At the start of lockdown, most dog walkers in the UK stopped working, but now nearly all have returned. While there is less demand than before because so many people are at home, there is still lots of work. There’s also lots of work from puppy owners who no longer has puppy socialisation classes to attend because they are all currently closed. This is where dog walkers come in and help get those pups socialised.
The most complete & most popular ‘how-to” dog walker guide ever written – ten years in the making.
Are you ready? Then let’s begin…
A shorter audio version for folks that prefer that to the longer reading version.
My name is Jamie Shanks, I live in Scotland, and I’ve been a pro dog walker since May 2010. 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 – forget about it. Dog walking only pays well if it’s your own business but pays terribly if you are a ‘helper’. Sorry, but it pays way less than the 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 neurotic as dog walking can be quite testing at times. But if you are still reading, then I guess you are still interested.
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 won’t have any, to begin with). An evening job like a takeaway driver is ideal.
Research before you start
Study 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 puppy care services, and that helped bring more clients in, but the money is in group dog walking, that’s what it’s about.
An excellent 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 you’re putting up your prices nor do you want to be cutting yourself short by undercharging.
The prices of dog walking can range between £5-£12+, but generally a dog walker gets paid £10 to walk one dog for an hour with discounts offered for secondary dogs from the same home (costs are higher in London). 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 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. With that reasoning I thought I could charge £10 per (in an area and at the time where other’s were costing 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 9 am when they’ve only just left for work an hour before, and neither 5 pm 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 dogs, so at lunchtime I had two group walks to do, I picked up my first lot about 11 am took them to park for 1 hour of 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!
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.
Decide what pet services to offer
Outside of dog walking the most popular services are doggy daycare, dog boarding and cat visits. Doggy daycare is 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 significant 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, and some folks 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 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 to forget about them, and that includes pet sitting. But what is pet sitting? Do you know? I’ve been doing this eight 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 offering potential clients. Think about how your potential clients will feel if you list it as a service alongside cat visits and dog sitting as I see all too often. I prefer to be more exact in my descriptions and only list actual pet sitting services I offer, e.g., cat visits, dog boarding, etc. But whatever you choose to offer describe clearly what each service is in layman’s terms and don’t just assume clients will know as most won’t be sure.
Get a canine first aid certificate
Being a professional dog walker is a 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 person’s pet, and I’m always aware of that! When walking one dog on a lead then it’s a carefree walk, but when I’m walking six dogs off the 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 it’s 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 a 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.
I’ve been lucky that no dog I walk has suffered severe 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 can 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 learned 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 a brilliant 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 handy canine first aid guide for dog walkers 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 maneuver, 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 Country Walking magazine in 2016 when I helped him write an article about hiking with your dog.
Hypoglycemia is where the dog’s 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 has written 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.
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.
Get pet business insurance
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.
You have to register your dog walking business with the 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 your 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 your incoming total and the outgoing total for the year and then work out what you owe in tax.
Some people will be entitled to working tax credits too (I was) so check into that as the income can really help when you start.
You might want to get a business bank account too. They are similar to your personal bank account but you keep it just for business. It makes it easier to keep track of your incomings and outgoings and doesn’t cost anything.
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-person pet service like I am then a more personal business name would probably suit you best as it is a very personal service. I’m known 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 be a suitable business name for me as well as the one I use now.
Another aspect to consider is there is also quite a benefit for using your location in your name like I do as it makes it much easier to rank in Google searches. In fact in around 2011-2012 if you searched for a dog walker adding my area to the search 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 soon 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, a less personal, more inclusive name is better. For example, if I were 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 than just me working there.
Since pet care can be so personal, some people won’t use businesses that hire staff. 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 four years I hired someone as I found myself overbooked 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 a 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 a staff or stay a one-person business, then decide now. If clients know you have a team 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 wouldn’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.
Always 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 than 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. That might mean using a ball to keep the focus 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 the centre of attention is the number 1 mega secret of being a good dog walker. Not many dog walkers understand this, and I’ve told them loads, but I’ll repeat it… 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. As I said, I’ve said this to many dog walkers who can’t stop their dogs running off, but they don’t seem to get it for some reason, and eventually, most of their dogs end up permanently on lead.
