HOW TO BE A DOG WALKER
Read by 50,000+ people a year, I’ve helped over 1000 dog walking businesses start! Want to know how to start a dog walking business? How to pay your bills while you are looking for clients or where can you find free dog walking contracts? Then read on, friend! Because this isn’t just a general summary, it’s a complete and comprehensive guide to dog walking.
Ok, first let me just introduce myself. My name is Jamie Shanks and I’ve been a pro dog walker since May 2010. I own a dog walking business called Bishopton dog walking services based in Renfrewshire, Scotland. This article used to be found on my website but I’ve moved it onto it’s own site as it would appear on Google search results when people searched for my business!
Years ago, when I started they were no articles online telling you how to start a dog walking business and the locals weren’t willing to help so after starting on my own, making mistakes and learning a little about dog walking I began this post and have been updating it regularly since 2011. But before I start I’d like to point out now that those of you looking to be employed by a dog walker – just forget about it. Dog walking only pays well if it’s your own business but pays terrible if you are a ‘helper’. Sorry, but it pays way less than minimum wage. I may as well also mention that most dog walkers have either bad knees, bad backs, foot problems or suffer from fatigue and are often overworked. Dog walking is not for the easily stressed, anxious or bad tempered as dog walking can be quite testing at times. But if you are still reading then I guess you are still interested.
Dog walking appeals to so many people, because a) the start up costs are low, b) requires no training or qualifications, c) allows you to spend some time with animals rather than people and d) enables people to be their own boss and say goodbye to that awful job they hate… I wonder if it’s your own job that brought you here?
To make sure your business doesn’t fail in the first few months plan how you will pay your bills while you build a client base. If you have a partner or family that can support you then that’s great but if not then I’d consider looking for evening and weekend jobs to bring in extra income while leaving the daytime available for dog walking (or potential dog walking as you wont have any to begin with). An evening job like a takeaway driver is ideal.
It took me about a year of dog walking till I was earning around £100 a week – that was a hard year. In fact I don’t think a single person contacted me for the first few weeks I started – scary! Every year after that I earned an additional £100 per week till about year 3 when things just took off. But for some it just takes off really fast, for others like me it took a bit more effort.
In all that time I’ve learned so much from my own life as a dog walker and through helping hundreds start their own dog walking business. So if you’re deciding to read on, then I’ll tell you what you will need to know – that I learned the hard way – that will shave months if not years off the time it will take for you to build a successful business. I’ll also suggest items to buy. I’ve spent thousands buying gear, as that’s what it cost to learn what works, what doesn’t, what I need, what I don’t and what makes the dog walker’s life that bit easier.
Research before you start
Research as much as possible, especially the dog walking in your area, the local dog walkers, the services they offer and their rates etc. I offer dog walking and dog boarding with the occasional cat visit but when I started I also offered and puppy care services and that helped bring more clients in, but the money is in group dog walking. A good way to find out where dog walkers are is to locate them using Google maps, many will have websites detailing their services, prices and general info – this is all useful stuff. Find the going rate and stick to around that mark cause it’s awkward having to tell clients your putting up your prices nor do you want to be cutting yourself short by undercharging.
Decide your prices
The prices of dog walking can range between £5-£12+ but generally it’s about £8-£10 per hour walked with discounts offered for secondary dogs in the home. There are two types of dog walking, group and solo. Solo walks tend to cost more and demand for it is less compared to group walking which is ideally what you want to do cause that’s where the money is. I remember when I first started (I had no car just a bike) the plan was to do solo walks throughout the day, one after the other from 9am-5pm. I assumed people would prefer their dogs being given a solo walk over a group walk and not have their dog put into a vehicle with other dogs and with that reasoning I thought I could charge £10 per walk (in an area and at the time where other’s were charging around £8) with needing just 5 dogs a day to make a living. It didn’t work out! So I reduced my prices to £8 and focused on group walks and soon I found dogs to walk. Eventually after a few years and once I became well established I increased my price to £10 with others in the area following me in their prices too.
Nearly everyone wants their dogs walked at lunchtime while they’re at work and many owners of socialised dogs would prefer their dogs to be out with other dogs especially if those dogs are young and enjoy socialising. Sure, they’re dogs out there that can only be walked on their own but most can be walked in groups. Also I found out people didn’t want their dogs walked at 9am when they’ve only just left for work an hour before and neither 5pm when they are on there way home and can walk their dog themselves, so the lunchtime walks will be your peak working hours and you may only get two walks in that time (early lunch walk and a late lunch walk) and in that time you will earn most of your money for that day, so you can’t do solo walks or offer any other service through the lunchtime period – that time is for group walks only. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do solo walks . You may get asked to do walks from people like the elderly and disabled folk who don’t mind what time their dogs get walked during the day as long as they do get walked and as long as you can walk dogs like that outside of peak hours, then that’s fine!
You’d be surprised how much time is spent travelling, picking up and dropping off dogs, even in a small area. I remember when I started I took on the dogs of another dog walker while they went on holiday as well as my own dogs, so at lunchtime I had two group walks to do, I picked up my first lot about 11am took them to park for 1 hours play and then left. By the time I dropped them home, picked up another four dogs and arrived back at the park it was exactly one hour later and none of the dogs I walked that day lived more than 2 miles away!
Decide what services to offer
Outside of dog walking the most popular services are doggy daycare, dog boarding and cat visits. Doggy daycare is really taking off nowadays where dogs come to stay with you for the day while their owners are at work, I don’t offer this but it’s a major rival/addition to dog walking and growing by the day. You can charge around £15+ a day for a dog to stay for the day but best to have someone at home to look after them if you are out dog walking. Some dog walkers offer this service, some folks just offer daycare and nothing else. When looking for a dog walker, often clients will look for those that can board their dogs too. Many like to go on holidays so having a a dog walker that can look after their dog is a big bonus, plus boarding pays well (£15-£25 per night) and in the summer months and school holidays, a dog walkers wage can almost double with the addition of the boarders but it’s hard work. Apart from group dog walking, dog boarding and doggy daycare, all other services are just pocket money and if you don’t fancy them, then it’s ok forget about them and that includes pet sitting. But what is pet sitting? Do you know? I’ve been doing this 8 years and even I sometimes wonder. Is it cat visits or dog sitting in owners home? Is it dog boarding in your own home or looking after small furries?
