Starting a dog walking business is a fairly straightforward, low-cost way to enter the animal industry. You can get your business off to a great start by following just a few simple steps. Most people will probably start their business as a sole practitioner or as a limited liability corporation (LLC). It would be a good idea to speak with someone knowledgeable and trustworthy, and an accountant or attorney while setting up your business if you do not have experience in this area.
Form Your Dog Walking Business
A business set up as a sole practitioner is where the owner of the business makes all decisions and is responsible for all payment of debts and taxes. If you operate under a name other than your legal name, you will need to register the fictitious—also known as doing business as—name with your state. You may need to register for a business license in your town to operate a business legally.
Most dog walking businesses are formed as sole proprietorships or limited liability companies (LLCs). A sole proprietorship is a business created by one individual whose personal and business assets are not separate from those of the business. The owner is held responsible for all debts. An LLC separates personal and business assets; this makes the owner of the corporation not personally liable for the debts of the business.
Insurance is available that is specifically tailored to provide coverage for pet sitters and dog walkers. This coverage will protect you from potential legal action if a pet causes damage while under your supervision.
The cost is only a few hundred dollars and could save you a big legal headache down the road. There are many companies offering this service, such as Pet Sitters Associates LLC and Pet Sitter Insurance.
Pricing and Services
Most dog walkers offer services in blocks of time (15 minutes, 30 minutes, one hour). You can walk single dogs or a small "pack" from the same apartment complex or residential street.
You may also decide to offer related services such as pet sitting, obedience training, or pooper scooper services. Check out the local competition to see what the going rate is for dog walking services in your area.
Obtain a Signed Contracts
You should always work under a signed contract with your clients. Terms of service agreements spell out the relationship between the client (dog owner) and service provider (you). Be specific in what is and is not included for the contract. If the dog will be walked as part of a group or walked alone should be specified.
Use the agreement or contract to discuss what your service offers, payment options, cancellations, damages, and emergency health situations. Make sure you have full contact information and a signature before you begin working for a new client.
You may want to include a veterinary release as part of your contract terms. The release will state that you will try to contact the owner in case of an emergency and that you were given the right to seek veterinary care for the dog if necessary. The release should also specify who will pay for any incurred vet bills.
Keep Detailed Records
For each owner who uses your service, maintain a contact sheet that includes their address, phone number, email, and emergency contact numbers. Be sure to record information on each dog including breed, color, date of birth, health history (including allergies and any previous injuries), veterinarian's name, and clinic contact information.
A basic veterinary release form will allow you to take the animal to the vet with the owner agreeing to pay any resulting bills.
Get the Word Out
Design a flyer and business card to place on entryway bulletin boards in vet clinics, supermarkets, dog groomers, and pet stores. Consider having your contact information and logo made into large magnets to display on the doors and rear of your vehicle. Advertise on Craigslist, in church bulletins, and in neighborhood newsletters. Create a website with a personalized domain name.
Word of mouth will eventually become your biggest source of referrals. When clients come to you, make a note of where they heard about your service (referral from a friend, website, flyer), so you will know what areas to focus on.
You might consider carrying pepper spray in case your dogs are approached by strays while walking. Also, make sure to invest in proper footwear and clothing for the season and climate. A great way to advertise while your work is to wear clothing customized with your business logo and phone number.