What better way to spend your days than strolling around with other people’s dogs?
Starting your own dog walking business will allow you to get your steps in, enjoy the sunshine, and hang with dogs. Not to mention making some money!
That said, starting a business is about more than loving dogs and walking around town. Turning your passion into a profitable business will take plenty of planning and a solid dose of elbow grease.
Benefits (and Drawbacks) of Having a Dog Walking Business
It’s easy to see the great bits of having a dog walking business:
- You get to spend your days walking dogs, enjoying the fresh air and the company of happy pooches.
- You’re helping dogs get the exercise that they need, and by extension you’re helping them and their owners live happier lives.
- You have the benefit of choosing your hours and choosing your clientele.
- Dog walking also has a lower barrier to entry than starting a dog training business. While you still need some serious dog skills to be a pro dog walker, you generally don’t have to know how to deal with more complicated and serious behavioral issues – unless that’s your niche!
At the same time, dog walking isn’t all a walk in the park (though that’s part of it)!
There are downsides too.
- You’ll have to deal with a lot of dog poop
- Some of your clients might bark and jump on you, and most will probably pull on the leash
- You may be asked to walk ultra-large dogs or tiny dogs that need protecting
- Some owners can be just as high-maintenance as their dogs!
- You’ll need plenty of dog experience and lots of people skills to truly succeed.
What You Need to Get Started as a Dog Walker
Before launching your dog walking business, be sure that you’re prepared to hit the ground running. Make your launch smooth by ensuring that you have all of the essentials ready.
To start a dog walking business, you’ll need:
- Basic knowledge of dog behavior and body language. You’ll need to brush up on your understanding of dog calming signals and know how to recognize a dog who’s afraid, aroused, or upset before things blow up in your face. This Udemy course, Inside Your Dog’s Mind, is a great place to start!
- Good walking shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so invest in some solid sneakers!
- A website and an online presence. You’ll want to create account on Yelp and Google My Business at a minimum.
- Marketing materials, like business cards, fliers, or brochures.
- Basic dog care equipment, like spare poop bags and a spare slip lead (because they fit all dogs and work as a leash and collar), in case you run out or an owner’s equipment fails.
- Dog pepper spray for protecting your client’s dogs from any oncoming or off-leash aggressive dogs.
- Basic knowledge of doggie first aid. You don’t need to be a vet, but it’s good to know how to remove burrs or patch a scraped paw. Knowing dog CPR wouldn’t hurt either.
- Good defensive leash handling skills. This means being able to give and take slack quickly on the leash, how to hold a leash properly to avoid injury and maintain control, and how to hold a dog up and away from you if it tries to bite you. Walking several dogs or even one unknown dog can be quite a challenge! Practicing your leash handling skills will ensure that you can keep your fingers and your client dogs safer on the walks. This ASPCA video is a great place to start.
While it’s important to remind your clients that you’re not a vet or trainer, it’s also great for your business if you are comfortable with basic training, behavior, body language, and first aid. So do your best to brush up on your canine knowledge bases before you get started!
Check out our list of the best free online dog training videos to recap some of the most essential dog training strategies.
Dog Walking Services: Should I Join Rover & Wag Instead of Starting My Own Separate Business?
There are a few high-profile dog walking apps nowadays. If you want to start your own dog walking business, should you join one or both of them?
You may not be surprised to hear my answer: it depends.
Rover and Wag are both decent places to start getting clients, rack up experience, and learn to handle dogs, but it’s not necessarily a way to build a business.
There are significant advantages – Rover and Wag both have aggressive marketing teams working to get the word out about their platform, which can mean more clients for you without you having to manage Facebook ads or email campaigns.
While these services do take about 20 – 25% cut, they save you a lot of headaches in exchange.
However, you won’t be able to build your own brand recognition working through these apps. Plus, depending on where you are, these apps can be quite competitive.
I rarely got clients through Wag when I did it, and I almost never got clients through Rover – there were just too many walkers in Denver versus how many dogs needed help.
While Wag and Rover work fine for a bit of supplemental income, that cut taken out of your profits really can hurt when you’re trying to do dog walking as your full-time income.
Ultimately, if you just want to make some extra dough to save up for a fancy vacation or a new car, Wag and Rover can work for you. But if you want dog walking to become your full-time business, you’ll likely need to go off on your own.
The key will be distinguishing yourself in the market by building a business that serves a different niche (rather than on-demand and app-based) in the long-term.
How to Market Your Dog Walking Business
1. Find a Niche
As we noted above, one of the best ways to really make your dog walking business stand out from the crowd is to pick a niche.
Paradoxically, it’s easier to refer clients to a business that serves a smaller, specific group, rather than a large, more general audience.
For example, you can specialize in:
- Taking the dogs running to burn out those high-energy dogs
- Going on hiking adventures
- High-end clients that have lots of picky specifications
- Private walks to specific locations
- Group walks
- Behaviorally challenging dogs
As a professional trainer, I know that there’s a huge shortage in many cities of walkers that can handle behaviorally challenging dogs – like dogs that bark and lunge at other dogs or dogs who are shy of strangers.