Well, it’s all those things actually and more. Technically pet sitting is an umbrella term for caring for a pet in either the clients home or your own. Some think it just relates to pet care in owners home. It’s a vague term and because of that I don’t like it, as it can mean anything to anyone. So if you do promote ‘pet sitting’ as a service then describe clearly what it is you’re actually offering potential clients. Think how your potential clients will feel if you list it as a service alongside cat visits and dog sitting like I see all too often. Personally I prefer to be more exact in my descriptions and only list actual pet sitting services I offer eg, cat visits, dog boarding etc. But whatever you choose to offer describe clearly what each and every service is in layman’s terms and don’t just assume clients will know as most wont and are looking for you (through your website) to educate them. For example, visitors will want to know if you need a key, if someone needs to be home, they really don’t know how it works so that’s your job to tell them on your website and Facebook. Right, moving on a little but keeping to the theme of services… A few years ago I met up with a guy who wanted to walk with me because he wanted to get a real life feel for dog walking and was ready to start! He was pumped, really motivated. He was talking about how the people are very well off in the area that he lives in and he could take their dog on a 3-4 hour walk and charge £40 a time. I understood his thinking, if a normal dog walk is around £10 for 1 hour then if he can walk them for 4 hours he could make even more cash! I could see the pound signs appearing in his eyes and tried to let him know it doesn’t work like that. £40 for a dog walk? Think about it! Even if that was just once a week for a month then you are asking someone to pay you £160 to take their dog out for just four walks but how much would cost if it was 5 days a week? Doggy daycare costs around £15-£20 a day and that’s for the whole working day. Just remember what your clients are going to have to keep aside from their monthly pay checks to pay just you and that hopefully will keep you grounded and from making expensive mistakes. And also I’d like to point out, that those with cash don’t like to part with their money, that’s why they have cash in the first place so don’t think that if the area is well off you can charge more or there is more work there – there isn’t. From my own experience the less well off are much more generous.
Quote: “You’ve got your hands full!” and “You must be fit?” are the two most common phrases you’ll hear from the public, day after day.
Learn of the responsibilities
Being a professional dog walker is huge responsibility! I often get told I’ve got a dream job and that it’s easy and at times it can be, but I’m responsible for the life of another persons pet and I’m always aware of that! When walking one dog on a lead then it’s a care free walk but when I’m walking six dogs off lead then I am 100% focused and alert and on the lookout for problems and potential problems at all times. You’ll learn that you have to see problems before they happen. If you have a dog that always runs over to greet other dogs then its up to you to see that dog before your dog does and respond accordingly. If you have a male that doesn’t like other males then you have to see that other male first and move away or distract. If there’s a dog owner with a dog on lead, you will probably be able to tell by the body language of the dog owner if the dog is friendly or not and keep your dogs from getting close etc etc.
I’ve been lucky that no dog I walk has suffered serious injury – apart from a cut pad that didn’t bleed and a broken toenail I haven’t had to deal with much! But I’m aware that it will happen eventually no matter how vigilant and careful I am! The dogs I walk tend to be young and very energetic, occasionally getting knocks and limps but then walking them off. But what would I do if a dog I was caring for injured itself?
Walking lurchers and other fast dogs I’ve seen how fast they run and have worried about them breaking a leg. I’ve always thought that I’d try or at least want to try to splint their leg and assumed this would be the right thing to do but after the excellent canine first aid course I recently attended I learnt that if a dog can walk on three legs then there’s no need for a splint. In fact a splint can add extra weight onto their broken leg and you can end up hurting them further. I bought a pet first aid kit and first aid book to fall back on, it’s a great buy, packed with everything you need to know and a real alternative to a first aid course. I have a mini canine first aid post on my website you can check out.On my first day back dog walking after doing a first aid course I felt more in control and relaxed than I have ever done and it’s because I know now that if a dog needs CPR, the Heimlich manoeuvre, treatment of a cut or wound or collapses with a seizure I can deal with it and help with the situation until we get that animal to a vet.
With experience I’ve learned that it’s usually the same dogs that will injure themselves over and over rather than random members of the group. It’s always those same dogs that run the most and are super driven that get the sprains, limps or worse… hypoglycemia! I explained this to the editor of County Walking magazine in 2016 when I helped him write an article about hiking with your dog. Hypoglycemia is where the dogs sugar levels drop after they push themselves too hard – I’ve seen it happen within 30 minutes of a walk. They become really lethargic and dizzy, it can be quite dangerous so I always have some honey in my first aid kit just in case, but it’s very rare. It’s happened to me twice and it’s always those same dogs that want to run after every ball, chase after everything and do it all as fast as they can – you have to be their brakes cause they won’t stop and it’s usually the working breeds that are guilty of this. A good simple precaution is not to push the dog harder than what it’s used too. Sure, let them play, have fun and tire themselves out… but in moderation. My own dogs can go all day and as hard as I want to push them, that’s because they are used to it, but clients dogs may only get one big walk a day, so I give them time outs throughout the walk if it’s a highly charged one. The last dog that went hypo on a walk, did so, trying to keep up with my Springer pup but it ended up with me carrying a 30 kilo dog back to the van. But like I said, it’s very rare and you may never experience itDog walking isn’t all the ‘Sunshine and rainbows’ that some think it is and at times can be quite stressful but learning the skills you need so you can deal with the situations you may encounter will make your life a lot easier as well as taking a lot of the anxiety away and could potentially be the difference of life and death for the pet you are caring for!!
