It's a sad fact that people who love their dogs often have to leave them alone for long periods of time during the week. This not only deprives the dog of the exercise he needs to stay healthy and happy, but it also robs him of social interaction with other dogs. Dog walkers help to remedy these situations. While a dog walking business isn't going to make you rich, it offers great bonding experiences that satisfy a need for canine companionship.
Being an avid dog lover is not enough to start a dog walking business. There are some important legal requirements you'll need to address before you can start advertising your services. The first is that you'll need to take out a business license as well as research whether your city/county requires you to apply for a special permit. You'll need to talk to your insurance agent and find out what type of coverage you'll need for your home-based business. Further, your prospective clients may require that you be bonded if you're going to have access to their homes while they're away. Be aware that if you are giving your dog walking enterprise an official business name, you will have to register it with the Secretary of State. You'll also be responsible for paying taxes on the income you derive.
The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (see Resources below) is an excellent resource for familiarising yourself with what kinds of experiences to expect from your clients and their pets. The more you know about different breeds of dogs and their respective personalities, the fewer surprises you'll have once your dog walking service gets underway. A great place to start hands-on learning is at your neighbourhood shelter. Volunteers are always welcome to play with the dogs and take them for walks. Get acquainted with breeders, kennel operators, pet day care providers and veterinarians. In addition, you'll get a sense of what different breeds weigh, how different breeds interact with one another and what to do when all of them are jumping on you at once. Although you may only be walking one dog at a time, there are going to be occasions when you're confronted by another dog that either wants to play or attack. Getting a Yorkie out of harm's way by simply picking her up and hugging her to your chest is one thing; if the dog is a full-grown Labrador, your rescue efforts aren't going to be as easy.
Spreading the Word
When you start out, your first clients are likely to be your family members, friends and other people you know. This is a low-key way to get on-the-job experience, and it will provide you with enthusiastic testimonials to display on your website. In putting together the latter as a promotional tool, you'll want the name and design to be consistent with your business cards, flyers and brochures. Your website should be easy for visitors to navigate and identify the specific services you provide, the fees you charge and the neighbourhood(s) you cover. Always carry your business cards with you. Distribute your flyers and brochures to pet supply shops, veterinary offices and dog groomers. Visit office complexes and ask permission to post a flyer on the break room notice board. Don't forget the classified section of weekly newspapers; the advertising rates are usually low and will give you consistent exposure.
Prior to snapping a leash on a new Fido, you'll have to complete some preliminary paperwork with his owner. Some of this can be accomplished via your website if you have an easy-to-use online form. Prospective clients will need to provide their dog's age, breed and weight. You'll also need to find out if the dog has been spayed or neutered, if their vaccinations are up to date and if the animal has behavioural problems (i.e., likes to slip off his collar and chase cars). The first meeting will be to observe the dog's temperament. Trust your instincts. If you decide to proceed, you will then have the client sign a contract that specifies whether you'll be performing tasks beyond dog-walking (i.e., bathing after walks, taking Fido to the vet for shots), the duration/frequency of service, and how/when you will be paid. If you plan to take the animal to a neighbourhood dog park and have it off-leash, you'll need the owner's permission. A website called Start Dog Walking Business (see Resources below) has sample templates for contracts as well as informative articles written by pet experts.
Always have a backup plan in the event of emergencies. If, for instance, you have a long-standing arrangement to walk a particular client's poodle every Monday afternoon and you come down with a killer cold, it wouldn't hurt to have a responsible friend who can sub for you on short notice. If the weather is bad and you need to delay a walk, make sure you have a clean and dry shelter (i.e., a garage). Likewise, if your dog-sitting enterprise extends to drop-off pet day care in your own home, you'll need a secure backyard and/or the ability to segregate animals. Lastly, a responsible dog walker should always know where the nearest veterinary office is and have an understanding of the basics of pet first aid.
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