Wean new dogs to the group gently
Try to get to know as much about the new dog before you walk it. How are they with other dogs? Is it male and neutered? If 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 made aware? If you want 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. In the vehicle dogs can’t ignore each other, so if they have a problem it will surface, so new dogs always need to be 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 beforehand. Some males do need neutering but haven’t been, and they can cause problems with other males, harass and get too personal towards the girls and 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 a 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 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, and some owners are, let’s say very loyal to their dog. So unless it’s a puppy, you will have to find out for yourself what the dog is like.
You could have a tremendous wee team filled with lovely sociable dogs all having a great time together, all under your control, and 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. If I come across a dog that doesn’t fit in enough, cause it’s hard to control, isn’t socialised enough, not male friendly or shows some form of aggression eg, defence aggression regarding toys and other resources then I will let the 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.
Did you know? Dogs aren’t hierarchical regardless of 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’.
Don’t let dogs off lead until they are ready
This comes with experience, but I can offer some tips and advice on when to let the dog off the lead for the first time. Some dogs are chilled and will happily walk with you off the 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 won’t 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 nervous around their new group mates
- They are not keen on you touching them while they are on lead
The last sign is vital. 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. Dogs learn 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. If they have a good time, 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 crucial at this stage if you have an 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!
Don’t let your dogs be a nuisance
If walking dogs in public while they are off the lead then dogs need to behave in a particular manner and not bother and upset other people and their dogs, you can get a bad reputation quickly with the advent of social media.
With social media, we get something called ‘call-out’ culture. An opportunity for someone to gain prestige and status by shaming others publicly. If you’re a regular on Facebook, you’ll see it now and again and since you can get prestige from a ‘call-out’ there is a lot of motivation for some people to do this if given a chance.
A few years back I was ‘called-out’ when a stranger decided to kick a full-size football into the river for one of my dogs. Since the football was too big to get into the dog’s mouth the dog just pushed it further and further out into the river, ignoring my commands to return, till the dog was almost at the other side of the River Clyde. It was a terrifying experience but she came back, oblivious to the drama and enjoying her swim and all was fine until I saw later that a witness decided to post about it on a huge local community group on Facebook.
Another time and a close call was when I was walking with a client and her dog lunged at a passer by’s dog. The owner, outraged, demanded to know if this was my dog. I replied “no,” and backed off. When the owner realised it was just another person out walking their own dog rather than a pro dog walker she quickly calmed down, and they were both chatting and laughing moments later, she changed that quick.
If that dog was under my control, the response would have been very different, maybe a bad review, perhaps a Facebook rant but whatever the reaction would have been it would not be nearly as forgiving since I’m a professional. We have somewhat been dehumanised by consumer rights, social media, etc. Since we get paid, are professionals, own a business, offer a service, people have the right to complain, they are entitled to shame us and wag their finger at us. This is just how it is. Ok, so here are some rules for how dogs should behave in public.
- Dogs need to stay close to you, not running about all over the place. They can run after a ball as long as they are coming straight back. If your dogs are all close, this is reassuring to people that they are under control and it puts their mind at rest. As soon as any dog wanders I call it back, it’s second nature for me, and now my dogs stick to me like glue, unless I throw a ball for them. But if I’m on a path and a bike comes, I can walk off the path taking all the dogs with me to let the cyclist pass.
- Don’t let dogs run as a group towards other people’s dogs. Very intimidating.
- Don’t let your males hump or try to dominate other people’s dogs.
- Don’t let your dogs surround another dog that you pass.
- Don’t let your dogs steal other dogs toys or chase after them.
- Some people I know if their dog and someone else’s scrap or starts humping each other will say, “just let them sort it out” but this isn’t acceptable. People have a right to walk their dog in peace.
- Dog’s should be seen and not heard. Some dogs are very loud especially when excited. Not acceptable for a public place if it’s continuous. I’ve let dogs go because of how loud they were.
- Dogs should be focused on you, this reassures the public that they are under control (see Be in Control)
That list should help you keep out of trouble.