Get to know a dog behaviourist! They can be quite easy to find on Google in your local area but learning and understanding dog behaviour is very beneficial for a dog walker and even if you’ve just owned a dog or two of your own, it will make a big difference. If a dog is doing something wrong then it is easy to reinforce that behaviour and make it worse! Even just understanding why a dog is doing what it does can be important and help you learn about the dog you are walking. How would you deal with it if a new dog joined the group but one of the other dogs didn’t like it or there were group issues? The dog behaviourist I work with also writes for my website and she has given me an insight into dog behaviour that I just could of never of found out on my own.
You need dog walking/pet care insurance, they’re a few dedicated pet insurance businesses around. Pet Businesses Insurance is one, Cliverton is another. It should cost about £15-£20 a month. Pet insurance covers things like the locks of owners homes in case you lose their keys or they are stolen and also cover vet costs should the animal you are looking after be harmed through your own negligence. Also insurance will generally (or optionally) cover other services like dog boarding, daycare, pet taxi etc.
I’ve had emails often in the past from dog walkers unable to get their vehicles insured for dog walking – not many insurance companies want to take us on. So if you are having trouble then try Hastings.
Tip: In case of emergency you can take the dog to any vet (meaning the closest at hand), not just their registered vet. All that vet needs to know is what clinic the dog’s registered with so they can get their info. Vets will also treat injured wild animals should you come across any.
You have to register your business with HMRC so you can pay taxes on your income. You can earn around £10,000 a year before you have to start paying tax. By law you have to keep your financial records up to date… what’s coming in, what’s going out so an accountant is worthwhile and quite cheap. But it’s quite easy to do yourself. Taxes are done online every January on the HMRC website and you are paying tax for the previous year. Using either spreadsheet software or a notepad, write down every time a client pays you whether it be daily, weekly or monthly for each month – this is your incomings. For you outgoings (keep your receipts) you are looking at fuel bills, van insurance, dog walking insurance, boarding certificates (if required), mobile costs if you have one for your business and any items you need to buy, eg dog leads, cages etc. So it’s not complicated. Online HRMC will only ask you for you incoming total and outgoing total for the year and then work out what you owe in tax. Some people will entitled to working tax credits too (I was) so check into that as the income can really help when you start.
Since generally you are going to be given a key to the owners home while they’re away, it’s best to have a certificate showing you have been Police checked (DRB/CRB check) and no criminal record. Letting strangers into their home alone is a big deal for most people and why dog walkers rely so heavily on recommendations, because if their friend or someone they know trusts you then they are far, far more likely to choose you than someone they know nothing about. Disclosure Scotland is a government run organisation and can offer disclosure certificates to anyone in the UK. But you can Google search to find others that offer the service.
Choose a suitable business name
Now, there’s more to think about in a business name than you might think. If you plan on just being a one-man pet service like I am then a more personal business name would probably suit you best as it is a very personal service. Although my business is called “Bishopton dog walking services” I’m know locally as Jamie the dog walker and people recommend me using that term, so if for some reason I needed to start all over again then that would could be a suitable business name for me. Another aspect to consider is there is also quite a good benefit for using your location in your name like I do as it makes it much easier to rank in Google searches. Anyone searching for a “Bishopton dog walker” or “Bishopton dog walking” is gonna find me right at the top. In fact in around 2011-2012 if you searched for those phrases in Google my business took up the whole page and beyond and that’s because every directory (like Yell.com) that I had my business listing on, appeared on page 1, pushing every other dog walking service completely onto other pages. But now I only appear once, like most others do, with maybe my Facebook page listing. Google has changed a lot since those days and they keep tweaking their algorithms to improve user experience, so there is a chance using your location in your business name might become redundant in helping you rank in the near future or become only a tiny ranking factor.
If I planned to start a pet business and had ambitions to hire lots of helpers as it grew then calling my business “Jamie’s dog walking” doesn’t make much sense, nor does it if I plan to offer lots of pet services, like cat visits and small animal boarding. So for those with big ambitions and plans of hiring staff then a less personal, more inclusive name is better. For example if I was starting again and wanted staff, a business name like “Bishopton Pet Nannies” would make sense. It includes the location, the term “pet” rather than just “dog” but also includes the plural “Nannies” letting people know there is more that just me working there. Since pet care can be so personal, some people wont use the staff hiring pet businesses. They want to choose their pet person and have just them and no one else. Also those that do hire staff struggle to keep them for long, it pays pretty poor, isn’t as fun as it sounds, yet it appeals to so many that they never have trouble getting new staff.
After 4 years I hired someone as I found myself over booked and told some clients their dogs would get walked by my new helper and most were ok. But some didn’t like the idea of someone they didn’t know or trust walking their dog or coming into their home. What I learned is if you decide to hire, it can make you look greedy in the eyes of some clients, it will also make some feel disgruntled. “Why am I paying to get a helper to walk my dog, when I’m paying for Jamie to do it? Why can’t he walk my dog and get the helper to walk someone else’s? I don’t want some stranger in my home!!” But saying that, owners of the dogs I got after I hired my helper and who went straight to her from the start were perfectly happy with having my helper walk their dogs. So there is something to learn from that. If you plan to have staff or stay a one-man business then decide now. If clients know you have staff from the start they will be ok with different people coming into their home but if they chose you, thinking it would always be you, they probably won’t be so keen. So think about the ambitions you have and the services you offer to help choose a suitable name for your new business.
Be in control
This is what dog walking is all about and the most important thing. Being in control is the number one rule, nothing is more important. Nothing! It’s more important than giving the dogs a good run and play, more important then letting them pee and poo. If you are in control, dogs are safe, if you’re not then they’re not. If a dog died would your business die? You have to be able to control the dogs you walk and what that means is being the centre of attention and even giving the dogs a job to do, so that might mean using a ball to keep the attention for some, retrieving things from the water for others or just having doggy group-mates for others to play with, but however you do it, the dog has to know that being with you is better than being away from you, else they are likely to entertain themselves. That means they are running away to greet other dogs, that means they are following a scent they’ve found, that means you are not in control. Being centre of attention is the number 1 mega secret of being a good dog walker. Not many dog walkers understand this, but I’ll say it again… YOU are the centre of attention, it’s more fun for dogs to be with you than away from you – play with them – entertain them – give them a job to do – remember that and you will be in control! If all else fails then they go on the lead.
