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 what training you need? Then read on, friend! Because this isn’t just a general summary, it’s a complete and comprehensive guide to dog walking.
My name is Jamie Shanks and I’ve been a pro dog walker since May 2010. 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. Also I’d like to point out now that those of you looking to be employed by a dog walker – forget 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 min wage.
Dog walking appeals to so many people, because a) the start up costs are low, b) requires no training, 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 everything, especially the dog walking in your area, the local dog walkers, the services they offer and the dog walking rates for your area etc. I offer dog walking, dog boarding, pet sitting and puppy care services, but the money is in group dog walking. You can leave comments at the bottom of this page if you want to ask me anything, find out how I started and read my blog to see for yourself what dog walking is actually like! Make sure you read the hundreds of comments after this post as they are as valuable as the post itself. 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.
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! You don’t get paid for travelling so keep you area of work as small as you possibly can. Petrol costs cost me about £10 a day so you don’t want a car that’s not economical. I’m serious, when I got my first car I had 3 dogs all within 6 miles of me, just picking them up and taking them to the park and back home racked up well over 100 miles a week and I was driving around in a v6 Volvo estate – goodbye earnings!
Decide what services to offer
Outside of dog walking, doggy daycare, dog boarding and cat visits are the most popular services requested. 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.
Prioritise your services
I’ve seen on a website someone just starting their dog walking business and advertising dog boarding at £50 a day, which is madness! Think about it, it would cost someone £350 a week plus the cost of their holiday if they were going away. That pet service failed to put themselves in the owners position but I understand their thinking. They were thinking “Hey, £50 is reasonable! After all, it’s only around £2 per hour for 24 hours worth of care! We’ll be living the dream in no time, honey!” But of course they weren’t living the dream but in a dream and soon their business disappeared never to be seen again! A kennel will board a dog for about £10+ a day! I offer dog boarding but only for my dog walking clients, I only charge £15 per night which is low to average for my area.
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.
Group dog walking is what you want to focus on. 3 group walks a day (x 6 dogs in each walk) at 1 hour long is enough. Offering two lunchtime walks (an early lunch and late lunch) with an additional morning or afternoon walk is enough work for one day. You could do 4 walks if you wanted… I did for a couple of years but found it too much after a while. It’s a long day, you get tired, everything you wear and carry becomes heavy, your back aches, you get crabbit (at least I did. lol) and I found it hard to recover in time for the next working day, so I cut it from 4 to 3 walks and that is the right balance imo. 3 walks for me is the ideal day for a dog walker and the dog walkers I’m friendly with do just the 3 group walks too. Don’t get stuck doing solo walks or other pet services that prevent you doing group walks during lunch time, nor get sidetracked by too many cat visits that again interfere with your group walking during lunch. Group walking is really all that matters along with boarding and daycare should you be inclined to offer those services.
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 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 it.
Dog 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.
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. Some people will entitled to working tax credits too (I was) so check into that as the income can really help out when you are starting.
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 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.
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 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.
Regarding the dogs the most important thing is that they are 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 and refrains from ripping them to bits then you’ll be told it’s friendly! Dog walking can be quite funny that way cause unless it’s a puppy then 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 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.
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!
Tip: 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’.
How to promote your dog walking business
Getting known is the hardest thing. Facebook is great and probablly all you need. Make a business page, get some pics up, find your local Facebook community page, advertise on that 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!
A good website is very helpful as those who don’t know of a dog walker will generally Google for one. On your website make sure you tell potential customers a bit about yourself and what services you offer and of course how they can contact you. Make sure you are listed on Google, you will appear on local searches and on maps even if you don’t have a website! A must do action! 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 web doman (bdws.co.uk) and web space from One.com (starter package – you don’t need more!) as they are the cheapest, easiest and they have fantastic live online support and free website builders that make it easy.
An web expert friend of mine says:
“Nearly every dog walker site looks crap because they didn’t do any planning. The end result is a what’s commonly called ‘a complete dogs dinner’. How to build a website should begin with the question: Why do you want a website? Followed by: What do you want the website to do? Then: Who are you targeting? And: How are you going to market the website? If the answer to this last question is: using Facebook and Twitter you probably don’t even need a website, all you need is a Facebook business page. If they get through the above question they then need to sit down and write their content and select their images. Then organise the site structure. After all this is done they can start the actual online bit. “
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 and not serving potential clients with paragraph after paragraph of why they are so good, remember they are visiting your site to see what you can do for them. That means on the homepage you list what services you offer, what areas you work in, your prices and how to get in contact with you. Testimonials help greatly as well as pics of happy pets! Don’t forget to add a ‘Call to action’ on every page. Something like, “If you’d like to arrange a dog walking service then please call ***********”. 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 realized 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 for business identity. You could spend hundreds getting a graphic designer to make you one, or just a grab a bland generic one you find of the internet (like so many others do) but if you want your logo to be original without being expensive then go on Fiverr.com and get one made from just $5.
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.
How to greet new clients
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.
Do exactly as owner requires – no more & no less – do not improvise unless necessary.
Have the right gear
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 one or two on leads just long enough that they still try to 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. You are responsible only for the dogs you walk but sadly you will confront dogs that are not friendly and owners lacking in response, so a slip lead means you can whip it over anyone else’s dogs that may be troublesome and be in control of that dog before anything bad happens to your dogs. Poo bags are essential – you don’t want a £60 fine for not picking it up but instead an alternative is to buy baby nappy(diaper) bags as they cost a fraction of the price.