Tip: When approaching a person walking with their dog, look at the body language of the dog owner to find out if that dog is friendly or not. If the owner is relaxed chances are the dog is friendly, but if they react and then put their dog on a lead, call it in, tense up, stop, then act accordingly and you’ll avoid any issues.
Always be truthful with your clients
Don’t ever lie to clients. We all make mistakes, and we 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, 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 point system. You start 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, e.g. 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 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 usually walked on. It hurts, you worry your good reputation will take a beating, but it won’t, 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 thinks and what ex-clients think doesn’t matter compared to what your current clients think. The public could not like you at all, but as long as your clients believe you are 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.
Tip: For new dogs 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 because they want reassurance and most are anxious when a stranger takes their dog out for the first time. Posting photos to Facebook is an ideal way to reassure new clients and to not do so can cause resentment and potentially the client finding a more reassuring dog walker.
Design your business logo
You’ll need a logo to help build your business identity. You could spend hundreds getting a graphic designer to make you one, spend ages creating 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 to just you, look professional and without being expensive then go to Fiverr.com and get a well-designed logo made for just… a fiver. Fiverr have some fantastic young talent selling their services at stupidly low prices, usually because those young artists are still at college and just wanting to earn some extra cash.
Promote your business
With a logo and a brand you can now promote your business. Getting known is the hardest thing. Facebook is great and for some dog walkers all they use. Make a Facebook business page, get some pics up, some helpful 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 then 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. 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 not there, and I’ve tried it.
If you have the nerve to make a real impact, then get an 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! When I started, I got my logo embroidered on my hoodies, t-shirts and vests and they worked well and gave a real professional look. You can get embroidered clothing here if you want to do the same.
Get a website
A good website is must (and very cheap too) as those who don’t know of a dog walker will Google for one and find local sites listed. Make sure you are registered on Google Business so your business and website appear on searches and maps – a must do action and it’s free! But remember it’s not about being no.1 on Google; it’s about building an effective website that turns visitors into clients. If it helps you can check out my Google listing here.
I bought my website from One.com (the starter package is enough – you don’t need more), and it’ll only cost you £10 for the first year and then £20 a year after that – fantastic value and I’ve been hosting my site with them simce 2010! You also get a matching email address for the website, that’s how my email is email@example.com rather than ending in hotmail or gmail. It includes a website builder that makes it all very easy, you choose a pre-made website template you like, replace the pics with your own, change the text to suit you and an hour later you have an excellent website you made yourself and will get you work. My site gets me most of my clients, primarily at the beginning when I had no word of mouth, so I recommend it.
Avoid ever making your website using one of the free web making services like Vistaprint, Wix, etc. Google doesn’t like them, regarads them as being low value, they won’t rank and if you choose the free option those web companies will display Google adverts on your site which could end up being an advert of a local rival dog walker!
First thing you do as a new dog walker is to get that website made asap as it takes a while for it to climb onto page 1 on Google. There are loads of dog walking websites that rank high in local searches, but their sites 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 sites 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.
I advertise my dog walking services in Erskine and Bishopton on the very first line – that tells visitors and Google, what I do and where. You want contact details and even contact forms on every page so if they’re going 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 do have to ask 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.
On my website, I have done several competitions that can be found on my blog, but that was way back in the early years. I had nice prizes given to me by big companies. Wahl gave me dog grooming gear, Naturediet gave me dog food, Kong gave me loads of dog toys and then loads of cat toys, etc. I was really into it when I started as it always got a lot of local attention and thousands of entries. But people don’t like to ‘share’ competitions so you’ll see on each of those competitions I only got around 20 shares, that’s cause people don’t want to dilute their chance of winning by sharing it so other’s can vote.
One way to avoid this is to host your competition on Facebook and get people to like your Facebook business page and then share the post to their wall as a means of entry to the contest, but this will only work if the prize is right. The prize does have to excite people enough to make them willing to share it on their walls. Prizes like “Win a dog walk” for example will just be ignored even by your loyal friends. Even “Win a dog groom” is not worthy, you need something that makes people say “I want this!!!”. Competitions offer loads of possibilities and even opportunities for other businesses to provide you with prizes at no cost to you but unlikely if you are starting, I got companies to give me free stuff because my website was getting lots of visitors even early on.