Introducing new dogs to the group
Try to get to know as much about the new dog before you walk it. How they are with other dogs? Is it male and neutered? If it’s not neutered does it get on well with other males? If it’s a female, is it spayed? Are there are any breeds they don’t like or anything you need to be aware off. If you like you can organise for the owner and dog to join you for a walk with your group so they can meet first. Outside where dogs can run free and have plenty of room they are not under much pressure and can ignore the other dogs if they’re not happy but in the vehicle they can’t so if they have a problem it will surface then so new dogs always need placed in a separate area to the rest – this is why you need a minimum of two areas in your vehicle. Usually dogs are fine, young puppies are always good, but the most likely scenario you’ll find is from the males and non socialised dogs. Unneutered males don’t always like other males, especially other unneutered ones but this isn’t always the case but you must find out before hand. Some males really do need neutered but haven’t been and they can cause problems with other males, harass and get too personal towards the girls and just cause trouble. Some dog walkers (not many) only walk female dogs because of this. If you have a complete female, you’ll have to let the owner know that they can’t be walked when they are in season unless you can offer a solo walk and preferably on the lead. If the dog hasn’t been socialised enough at a young age it really might not like being in such close proximity in the vehicle to other dogs but a separate area can remedy that.
Your dogs must be dog and people friendly! Most dog owners will tell you their dog is friendly, whether they are or not is another matter. If their dog doesn’t want anything to do with other dogs but doesn’t go for them then you’ll be told it’s friendly! Dog walking can be quite funny that way, some owners are just… very loyal. So unless it’s a puppy you will have to find out for yourself what the dog is like. You could have a great wee team filled with lovely sociable dogs all having a great time together, all under your control, then you bring in a new dog that ruins the whole walk for everyone. For me, dogs that cause problems in the group is the worst part of dog walking and if I come across a dog that doesn’t fit in enough, cause it’s hard to control, isn’t socialised enough, is unneutered and not male friendly or shows some form of aggression eg, defence aggression regarding toys and other resources then I will let owner know that its’ not working and end that dog’s time with us.
Anyway, regarding new dogs, it should only take a couple of walks and a few trips in the vehicle for you to get a good idea of how that dog is and how it gets on with the dogs it is walking with and even just after one walk you should have a reasonable idea.
Letting a dog off lead for the first time
This really comes with experience but I can offer some tips and advice on when to let the dog off lead for the first time. Some dogs are chilled and will happily walk with you off lead on their first walk and come to you when you call them but not all! Puppies are generally the easiest. Second to pups are the dogs that are regularly walked by different people or have had a dog walker before but the older the dog gets the more time it takes for them to adjust to new things so older dogs that have never had a dog walker usually need the most time – that’s a very general summary and not always the case. You might be on a group walk with the new dog on the lead and it shows signs of wanting to play with the group – this is a good sign but not enough. This shows they are keen on the group but they must be keen on you too, else they wont come back to you, nor respond well to your commands, nor let you come close enough to them to put them back on the lead. So you are looking for signs that they are comfortable with the other dogs and more importantly comfortable with you. Signs that tell you they must be kept on lead:
- They are not happy to see you when you arrive
- They are not happy with you in their home
- They won’t take a treat from you (at home or on walk)
- Or they do take a treat but spit it back out.
- They respond poorly to your commands/ignore you
- They are not keen on you touching them while they are on lead
- They are nervous around their new group mates
The second last sign is really important. If they don’t like you touching them while they are on a lead you will not get anywhere near them if you let them off so you must keep them on. Let me repeat this: If they don’t like you touching them or being near you on lead NEVER let them off! Thankfully trust builds quickly, they learn quickly that it’s a walk and they get to go back home afterwards so it might be scary at first but they soon get used to it, especially if they have a good time and it can take just a couple of walks, but if you’re unsure then keep them on the lead until they get to know you better and again it’s the older dogs who are more prone to this than the younger ones (not always though) . If you get a dog that’s nervous around the other dogs, it generally just takes a few walks with the same dogs and they soon relax. It’s very important at this stage if you have a unsure dog that you become Mr/Miss Chilled. No drama, no loud voices, nothing that makes them think being walked by you is a bad thing – make it a great thing!
Did you know? Dogs aren’t hierarchical regardless what general opinion thinks, so they don’t ‘pack’, hence there’s no pack leader. Strays may live solitary or in groups but they don’t operate cooperatively. So the proper name for a group of dogs is a ‘kennel of dogs’ and not ‘pack of dogs’.
Trust is everything. Be honest.
Before I start on this subject I want you to bookmark this page. Next time you visit it will probably have more info added and I hope by now you know this article is the real deal.
Ok… let’s talk trust! Don’t ever lie to clients. We all make mistakes and we just have to accept that. It happens, you forget to walk a dog, get the days mixed up or worse… you lose a dog. But whatever happens you can’t be judged on the mistakes you make (as long as it doesn’t become common nor made through negligence) but you will be judged on how you respond. Whatever happens just be honest and don’t ever try to cover things up. You may lose a client but this usually depends on how long you’ve had the dog. Trust is like a points system. You start of at zero with a new client and collect points over time from being reliable and trustworthy. More points come from the client knowing the dog is bonding with you and the client knowing their dog is having a good time eg Facebook photos. If you screw up like forgetting to walk it you will lose points. Therefore long established dogs are the safest and have the most points but new dogs and new clients have the least so messing up early on could mean losing that client but if it happens you just have to put it down to experience and carry on. It doesn’t happen much but if you do forget to walk a dog it’s usually because you’ve been asked to walk that dog on a day or time it’s not normally walked on. It hurts, you worry your good reputation will take a beating, but it wont and your business will be fine. So never lie, you will not see your business go down the pan by forgetting to walk a dog – we all make mistakes and people understand that. But lying about it is another matter. If you lie to cover it up, get caught out, then the damage could be way, way worse. Dog walking is about trust. Making a mistake doesn’t mean you are not trustworthy but lying about it does. Also I want to let you know that what people think, what the public think and what ex clients think doesn’t matter compared to what your current clients think. The public could really not like you at all, but as long as your clients think you’re amazing that’s the most important thing. They pay you and their money pays your bills, not the public. And talking about mistakes and being honest, this is not how to run a dog walking business -> Read here. It wasn’t just the dogs that died that day but also that dog walking business.
