
Do you live in a rural or sparsely populated area, or in a densely populated city, or in between in the suburbs? You will need a car unless you live in a large city. If you don’t own a car, can you bike or walk to your clients’ homes? Is there public transportation you can take and then walk to all your dogs?
How are your knees, hips, legs, feet? Any issues? You are going to be doing a lot of walking in every type of weather. I personally offer dog walking, pet sitting and pet boarding. I used to offer in-house sitting but only when I had walkers working for me. That’s not something I want to do personally.
I have a brief description defining these services on my Services & Rates page. I also wrote a 1000+ word article on the Definitions of Pet Services where I go into greater detail on all four of these services. You should read them so you understand them better. Now let’s take a look at the various services to consider.
Dog Walking Service
It varies but I typically walk dogs from 10:30 or 11:00 am to 3:00 pm, Monday thru Friday. This is where I make the bulk of my pay as it is 52 weeks a year. My current rate for a 15-minute dog walks is $12. If a client does 5 walks a week that’s $60 per week or $3,120 for 52 weeks. Now it would never be that much per year because people cancel for holidays, vacations, sick days, friends or family staying with them, vet appointments, etc.
Keep in mind that you have to walk the dogs in nice weather and bad weather, in cold weather or hot weather. I think this is ideal for someone who is retired. If you have 5 to 6 clients, you should be able to make over $300 a week. Is this something you can and would do? I currently have 11 dog walking clients, but I’ve had it as high as 14.
Pet Sitting Service
Pet sitting makes up for money I lose when my regular dog walking clients cancel their walks on and around holidays. If the pet sitting client has a dog then you will walk and feed the dog usually 3 times a day. If the client owns a cat then it’s usually once a day, though some people do every other day or even twice a day if the cat needs medicine.
The downside to pet sitting is that you are working on holidays and weekends when everyone else is enjoying themselves. I am able to make family holiday dinners but I usually can’t stay long. This is most likely a reason why you may not be interested in this service.
What makes this service more of an option is if you live close to your family and you only take on a small number of clients. The best are cat sitting clients as you can make the visits any time of the day. I prefer morning visits for cats. My rates for pet sitting are the same as for dog walking – $12 for 15-minute visits.
Think about whether or not this is something you might want to do. By the way, rarely are your dog walking clients also your pet sitting clients. So if you do not want to take on pet sitting as a service, you may still have pet sitting type duties for your regular dog walking clients, it just is not that often.
Cat or Dog Boarding Service
This is also sometimes during holidays, but more often it is when people take a vacation. Most people will take their dog with them for holidays or they will schedule pet sitting visits. If you own a pet, this may be more difficult to get clients. I have a dog and 2 cats. As a result, I’m sure there are people who never bother contacting me because they know it wouldn’t work. Boarding is most often for dogs, but I have boarded cats two or three times.
For the people who do contact me, I also require a “test” to see how their pets get along with mine. There are plenty of times where the client tells me that their dog gets along with other dogs or cats, but I test them anyway. When it comes to my dog, I meet them outside with my dog so they warm up to each other.
I’m always hesitant when a person brings a large dog over to my place. I worry about how they will react with my cats. What I do is I always take the leash when we do the walk thru so I can pull the dog away if I sense a problem. Most of the time though, you can tell right away whether the dog has any issues with cats. If you do not own cats, then obviously this doesn’t apply to you.
I charge $50 per 24 hours for dogs and $40 for cats, so this is good money when you can get it. It’s really good money if you already have a dog. You already have to walk your dog, now you just have an extra dog with you. Are you able to have pets in your place, and if so are you willing to bring another person’s pet into your home?
In-House Pet Sitting Service
I personally do not want to sleep in someone else’s house. I prefer my place with all my stuff plus I have three pets of my own. You do not have to stay there all day, but you have to spend most of your time there including sleeping over.