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 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 of great dog food recipes. Also 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.
Dogs love rolling in poo and getting dirty but you can’t take them home like that, so if you are walking at places where there is no water (like a river or lake) to clean them in then you may want to buy a porta shower. That way you can clean them up and then dry them once they are 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 dry them while you are driving them home. I bought some for clients, have many myself. Where I live some dog walkers cut their walks from 1hr to just 45 minutes in winter to account for drying them off so it’s something to think about.
Another important thing you will need is a decent camera. Mobile phones make dogs look tiny 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 and love seeing their dog having fun and you will notice your business take off on Facebook as people like and share your posts with their friends who could be potential new clients, so don’t skip on how important photos are. 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’ve just done that – twice – it’s dead easy to do. If you want an affordable camera that can take real professional photos that ‘wow’ clients and much better than than your rivals then get the Nikon D3300 – nothing can take better pics for the price. Your competitors probably spent the same or more on the wrong camera that doesn’t come anywhere close. Don’t be put off by investing in your business. My camera cost just a few hundred pounds but earns me thousands in work from clients, year after year. If it doesn’t interest you, don’t worry, just get a any reasonable and cheap zoom camera. Don’t risk spending hundreds if you’re not absolutely sure you know what you are doing else you’ll end up with a very expensive camera that that takes very average photos.
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 seat and the boot. 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.
Something you probably wouldn’t have ever considered before now is getting stuck in mud or trying to drive in ice and snow. But you will experience it several times a year. Because we work all year round we drive whatever the weather throws at us – you might think winter may be quieter (or busier) but client requests remain consistent throughout the year. At least once a year I get stuck in mud after parking on sodding, grassy verges to walk the dogs in the country. Or after picking up dogs in snowy conditions my van can’t get any grip to move off, nor stop once I get moving. The winter of 2015 and not long after buying my brand new van with big chunky tyres it began snowing on a walk , after the walk I drove from the car park and towards the main road. I turned to go round a slight bend but the van continued straight as it couldn’t grip the new snow and I was heading for a fence. It wasn’t until the wheel struck the grassy verge at the side of the road that it suddenly gripped and changed direction back onto the road – I was so lucky. In January 2016, with a van load of dogs I drove up a steep back road (hardly used by the public) and still covered in snow and ice. I got most of the way up and then the vans front wheels began to spin as it lost grip. I ended up sliding back down and into the grassy embankment and needed a farmer to use his tractor to pull my van out – again I was super lucky that there was no damage – but it was a real warning that I needed to prepare better. That’s the thing with dog walking, while the main roads are gritted all the side roads and back roads that we use to get to the countryside or anywhere that’s safe and quiet, are not and neither are the streets our clients live in! Now, I always keep a pair of snow clips like these ones in the van all year round. They work great, are cheap and can be installed and removed super fast. They grip in snow, ice and mud. A must buy – for me anyway!
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 bug season, 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 I use the Dyson animal and give my van a quick vacuum most days and wipe down the rubber flooring I have in the cages. 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.
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 and weight – that what makes it or breaks it. After 3-4 hours of walking your back aches, everything you are wearing is heavy, when you get home you just want to throw all that weight off and relax. So you want things that work but are 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 dirty tennis balls in the mesh front where sand and dirt can fall out and stop the bag from collecting dirt on the inside.
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 are both military style and they are the French M300 Parka and the U.S. M51 Parka . Both have warm removable liners for cold winters yet when liners are removed they are cool enough for summer, both are cheap and both are tough enough for dog walking. I’ve spent hundreds on loads of different jackets for dog walking including big brand names and those two military jackets have turned out to be the best I’ve ever bought. But whatever you choose, I recommend length to your jacket to protect you from jumping dogs, cold winds and rain. But in heavy rain you’ll find most if not all jackets are only water resistant for a time 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 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 Dunlop’s Purofort wellies, as they are affordable, very light and very durable. But if you are female and want something a bit more stylish then Crocs wellies are fantastic, long lasting and look awesome – I wish they did them for guys. On hot summer days I tend to wear my Crocs All Cast Waterproof Duck boots because they are the lightest, comfiest footwear you can get for dog walking. I know Crocs aren’t fashionable, especially the ugly clogs but their products are super light, super durable and warm – that means they make for great dog walking gear.
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 to stop my lips from chapping I use lip balm before every walk.
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 on that note why not offer puppy services such as puppy visits? Why not 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 to give puppy visits. 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! 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 it worked great for my pup and for clients puppies.
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.
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). 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. You can offer other services like cat visits, pet sitting 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 business on Facebook, a Google business listing and a website as these will all get you work, but you can get buy with just a Facebook page. 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.
Watch a week of my life as a dog walker
I made this video in a week of the summer of 2016. I filmed it myself while out with the dogs. Hope you like it.
- Free Basic Dog walking Contract
- Controlling your dog in public
- Disclosure Certificate (police check)
- Canine first aid
This post has taken over 6 years to write and I wrote it even though it creates more competition for myself. It’s better than any other online post or book that exists. So if you saved time and cash by reading this why not say thanks?