Get a Filofax
There’s a lot of info dog walkers need to juggle and have at hand at all times. The schedule for dogs that need walked for example will vary day by day and by the week and you will get last minute requests in addition. It varies wildly and too much to just try and remember it all so write it down as soon as each owner gets in touch. It kinda works like this… half the dogs are the same days every week, the other half vary according to owners work patterns and I always make sure I know by Sunday at the latest what days I’m needed for those dogs for the coming week so I can write it down and organise the walks and make sure I’m not overbooking.
You also need a record of the dogs info at hand eg. phone numbers of owners, their work numbers, what vet practise the dog is registered with and their phone number too etc etc. You can also keep your contracts stored in them and it’s a good idea to keep client veterinary release forms in it because should the dog need vet care and you can’t contact the owner the vet is limited in what they can do unless they have consent from the owner. It’s also useful for scoring off own dates you have stuff planned so you don’t book walks or boarders over that time and of course boarding tends to get requested months and even up to a year in advance and usually the same time the client books their holidays – by Christmas my boarding is usually fully booked for the following summer holidays! Having an organiser allows you to plan daily, weekly and monthly easily and prevent overbooking. Also ideal for writing down your accounts and keeping your receipts inside. This is why a filofax is so handy. Buy one, keep it in the van when out walking and at home when you’re finished.
Booking holidays and time off
Let clients know as soon as you want to take time off, the longer the better and ideally a couple of months or more in advance. This lets clients make alternative arrangements and also gives you time to put money aside for when you’re not working. I take two weeks off over Christmas and New Year as most clients are off that time anyway so they don’t miss me and I wouldn’t be earning a full wage anyway. Usually I go to the Canaries and just lay in the sun. Read about my lazy Lanzarote holiday. If you just offer dog walking then you can take any time of the year off but if you offer boarding too then it’s a bit more complicated. If you offer boarding then a good time to take a break is just prior to the school summer holidays as it will help prepare you for the busy time ahead with lots of dogs coming to stay. If you do offer dog boarding then school holidays are going to be your peak times of the year so you will want to avoid taking time off then but if you have your own family and want to go away for summer yourself then book the last two weeks of summer as that’s the quietest time – everyone wants to get away in the first couple of weeks of school finishing. Other busy times for boarding dogs are the half-terms in February and October and then Easter. It’s so easy to find yourself overworked and working seven days a week. A client may request a dog walk over the weekend so they can go to the office, then other clients here about this and want you to walk their dog so they can take the kids out and before you know it you are working seven days a week. It wont take long before you are burnt out and pretty miserable in your new job. It’s not that the weekends will be busy – you might only have one walk with just a few dogs, it’s more the physiological affect of knowing that you are working that day, that you are not off, that the day is not your own to do with as you please. We all need that time off to get some R&R and some “me time”. And we all need something to look forward to, even if it’s just a weekend in out pj’s watching Netflix eating takeaway. You can’t be a good dog walker if you are burnt out and sick of it. Taking weekends off won’t damage your business and you will be a better dog walker for it.
How to promote your dog walking business
Getting known is the hardest thing. Facebook is great and probably all you need. Make a business page, get some pics up, some nice reviews and then using Facebook find your local community and pet buy and sell pages, advertise on those and pay to get an advert to promote your business on Facebook. You can target specifics such as people who have listed ‘dogs’ as an interest and your specific location to get maximum results – this works well. Get nice business cards made and if you want get nice leaflets too if you have the spare time on your hands, but I’d suggest that it’s better to focus on online marketing rather than print. Leaflets are the equivalent of spam email and most will be binned without ever being looked at. In fact I’d say avoid printed media in general – it’s dead nowadays and your business works in too small an area to make it affordable – the returns are just not there and I’ve tried it… loads. If you have the nerve to make a real impact then get a outdoor banner made and place it somewhere like a busy junction in your town letting everyone know about your brand new business. Banners can be made for less than £100 and after a few weeks you can change their location – so good value for money!
Tip: Google doesn’t trust new websites so it’s not easy to make them rank well. To deal with this simply get your website up now, even if you don’t plan to start for a few months. Make just a basic website, add your services, contact details, etc and let visitors know the coming start date of your new business. You can glam it up later, but you want it around long enough to age a little, that way your website will gradually climb up the rankings, gain Google’s confidence and you should be on page 1 for when your business starts.
A good website is very helpful as those who don’t know of a dog walker will Google for one and find local websites listed. Make sure you are listed on Google Business so your business and website appear on searches and on maps – a must do action and it’s free! But just remember it’s not about being no.1 on Google it’s about building an effective website that turns visitors into clients. I bought my website from One.com (choose the starter package – you don’t need more) as it only cost me £10 for the first year and then £20 a year after that – amazing value and I’ve been hosting my site with them for the last 8 years! It includes a website builder that makes it all very easy, even for people that don’t like using computers. My website gave me most of my clients especially at the beginning when I had no word of mouth to get me work so I really recommend it. Don’t ever make your website using one of the free web making services – Google doesn’t like them at all as they have no value and wont rank.
There are loads of dog walking websites that rank high in local searches but their websites are hopeless and will never convert visitors to clients so make sure that if you have a website then you give the visitor what they want straight away. Too many websites focus on talking about themselves when you should be letting the clients know what you can do for them (which is all they care about). That means on the homepage you clearly state what services you offer, what areas you work in, your prices and how to get in contact with you. Lay down the simple facts, explain how it all works. You want contact details and even contact forms on every page so if they want to contact you they can no matter what page they are on. Testimonials help greatly as well as pics of happy pets! Don’t forget to add a ‘Call to action’ on every page. Something like, “Arrange a dog walk today! Call 07123 456789”. People expect to be led by the hand, told what to do next when they are online, so you really do have to tell them to contact you, or buy it now, or download your free ebook. Since we want them to contact us we’ll add the ‘call to action’ clearly so they can see it. And please don’t make the mistake so many dog walkers make with their websites and have a separate page for your services and another page for your prices – so many do this. Imagine shopping on Amazon and having one page for the product and another page for the price.
