How to Become a Dog Walker: The Complete Guide
Becoming a dog walker can be a fun and rewarding way to earn extra income while getting some exercise and spending time with dogs. With more and more pet owners needing someone to walk their dog during the day, the demand for dog walkers is on the rise.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to start your own dog walking business, from acquiring the necessary skills to attracting clients and growing your business.
Benefits of Being a Dog Walker
Here are some of the main benefits of becoming a professional dog walker:
- Make Your Own Schedule: As a dog walker, you can create your own flexible schedule and work as much or as little as you want. You decide when and where you want to work.
- Get Exercise: Dog walking requires physical activity as you’ll be out and about around neighborhoods and parks. It’s a great way to combine work and exercise.
- Work with Dogs: If you’re an animal lover, you’ll enjoy getting to interact with different breeds of dogs everyday and watching them play at the park.
- Supplemental Income: Dog walking provides a steady stream of income in addition to your regular job or for retirees looking for extra cash. Many walkers charge £10-£15 per 30 minute walk.
- Low Startup Costs: The startup costs are minimal, requiring just leashes, waste bags, some flyers and a website. No premises or inventory is needed.
To be a successful dog walker, some of the key skills and attributes you should have include:
- Animal Handling: You need to feel comfortable and confident managing dogs on a leash. Have patience, speak calmly and know basic training commands.
- Physical Capability: Be able to walk moderate distances and jog when needed for high energy dogs. You’ll be on your feet most of the day.
- Organization: Manage your schedule across multiple dogs and households efficiently. Use apps to coordinate.
- Reliability: Clients depend on you to arrive on schedule every time to walk their dogs. You must be punctual and responsible.
- Friendly Personality: Make dog owners feel comfortable leaving you their key and beloved pet. Be trustworthy and enthusiastic about dogs.
- Basic First Aid: Learn how to handle minor injuries or emergencies with dogs until veterinary care can be provided.
Getting Trained and Certified
While no special education is legally required to start walking dogs, getting proper training and certification will give you a major leg up. It provides proof of your expertise and credentials to pet parents.
Here are some options for getting trained as a dog walker:
- Online Courses: Take an online dog walking and pet care certification course that covers skills like dog behavior, leash handling, first aid, business practices and more. They can be completed in a few weeks.
- Local Workshops: Many dog trainers and shelters offer in-person group workshops for aspiring dog walkers. Check websites and community boards for classes near you.
- Shadow Experienced Walkers: Find an established dog walking business and ask if you can shadow experienced walkers on the job for several days to gain hands-on experience.
- Pet First Aid/CPR: Take a specialized first aid and CPR class focused on dog and cat first aid to prepare you for emergencies.
Once trained, look for certifications from recognized organizations to boost your credentials like the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters.
Creating Your Dog Walking Business
Here are the key steps to structuring your professional dog walking business:
Choose Your Business Model
Decide whether you want your business to be just yourself as a sole proprietor, work with a partner to share the walk routes, or build out a larger company with multiple walkers. Consider your goals for income and scale.
Pick a Business Name and Branding
Choose a memorable dog walking business name and create consistent branding. Get professional looking logo, website, flyers and business cards made.
Form a Legal Business Entity
Visit gov.uk to legally register your business as a sole trader or limited company so you can open a business bank account.
Buy dog walker liability insurance to financially protect you in case of injuries, bites or lost dogs. Cost is around £200 annually.
Set Your Rates
Typical dog walking rates range from £10-£15 for a 30 minute group walk. Charge more for solo walks, puppies, weekends or holidays. Offer package deals for regular customers.
Create Client Contracts
Use contracts that detail your services, rates, policies, terms and release of liability. Have new clients sign them.
Buy leashes, waist packs, biodegradable waste bags, hand sanitizer, cleaning spray and other dog walking gear.
Market Your Services
Promote your business online through a website, social media, local listings and ads. Reach pet owners through vet offices, pet stores, groomers and community boards.
Building Your Client Base
As a new dog walking business, you’ll need to proactively attract clients. Here are some proven tactics:
- Website: Create a professional website with your services, rates and contact form for potential clients to find you online.
- Social Media: Build an engaging social media presence showcasing your brand. Post content about dogs, training tips, and photos of walks.
- Search Listings: Claim and optimize free listings on Google, Facebook, Yelp and other directories so local searches bring up your business.
- Print Ads: Place classified ads in local pet magazines/websites and neighborhood newsletters.
- Office Flyers: Ask local vet offices, pet supply stores, groomers and cafes if you can leave flyers and business cards for customers.
- Neighborhood Marketing: Introduce yourself and hand out flyers door-to-door in pet-friendly areas. Offer first walk discounts.
- Referrals: Provide excellent service so happy customers refer you to their family and friends. Referral marketing is powerful!
Handling the Logistics of Dog Walking
As you start walking dogs, here are some important logistical factors:
Create Walking Schedules
Use a calendar app to coordinate and track all your scheduled walks. Block out time for travel between each walk. Cluster walks in the same area when possible.
Get a Walker’s Wallet
Use an armband wallet to conveniently hold all the house keys or access codes you’ll need throughout the day. Keep them organized.
Use a GPS App
Apps like Google Maps help you optimize routes and get directions if needed in unfamiliar neighborhoods. GPS also helps track mileage for tax purposes.
Carry Essential Gear
Bring waste bags, portable water bowl, first aid kit, hand sanitizer/wipes, towel and other walker gear on your walks.
Send owners a quick text with cute photo after you finish the walk to update them and put their minds at ease.
Have Backup Support
Line up backup dog walkers you can call on in a pinch if you get sick or have an emergency. Reliability is crucial.
Keeping Pets Safe and Healthy
As a dog walker, you are responsible for the health and wellbeing of your client’s pets. Follow these tips:
Know Safety Commands
Practice “leave it”, “drop it” and “wait” commands. Use very short leashes in unsafe areas. Know your limits with powerful pullers.
Carry Dog First Aid Supplies
Have gauze, tape, tweezers, antibiotic gel and a tick remover with you. Muzzles can also be useful. Know basic first aid and CPR.
Bring Extra Water
Dogs need water on long walks. Carry a collapsable bowl and bottled water in case they need to rehydrate away from home.
Start slow with puppies and older dogs. Keep walks short if it’s very hot/humid outside. End walks if dogs seem overly tired, limping or panting excessively.
Pick Up All Waste
Bag and dispose all dog waste properly. Also clean any “accidents” in client’s homes to maintain sanitary conditions.
Watch For Illness
Look out for vomiting, diarrhea, excessive coughing/sneezing or signs of injury/lameness that owners should know about.
Growing Your Dog Walking Business
Once established, focus on scaling your business with these strategies:
- Expand Territories: Serve more neighborhoods and cities by having walkers cover wider regions. Adjust routes efficiently.
- Hire Employees: Bring aboard W2 employees as your business grows. Vet walkers thoroughly. Provide training.
- Walk Packs: Walk multiple dogs from different households together in supervised “packs” to boost capacity.
- Upsell Services: Offer additional paid services like pet taxi, overnight stays, home visits or training.
- Boost Marketing: Expand digital ads, community event sponsorships, contribute pet care articles to local media.
- Specialize Your Niche: Cater to a specific demographic like elderly clients or those with medical needs.
Starting a dog walking business allows you to turn your passion for dogs into a rewarding and flexible career. Follow this guide to gain the proper skills, create your brand, attract your first customers and grow your professional dog walking services. With hard work and dedication, you can build a thriving business doing what you love – spending time with adorable pups!