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 because the new client wants 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.
Advertise your business on your vehicle
An excellent method of advertising is to get stickers 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!
Get as much info about new dogs as you can
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. 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 their 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 requires to be taken to a vet, the form lets the vet know they have permission to treat the animal – important. A vet is extremly limited in what they can do without the owners consent as they then will be liable! See bottom of the post for free contracts and veterinary release forms.
Do exactly as owner requires – no more & no less – do not improvise unless necessary.
Tip: When out and about and meeting people walking their dogs, chat with them as human and not as a potential client. Don’t try to be a salesperson trying to get work, forcing your business cards down their throat. By just being friendly 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.
Be properly equipped to walk dogs in groups
You’ll need a few things when out dog walking. At least six dog leads all the same type and length. You can’t use the client’s leads, they vary too much, from chain leads to extendable leads to super short leads, etc. This makes trying to walk them all on the lead impossible. Imagine having six dogs on the 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 a 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 use only 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 filthy, you 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 essential 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.
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 ball 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 some way 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!
Prepare your vehicle for transporting dogs
The first thing I always do when I get a new vehicle is to get stickers put on it, kit out the interior, so I have at least two separate areas, tint the rear windows if it has any and buy wind deflectors for the front side windows. Dogs get wet and dirty daily and then it’s a struggle to dry the inside of the car and a nightmare in winter where it never really dries out. Wind deflectors allow me always to keep the windows open a little and they are open like that 24 hours a day even if it’s pouring outside – no one can see that gap as the deflectors hide it, rain can’t get in, and the airflow means that the inside always dries overnight. Without them, the interior smells like an old laundry basket by the next day, and things inside begin to rust and rot fast. My old Chevrolet estate was always damp inside, and someone told me while I was out walking the dogs that I had left the lights on… I hadn’t… they had come on by themselves due to the electrics getting damp… then when I started the car and tried to switch it off and took out the key, the car kept on running, then smoke began to come from the computer. I had to disconnect the battery to get the car to stop. Dampness wrecks cars and their electronics fast.
To keep 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 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 buy 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 dog’s claws. However you plan it, you need at least two areas in your vehicle in case you get one dog that needs its 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 mould 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 mould. 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.
Wear suitable clothing
You’ll need the right clothes, waterproofs, woolly hats, gloves… general outdoor gear. For me the clothing is all about three things and apart from my car and my camera I have spent more money on these three things than on anything else: Jackets, bags and wellies for the wet. 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, durability 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 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. 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 stay 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 big pockets. 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 when it’s wet, 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.
Offer puppy services to bring in new clients
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 aren’t going to chuck them 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!
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 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 lunchtime walks, say 10 am and 2 pm) 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 recommend promoting your puppy services and posting lots of gorgeous puppy pics on Facebook cause people love puppy pics, and that helps boost 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 appropriately formed! Then get a puppy carrier and carry the puppy on the walk! I did that first with my 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 recommend it.
But for all you dog walking noobs out there I do expect to see your puppy services heavily promoted on your websites, Facebook etc. alongside your dog walking.
Don’t take on too many part-time dogs
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 and some weeks they wont need you at all. 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 being full. So I’d be wary of taking on too many.
A dog walker doing three group walks a day at £10 per dog can earn around £150+ a day. If you make £500 a week (£24,000 a year) you re doing well. You can make more by working longer days if you want, hiring staff etc or you can do just two group walks. It all depends on how much you want to work. You could earn over £30,000 a year if you are prepared to work long days and if you offer boarding and other pet services it can go up further. For me, three group walks a days is enough and a good balance of work to pay.
Getting clients can take 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 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, a dog walker can earn around £500 plus 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 properly 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, and that means you will need dog boarding forms, but you can download these below.
Vans are better than cars, but a car will do perfectly fine if equipped correctly and cost less to buy and equip.
Firstly, 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. Nice photos on Facebook 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!
Check out my online shop for T shirts like this and more.
Good luck. I am here to help. Don’t forget the contracts are above and below are around a thousand comments and answers – that’s pretty much everything else that you needed to know. If you are looking for other aspects of dog ownership, be sure to check out MyPetNeedsThat.