An excellent method of advertising is to get stickers put on your vehicle if you have one, that way hundreds of people see you every day and it doesn’t cost much. I remember when I got stickers for my estate. I was driving along and was slowing down to make a turn and someone was looking at my car and I’m thinking “why you staring at my car?” and then I realised it’s because I’ve got brand new stickers on it. Now when people look at the logos on my car I’m used to it, but I always get a wee thrill from being noticed! I also have hoodies and t-shirts that have my embroidered logo on them. I remember taking a puppy to puppy class while their owners were at work and there was this training exercise going on.
We were all lined up and I noticed this woman staring from the corner of her eye at the logo on my hoodie. I pretended I couldn’t see her looking, but I knew she was and she therefore was aware of my business without me saying a word!!! Now talking about a logo, you’ll need one to help build your business identity. You could spend hundreds getting a graphic designer to make you one, spend ages making a rubbish one yourself, or just a grab a bland generic one you find off the internet (like most do). But if you want your logo to stand out, be original, look professional and without being expensive then go to Fiverr.com and get a well designed logo made from just… a fiver.While walking dogs you will tend to go to dog friendly areas where other people walking their dogs will be – all potential customers, so don’t be shy to say ‘Hi’ and start making as many dog owning friends as you can.
Tip: When out and about and meeting people walking their dogs, just chat to them as human and not as a potential client. Don’t try to be a sales person trying to get work, forcing your business cards down their throat. By just being nice and chatty and without any agenda you build trust amongst people and should they need a dog walker they will choose you. Why? Cause you are someone they’ve gotten to know, a nice person to chat too and someone they trust.
When you get that first phone call or email find out what services they are after, what area they live in. If you can give them the service they want and they live in your area that you’re prepared to go to and they are happy with the price then you can arrange to meet them and get to know their pet before you start working for them. Personally I wouldn’t like to enter into someone’s home without meeting their dog beforehand. Also understand that most dog owners are very forgiving of their pets sins, so even if their dog is unfriendly with other dogs many will tell you that their dog is fine. Take caution especially if you are doing group walks that this new dog is going to be ok. Also while you are meeting the new dog you can get to know each other, answer any queries they have and show them any documents you want to. Some dog walkers have ‘Welcome packs’ that they give to new owners. Make sure you take down their phone numbers including work, find out if there pet is insured and to what veterinary clinic they are with in case of emergency. You will also need to get written permission to let dogs off lead for insurance purposes if that’s what the owner wants and don’t forget you will need a veterinary release form completed in case the animal needs taken to a vet the form lets the vet know they have permission to treat the animal – important. A vet won’t go near any animal they don’t have owners consent to treat as they will be liable! See bottom of post for free contracts and veterinary release forms.
Do exactly as owner requires – no more & no less – do not improvise unless necessary.
Tip: When you walk a new dog for the first time it’s important to post photos to Facebook that same day (if possible). You can bet your bottom dollar that your new client will be visiting your Facebook page aplenty that first day. This is because new clients are wanting reassurance as most are anxious when a stranger takes their dog out for the first time and photos let clients see for themselves that all is good. Posting photos to Facebook is an ideal way to reassure and give a good impression to new clients and to not do so is to keep your client’s insecurities lingering – this can cause resentment and potentially the client finding another, more reassuring dog walker.
You’ll need a few things when out dog walking. At least 6 dog leads all the same type and length. You can’t use clients leads, they vary too much, from chain leads to extendable leads to super short leads etc – this makes tying to walk them all on lead impossible. Imagine having six dogs on lead with four on short leads and two on leads just long enough that they can still play – they will weave in and out of the group and soon you’ll have a tangled mess! If like me you plan to do group walks off-lead you still need to have dogs on lead at the start and when walking them back to your vehicle. Avoid clip leads, if they get dirty the clip jams and you can’t open it, chain leads rust. Now I just use rope leads as they don’t rust or get jammed with dirt and are very quick to put on a dog, plus when they get really dirty you just just put them in the washing machine. I’d never use a clip lead now.
If you buy rope leads (slip leads) then get the chunky type (10mm-12mm in thickness), the slim type can cut into your hands if the dog is a puller and brutal on winter days when your hands are cold. The leads I use are these ones but figure of 8 dog leads are great if you are worried about a group of dogs pulling you off your feet as they prevent the dogs from pulling and can also be used as standard slip leads too. You are responsible only for the dogs you walk but you might find your wee group attracts other dogs to come over and they may or may not be friendly, so a slip lead means you can whip it over anyone else’s dogs that may be troublesome even if that dog doesn’t have a collar and be in control of that dog before anything happens. Poo bags are essential – you don’t want a £60 fine for not picking it up or a tarnished reputation but instead buy baby nappy(diaper) bags as they cost a fraction of the price of poo bags.On hot days you might need to take water with you. And let’s not forget how important treats are. Treats are great for teaching dogs to come when you call them. Also a good idea is to give them a treat when you pick them up so they quickly see your arrival as a good thing. Treats make things a lot easier and I can’t think of a better treat for dogs than dried liver, every dog I’ve ever walked would walk on hot coals for a liver tit-bit. Forget buying treats they are expensive and you’ll go through several packs a week. I have a whole blog about delicious easy dog food recipes that are simple to cook so check it out. You will need a treat pouch as your jacket pocket will soon stink otherwise.
Most dogs can be let off lead so you might want to take a tennis ball and a ball launcher but don’t waste your money on the cheap launchers – they suck, pro dog walkers use Chuckit launchers which are tough and you can throw the ball much, much farther. Now that I walk dogs in groups I find that some dogs like to play with other dogs but there will always be some that want to just play ball.
