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Starting a dog walking business

Starting a dog walking business in this new gig economy is a business venture right on target for the dog enthusiasts needing to create an income. Even during the lockdown in the pandemic, we are currently encountering, walking a dog is permitted since this is essential for them to get exercise and dispose of their waste. This makes the business model of a dog walking as viable and can help the recently unemployed to create a revenue stream.

Is starting a dog walking business right for you?

This business venture is great for lovers of dogs and for people that prefer to be around animals rather than humans. You also get to enjoy the great outdoors and get exercise.

In 2020 the current average price a dog walker in London charges per dog per hour is £17. The first £11,500 is tax free. If you break that financial barrier, then you must get national insurance and pay taxes on your income among other items.

There is no educational requirements or prerequisites to begin this type of business venture other than finding a client that will pay you to care for their dog. You do need to be registered with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs office as a new business operator. This will cost £12 to £100 depending on how you register the business. For individuals just starting with no employees, this should be done as a sole trader. By signing up as a limited company you will have separated yourself from the business which is financial safer, but it costs more. Once you have your first client, you are a professional dog walker.

Who uses a dog walking business?

By operating a dog walking business, you will be filling the need of many dog owners that just do not have the time to properly care for their canine friend due to business and social affairs. Even for those in lockdown, but working remotely, they do not always have the time to break away from their online commitments. They need help with their dog in making sure they are properly taken care of by taking them out for walks and letting them run and play along with disposing of their waste.

How do I start a dog walking business?

The first step with this or any other type of business is to create a business plan. This requires some research so you know the target audience who needs their dog’s walked, the areas they live in and learning just who is your competition.

You must also investigate the rules and regulation set down by the UK government for operating a dog walking business. For advice in this area, there is the group National Association of Pet sitters and Dog Walkers. Joining this group costs £25 a month. There are 4 main canine acts set forth by the government over the years. They began in 1953 with the most recent one becoming law in 2005. Know them so you can stay in business and avoid fines.

You must also make an investment to cover the costs of some essential items. One of the more important items would be to have a background check run on yourself. This is sometimes referred to as a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). It can cost up to £30, but it is the one thing most potential clients will ask to know about. By being able to show a police check certification that you have a clean criminal record, you will open the door to having more clients.

Looking the part of being a dog walker is also very important in acquiring more clients. With your hands full of dog leashes, you will have to invest in all-weather clothing. For the most part, using an umbrella is not compatible with controlling dogs. These items could cost as much as £200.

Do I need a pet boarding license?

If your intentions are to provide accommodation for either cats or dogs or provide a  dog sitting service, then you will need to apply for a boarding licence.

How do I market my dog walking business?

Marketing your new services is essential to getting more clients. With the restrictions on movement and social distancing rules in place, having an online portal is essential. It can be an independent website or a simple Facebook page. This will provide a path for the digital word of mouth about your business to spread. The use of old fashion flyer marketing will not be permitted in the current business climate due to the pandemic. This is where the right clothes come into play. Having pics of you walking dogs on your web page will make you appear as a professional. The more professional you appear to be, the easier it will be to get clients.

Is there a special license needed to walk dogs?

No, the UK government does not require a dog walker to get a special license. What is recommended is to get a certification from a dog walking academy. There are classes on walking dogs, caring for dogs, breaking up dog fights along with first aid for animals. Each class will have a certificate that can hang in your office and be posted online. They are evidence you have had training in your profession.

What the government does require is a business license from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs office.

Is dog walker insurance required?

The UK government requires each business to have National Insurance. This is the minimum cover, but more is recommended to protect your business.

Most insurance companies group both dog walkers and pet sitters under one type of policy since they both have the same insurance needs. The standard Dog Walker insurance policy has Public Liability cover which is protection if by accident a third party’s property is damaged or a person is injured.  It also covers if an animal under your care injuries someone or an animal is injured under your care. This cover varies, but typically from £1 million to £10 million.

Will I have to transport the dogs?

Unless there is a park near the homes of your clients and they are grouped close to each other, you will need to transport the dogs to a location they can get their exercise. If it is only 1 or 2 dogs at a time a car will work, but if you have to transport 3 or more a van is recommended. In both instances, the vehicle will have to be covered with commercial vehicle insurance to cover being used as part of a business.

Some vehicles might be too high off the ground for a few of your dogs to climb in. To solve this problem a simple dog ramp to help them walk into the vehicle is advisable. Some dogs do not like being picked up by strangers.

Can having a niche dog walking service help?

By specialising in a niche area of the dog walking business sector will reduce your target market, it will also be attractive to those remaining in your target audience. It can also help to avoid the dogs from becoming injured. By specializing in big dogs, little dogs or a specific breed of dogs, there is less chance of tempers flaring and of a dog being stepped on by another.

If you are handling a Great Dane in the same bunch as a toy poodle, the little poodle might get lost under the paws of the Great Dane. By keeping the size of the dogs you walk near each other, they will be easier to handle and keep track of.

Should I brand my service or have a logo?

By branding your services and having a logo, it will be easier for prospective clients to find you. It will also take time to make it a reality. By creating a unique logo, getting it registered with the government and then placing it on all forms, contracts and receipts, it will be implanted into the minds of your clients. You should also have it embossed on the back of your jackets and coats you use while walking the dogs with a phone number or email address so prospective clients that see you can contact you.

Is there any paperwork being a dog walker business owner?

Yes, just like all other businesses a dog walking business has paperwork. You must create a contract for new clients which are used to clarify in writing just what you will be providing. There are also forms so the clients can schedule your service. Most of all is the need for accurate recording of all transactions, including financial, verbal and written agreements.

You will also be responsible for the taxes you must charge the clients and the taxes you owe for your income. Complete and accurate records are a must, especially if you are audited.

In successfully operating a business accurate and complete records are a must. This must include all expenses no matter how small or large, insurance payments, registration fees for the business, the vehicles and the rent or mortgage for the office.

Opening a dog walking business can be accomplished very easily if you only walk one or two dogs. Many would consider that just a hobby. To expand beyond that requires planning and investment so the business can flourish and the revenue stream to be consistent.