In many areas, there’s also huge demand for people who can do more energy-intensive activities like running or hiking.
Once you’ve decided on a niche, it’s time to start marketing yourself.
2. Set Up a Yelp Account
Many people start their search for a service provider on Yelp. Your business page on this site is an important early step for business visibility.
Creating that page is quite easy:
- Visit biz.yelp.com
- Click the big red “Get Started” button
- Follow the instructions on the page.
3. Set Up a Google My Business Account
When you search Google for a business, a box often pops up on the top right corner of the page with a map to the business, their hours, their contact info, and some reviews.
That’s the Google My Business box. Setting this up will help give your business visibility. Like Yelp, it’s quite easy to do.
- Log in to your Google Account or create one if you don’t have one. Use a name that reflects your business and sounds professional.
- Go to Google.com/business.
- Click “Start Now” in the top right-hand corner.
- Input the information requested – be sure to be complete here.
- Verify your account using one of the methods offered. This might mean waiting for a physical postcard in the mail!
4. Set Up a Thumbtack and/or Nextdoor Account
Thumbtack and Nextdoor (and their competitors) are all useful places to connect with local community. These platforms aim to help connect locals with small businesses.
As a dog walker, you’ll be able to post your services as well as respond to posted jobs with a bid – somewhat like Craigslist, but more organized. Unlike with Rover or Wag, you can use these platforms through your business rather than as a contractor.
Check your local area to see which of these platforms (or neither, both, or a third option) is most used, and start there.
Check out Nextdoor.com and Thumbtack.com to get started – they both have setup wizards that make things easy!
5. Create a Website
Almost everything today starts with a Google search. Most people prefer doing their real research on websites, and that means your business needs a website.
For many people, it’s more cost-effective at first to make your own site rather than hire a designer. That said, if you’ve got more money than time, you can also pay someone to make a basic site for you.
If you’re making your own site, your main options are:
SquareSpace. Great for most small, local businesses. Easy to use and setup, with a handy built-in wizard that can set you up with a gorgeous, professional looking website quickly.
Squarespace isn’t the most customizable or the fastest as far as load time goes, but it’s probably good enough for your business, especially to start.
WordPress. The better option for those who are a bit more tech-savvy. You’ll have much more control over design. This guide can walk you through the process. We also recommend that you:
- Buy your domain through Godaddy
- Use WPX for hosting (it’s who we use, and their customer service is the best around)
- Try GeneratePress for your theme (but there are tons of options out there)
What Info Should Your Website Include?
- A Picture Of You. Make sure to include a photo of you to help potential customers connect with you in a personal way.
- Your Qualifications. Include your qualifications, certifications, and any relevant courses you’ve completed.
- Any Experience With Dogs. Detail any relevant experience you’ve had with dogs – from shelter volunteering to dog sitting, etc.
- Testimonials. Testimonials show potential clients that you are reputable and can be trusted. If you’ve had a few past clients who were happy with their experience, ask them if they’d be willing to write a short testimonial that you can share on your website. Asking for Yelp or Google reviews is also a good idea.
- Pricing. Be sure to clearly post your prices on your site – don’t leave clients in the dog!
- Your Service Area. Explain how far you’re willing to travel / which areas of your city you work in.
- Your Schedule. If you’re offering regular group walks or don’t work on a given day, make that information easily available!
- Your Contact Information. Make it incredibly easy for people to find this vital information.
Keep in mind that if your business really takes off, you may end up wanting to employ the use of dog training business software that will help you organize your bookings and clients.
Grow a Community Online and Offline
Join Facebook Groups
Facebook groups can be useful for getting your name out there as a dog walker. Since you are a location-based business, you’ll want to focus primarily on joining local groups and tapping into regional networks.
Look for neighborhood Facebook groups, pet-owner regional groups, dog walking groups, etc.
Many groups don’t allow direct self-promotion, so be sure to read the group rules and message the moderators if in doubt.
Many groups do allow you to respond to posters asking for dog walker recommendations, but you usually can’t blatantly post about your services unsolicited.
Also consider joining any regional pet-business groups that might enable networking with other pet professionals. Vets, trainers, dog daycares and groomers are probably looking for excellent walkers to work with. You may not find clients, but you’ll probably find people who will help refer you clients and teach your more about this field!
I find that making your niche clear makes it much easier for other dog professionals to refer to you (oh, Jane Doe is the local dog hiker, she’s perfect for your high-energy Vizsla)!
Lastly, while it won’t directly help you get clients, joining Facebook groups that involve knowledge-sharing between other pet business owners can be hugely helpful.
While the dog walking business in town may not be too eager to share tips with you due to competition, a dog walking business across the country doesn’t need to worry about you stealing their clients, so they’ll more readily share advice and tips to your burgeoning business.