This is a good option for the owner because they have peace of mind that their house will not appear unoccupied while they are away. When I had walkers who were interested, I charged $65 per 24 hour period. If you don’t mind sleeping somewhere that is not your place then this may be a good option for you.
Just a quick note about my rates: my dog walking and pet sitting rates are about the same as other companies in my area, but my boarding and in-house sitting rates are much lower than the competition. I have tables of all my rates on my Services page if you want to get a better idea about a pet service business.
Pet Taxi Service
The other service, which I have never offered, is a pet taxi service. Here you get paid to take your clients pets to the vet or groomers because they can not make weekday appointments due to their work schedule. This would also be common for senior citizens who do not drive anymore, people with disabilities, or people sick or injured. I believe there is also a service where you also go shopping for pet food and supplies for similar reasons.
If you have a car this is an option you may want to consider. You would have to do additional research of your own as I do not have direct experience with this service.
Pet Photography Service
You can also offer pet photography portraits, but you should consider this as a side service that gets you, clients. You do need to know photographic composition and have great equipment. Photos with a cell phone will not get you clients. It just wouldn’t look professional. If you don’t have the equipment or know how then this isn’t an option. If you do have the photo gear, then this is a great way to get walking and sitting clients.
I offer FREE pet portraits for my dog walking, pet sitting and boarding clients. For everyone else, I offer hour and half hour rates. I have only been contacted twice over 10 years for pet portraits, which is either because my portraits are not good, or it’s not the easiest way to get clients.
I have some pet portrait pages if you are interested. Some of the photos on the pages are sub-par or below my standards of great photos. I originally created four pages of photos and I haven’t had time to replace them with better quality portraits. Note: I will be posting articles on tips to getting quality pet portraits, so make sure to check back or subscribe for email updates.
Summary of Pet Services to Offer
The big three in terms of making money is dog walking, pet sitting and boarding. with in-house sitting and pet taxi as additional services to consider. Which service would you like to provide? The questions I ask in this article are for you to think about and answer on your own. A lot of the answers to the questions involve your health, mode of transportation and the amount of time that you available for the services.
Service Area and Hours of Operation
So once you decide which services you would like to offer, then it’s time to figure out the farthest you want to travel. I can’t answer this for you because I do not know where you live and what your transportation situation is.
I have a car and a bicycle. I started out with a large service area until I realized I had to reduce it. I live in Philadelphia, PA just north of Center City where it is less congested than downtown. My service area is approximately a 10 x 10 block radius, give or take some smaller streets in there.
The longer it takes to get from one dog to the next, then the fewer dogs that you can walk. I would never be able to walk my dogs in the time ranges that my clients prefer if it took too long to travel between dogs.
A way around that issue is to walk more than one dog at a time. That is something I do not do though I see other companies doing it. It doesn’t make sense for me to do that because my main walk time is 15 minutes. And I make sure I walk my dogs in the time ranges that my clients prefer, other companies don’t adhere to that policy from what I’ve seen. Also, I would only do it if I got approval from all owners involved.
Walking multiple dogs at once only makes sense for walk times of 30 minutes or longer. It also makes sense if you live in a large city where you service high rise buildings and you have multiple dogs in the same building.
As for my hours, I’m available 7 days a week but I do schedule “off” times to give myself a break on busy days. My pet sitting can start as early as 7:00 am but it is usually closer to 8:00 am. I do not schedule night walks later than 8:15 pm. There have been many Summers where I have worked EVERY day, not getting a day off until September (it’s a lot of work).
I have a map of my services area and a brief listing of my hours on my Service Area page. I’m not a web designer so forgive the bad map that is on the page. I took a photo of a street map and uploaded it with yellow highlighting marks on it. I haven’t figured out how to highlight a specific area on Google maps.
Researching Your Competition
So this should get you on your way on how to start a dog walking business. The next step is to find out what pet service companies are in your area. You need to research what services they offer, their rates, their service area and anything else particular to your location. I will cover that in the next article, as well as consideration for the number of clients you can handle and most importantly how to get clients.