If the dog comes across animal poo like fox or deer or a dead animal then there’s a pretty good chance they will roll in it. It’s really a daily event for most dog walkers. It’s pretty disgusting and the smell is just awful. Dogs love rolling in poo and always find a way of getting dirty but you can’t take them home like that, so if you are walking at places where there is no river or lake to clean them in then you need someway to clean them up. A porta shower is perfect and requires no electricity and you can clean them up and then dry them at the van or back home. And if you want to save yourself a lot of time then a doggy bathrobe is very handy, just wrap it over a wet dog and it will help dry them while you are driving them home. I bought some for clients, have a few myself.Another important thing you will need is a decent camera. Mobile phones make dogs look tiny when dog walking so look for a camera that has a zoom lens. Do you like the photo’s on my website? My clients do and it has got me a lot of work. Every week I get dog walking requests I pass on to other dog walkers cause I have no more room. Nice pics on Facebook and on your website impress potential clients and help get you work as clients love it, share them on their Facebook page and get seen by potential new clients, so don’t skip on how important photos are as they really can create a buzz. Photos are an essential part of your marketing so don’t be afraid to buy the best camera you can get as it’s an investment that will make you money. I’m pretty sure that to try to start a dog walking business without photos would not be easy, in fact I think it would be very, very hard and borderline impossible!
Mega secret coming! I’m gonna tell you how to beat your competitors by taking much better photos than they can. They’re lots of different cameras to choose from. If you don’t know what you are doing you can spend hundreds buying a camera that doesn’t take better photos than your phone – I know cause I did that twice when I started – it’s dead easy to do. If you want an affordable camera that can take great photos while small enough to slip into your pocket then check out the Panasonic Lumix TZ100. I spent half my career taking photos with a Lumix (an older version) and loved it’s small size and ease of use. Nowadays I use a big super heavy DSLR, but they are not easy to learn and cost loads.
Your competitors probably just use their phone, which make the dogs too small and not suitable for dog walking at all. Don’t be put off by investing in your business if you can afford it and the Panasonic pics will really help get you started and it has a fantastic zoom for close up action shots. Nothing is better for a new business than being able to create a big buzz and get people talking and nothing can do that better than great pics.
If you have a van, then to keep the dogs safe and under control you will need to fit it with cages. I use two large 42 inch cages in my van (other dog walkers may have more) but when I used a car I shared the dogs between the back seats and the boot. If you have the money or the patience to save up and want the best for your van, then a custom made-to-fit cage setup from Barjo.co.uk this is the best you can get and the dogs boll*cks. If using a car then to keep the dogs safe in the back seat and from getting to the front I bought and recommend a front seat dog guard. And while dealing with the vehicle you do need good car seat covers as dogs ruin cars whether they are on the seats or not. Lots of moisture and dirt, day after day gets everywhere so get some decent seat covers for the front and a hammock to stop the back seats getting soaking wet, dirty and shredded from the dogs claws. However you plan it, you need at least two areas in your vehicle in case you get one dog that needs it’s own space – which you will!
Now, again with the vehicle, keep the inside clean – local councils are bringing in regulations for dog walkers that use transport and cleanliness is a big part of it. Vacuum often as fur builds up so fast and gets everywhere. It’s important to vacuum regularly to help keep any flea or mite infestations from starting – it also helps keep dampness, smell and mold at bay. If you have 15 dogs in your vehicle a day x 5 days a week, it just takes one dog that’s got kennel cough, fleas or mites to cause an outbreak and there’s usually at least one dog I walk that gets kennel cough in the winter – it’s flu season for dogs, just like with humans. Also wet dogs make the vehicle stink so rubber mats are great. Don’t use anything that can absorb water else your vehicle will smell like smelly socks in no time. So along with vacuuming, a quick wipe down and spray with a mild disinfectant can help prevent outbreaks, smells and mold. If you plan to offer daycare or boarding then you will need a vacuum that can handle the daily chore of sucking up shedding coats of multiple dogs, day after day. For my van and home I use Henry Hoover and totally love it. Click to read a letter a dog walking friend of mine was sent from Lanarkshire Council about the regulations she and other dog walkers in her area now have to abide by when transporting dogs. Should you get a kennel cough, flea or mite outbreak then you will have to cancel walks and cancel any dogs staying in your home to stop any spread – this is very bad for business and very bad for your reputation too.
Wear the right stuff
For yourself you’ll need the right clothes, waterproofs, woolly hats, gloves… usual outdoor gear. For me the clothing is all about 3 things and apart from my car and my camera I have spent more money on these 3 things than on anything else: Jackets, bags and wellies. Get them right and you’re sorted, get them wrong and you’ll spend hundreds trying to find the right gear. The rest of your clothing isn’t a big deal. It’s all about usability, durabiltiy and weight – that what makes it or breaks it. After 3-4 hours of walking your back aches, your bag is digging into your neck, everything you are wearing is heavy and when you get home you just want to throw all that weight off and relax. So you want things that work, durable but as light as possible. You’ll need a good bag with different departments so you can keep dirty, wet, slobbery tennis balls in one area, the dog leads in another, a drink etc and for me the best and most suitable bag for dog walkers are game/hunting bags – this is the bag I use and I keep tennis balls and anything else that’s wet and dirty in the mesh front and away from the leads and anything else I want to keep clean and dry.
Regarding a jacket, the best ones are long in length with hoods – like the parka. They will keep you clean from jumping dogs, keep you warm and have plenty of pockets. My two favourite dog walking jackets (for guys) are both military style and they are the French M300 Parka and the U.S. M51 Parka . The French parka is not new but it is an original military item sold in A+ condition. The one I’m wearing in the picture is dated 1973. Both are long and tough enough for dog walking. If you are a lady then this fab jacket has the same dog-proof build quality or you can try the Regatta’s mid length Jacket. But whatever you choose, I recommend length to your jacket to protect you from jumping dogs, lots of dirt, cold winds and rain. But in heavy rain you’ll find most if not all jackets are only water resistant for a time and not waterproof. It doesn’t matter if they are Goretex or waxed, if you are out for hours then water will find a way in plus walking dogs quickly ruins your clothes so no point spending a fortune if you can get it right for less. In all-day rain staying dry makes life a lot more comfortable, so I use a long PVC jacket as that will keep me dry all day. Dog walking isn’t very fashionable but you’ll soon learn that you don’t care as long as what you use works.