I run a Progressive Dog Professionals Marketing Powerhouse Facebook group, and you’re more than welcome to join the crew there as a place to start!
Offer Referral Bonuses To Encourage Word-Of-Mouth
Giving your clients, vets, trainers, and groomers a little bit of kickback for sending you a new dog walking client is another great strategy for boosting business.
You may want to offer your walking clients 50% off their next walk if they refer a client to you (and give that new client 50% off their first walk). For other professionals, you can offer them a percentage of sale as a referral bonus.
Strategies to Set Yourself Apart From the Pack
Aside from giving yourself a niche, you can ensure your business survives by making it the best it can be. Here are some ideas for ways to delight your clients:
- Document potty activity. Most owners really want to know if their dog had unusual poo or if they didn’t have their midday pee, so make it a habit to let your clients know about potty activity regularly.
- Send photos of the dogs loving their time with you. Owners will absolutely love this! You can even print out copies of these photos for thank-you, birthdays, or Christmas cards for clients.
- Offer add-on services, like extra-long walks, destination walks, or jogging the dog. Some walkers even offer basic training during their walks – that’s how I got started as a professional trainer! Just be sure you’re qualified to offer the add-ons.
- Bring tasty treats and help reward your client’s dogs. Be sure to ask your clients about allergies or diet restrictions, but many clients love to see their dogs learning. You can use these treats to reward dogs for good behavior, even if you’re not actively training.
- Celebrate holidays with a cute dog hat or bow tie. Some dogs might not appreciate being dressed up by a stranger, so it’s probably best to avoid full-on costumes. But snapping a pic of a client’s dog with a cute tutu or a green leprechaun hat on St. Paddy’s day is sure to earn you some brownie points in the eyes of pet parents.
BONUS TIP: Be sure to find costumes that don’t make the dogs uncomfortable. Most dogs won’t mind a collar attachment (flowers or a bow tie), but many dogs get very nervous about hats! Make sure the dogs are actually comfortable and happy with the costumes, or you may annoy the owners.
Another tip – always keep track of what your competition is doing. While you might not want to copycat local businesses, you can get ideas from others on how to make your clients love your service even more!
Dog Walking Business Salary: How Much Money Should I Expect to Make?
Dog walking prices vary a lot based on where you live.
Urban walkers may charge more, especially if they operate in a small or high-end niche. Even if you’re rural, you’ll probably charge more if your walking services involve car rides – like driving to a hike.
You make more money per walk if you offer group walk services, but it also takes a lot of skill to handle a large group of dogs.
Most dog walkers charge what comes out to about $1 per minute – $20 for a 20-minute walk or $50 for an hour are common quotes.
When deciding how to set your rates, research other walkers in your area and see what they’re charging. Then adjust up or down based on your experience level and any differences in your business model.
That said, that doesn’t mean you’ll make $50 per hour. You probably won’t be working for 8 hours per day, because most people only want walkers around midday. You also probably will need to drive between clients. Finally, business costs like marketing and gas will cut into that profit.
Dog walking salaries vary widely. According to Glassdoor, dog walkers make about $30,077 on average per year. Most dog walkers have an hourly pay that averages out to $13-15 per hour, according to Payscale.
That comes in sharp contrast to the estimation on this site that if you can walk five dogs a day for $25 per dog, you’ll make $125 per day and $46,625. Apparently, many (if not most) dog walkers are not able to meet this threshold for takehome income.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some top dog walkers in New York City make six figures or more. Then again, if you want to live in Manhattan, that’s not exactly living large! Your rent alone probably costs roughly $45k per year, almost half of that top walker’s salary.
Dog Walking Business Plan: Designing Your Business
Be sure you have a plan for your dog walking business before you get ahead of yourself. This will ensure that you are ready to hit the ground running!
A good business plan will help you plan out your marketing strategy, target audience, costs, and revenue.
This dog walking business plan from Top Dog Tips is a great place to start.
Dog Walking Business Insurance: Do I Need It?
As a professional walker, it’s definitely a good idea to have insurance.
Dog walking is potentially even higher-risk than dog training, because your whole job is to take the dogs out in the world when the owner isn’t around.
Insurance will help protect you from damage to equipment and injuries to the dogs. While you’ll do your best to keep equipment and dogs alike as safe as possible, accidents are likely to happen. Dogs may break their leashes, tear toenails, or even get into arguments, even under your careful eye.
Here are a few dog walking business insurance providers to check out:
- Business Insurers of the Carolinas (a popular dog training business insurance recommended by our staff trainer Kayla Fratt)
- Pet Care Insurance
- Pro Fur Insurance
- Pet Sitters Associates
Dog Walking Business Name Ideas
Get creative! Be sure to check for other local businesses with the same name. You don’t want to step on someone’s toes with an identical or nearly-identical name.
Use some of these dog-oriented words to spark your business names:
- Furry, Fluffy
What tips did you find most helpful while starting your dog walking business? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!