Last but not least is the dog walker’s best friend: a good pair of wellies. I always wear wellies, have worn dozens of different brands. Wellies are a big deal to dog walkers and many go through many pairs trying to find a pair that last. They are better than hiking boots because dog walking is much dirtier and wetter than hiking and wellies are better at keeping you cleaner and drier around dogs especially on muddy walks. Quite often I walk with a friend when dog walking and she wears trainers and her calves always get soaked from wet dogs rubbing past her. They are a lot of rubbish pairs out there, a lot of fancy brands that wont last and I’ve bought them all (including Le Chameau – twice!). Poorly made wellies will only last a couple of weeks, good ones can last a year and that’s a good life for a dog walker’s wellies. The best dog walking wellies I have found are Muck Boots, as they are affordable, mega tough and comfy to wear all day long, plus they look really smart.
Tip: All day exposure to the elements day in, day out dry the skin and lips, so to prevent the skin from weathering I use a shea butter based moisturiser and lip balm every morning. Shea butter is weather resistant so helps preserve our youthful looks.
It will take time for your businesses to pick up, but it will. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that once you make a website or post your business on your local Facebook community page that you’ll get an instant response. Everyone who needs a dog walker already has one that they trust and they ain’t going to chuck ’em cause some Joe claims that they’ll do it a £1 less! It’s the people that will need a dog walker in the future because their circumstances change or because they are getting a puppy or because they have just moved into the area – they will be your potential customers so focus on them, but just remember you are competing alongside the other more established dog walkers in your area to get those clients! And when you do advertise the people that are interested most likely don’t need you right now. They might need you in a few weeks when they get that new puppy or in a month’s time when they go back to work. When it comes to advertising, you have to see it as an investment – you advertise now but the results come weeks/months later so be patient and don’t go expecting instant results the same day you advertise.
And on that note why not offer puppy services such as puppy visits? Two visits a day (outside of the lunch time walks, say 10am and 2pm) for a tenner and soon that pup will be a dog and on your walks with the rest. Established dog walkers tend to be too busy to afford the time to give to puppies but new businesses do have the time so I really recommend promoting your puppy services and posting lots of gorgeous puppy pics on Facebook cause people love puppy pics and that helps promote your new biz. Why not even offer to take the puppy on your group walks to get them socialised? That’s what I did and partly cause I didn’t have the time for puppy visits once I became established. But I know what you’re thinking. Pups are too young for group walks, you say! Bones are not formed properly! Then get a puppy carrier and carry the puppy on the walk! I did that first with my own pup then pups of other clients and it works great. They will become socialised and find confidence in their new world while they are at that very impressionable age – even when carried. I was taught this trick by my behaviourist and really recommend it.
But for all you dog walking noobs out there I really do expect to see your puppy services heavily promoted on you websites, Facebook etc alongside your dog walking.
Once you are established
Dog walking (boarding and daycare) is where most of your income will come from (even though cat visits will bring in some pocket money). Your most valuable dogs are going to be the dogs you care for Monday – Friday, with shift dogs making up the rest of your dog walking clients. Shift dogs are the dogs you only get a few times a week depending on the work shift patterns of clients. The days you will be needed will be either the same days week in, week out or different days each week. The problem with those dogs is that on some days you will get close to being fully booked because on those days you have many shift dogs all needing walked alongside your Monday-Friday dogs and other days you will only have your Monday – Friday dogs leaving you half empty! The problem with shift dogs is that you’re limited to the possibility of being full rather than actually being full. So I’d be wary of taking on too many.
Getting clients takes time and everyone that needs a dog walker has one so focus on puppy services along with your dog walking to help get clients in – established dog walkers like myself just don’t have the time for pup care. Group dog walking is where your money will come from. 3 group walks a day (6 dogs in each walk) is enough work for most dog walkers – all in all you’re looking to at least make £500-600+ a week from that alone once you are full or close to being so (more if you live in London). Remember to take regular days off and holiday time so you don’t burn out. Dog boarding can compliment your dog walking and pays well (mainly happens over school holidays) and many dog walking clients look for it when choosing a dog walker. Doggy daycare in your own home can bring in a substantial additional income too or be an alternative to dog walking. If you are after more money than what dog walking or home daycare can bring in then daycare in a proper dedicated premises is your answer. A premises that’s big enough to allow 20-40 dogs a day with the help of staff pays big money but it is a lot more work and requires some investment. You can offer other services like cat visits in clients home etc, but they are not necessary. Pet taxi is a ridiculous service, don’t waste your time. Services like boarding and daycare may require local council licensing.
Vans are better than cars, but a car will do perfectly fine if equipped correctly and cost less to buy and equip.
Get your website here before you do anything then get your business on Facebook and get a Google business listing as these will all get you work, but you can get by with just a Facebook page if needs must. Nice photos will help create that buzz you need when you start and give clients something to share on their walls. If you want to pay for advertising then choose local online advertising campaigns targeting specific people’s interests (e.g. “Dogs”) and locations (e.g. “London”) using Facebook ads or by using key phrases you want to target for on Google (e.g. “London dog walkers”) using Google Ads, over printed media any day!
Good luck. I am here to help. Don’t forget the contracts are below along with around a thousand comments and answers – that’s pretty much everything else that you needed to know! Comments are now closed though so if you really, really need to ask something, you’ll have to email me.
- Free Basic Dog walking Contract
- Veterinary release form
- Controlling your dog in public
- Disclosure Certificate (police check)
- Basic dog walkers first aid guide
- Canine first aid courses
- How to stop dogs fighting
- Dealing with separation anxiety
- Understanding hunting in dogs