How to start a dog walking business
Starting a business is not an easy walk in the park—even when that business sometimes involves actually walking in a park. But if you find something you love doing and stick with it, it’s possible to build a thriving business and enjoy showing up to work every day.
Just ask Katie Lingan, a successful entrepreneur who owns dog-walking a business. Katie is the brains behind Paw Inclusive, a business based in Alexandria, Virginia that offers comparable services for dogs and cats.
We recently spoke with Katie to learn all about the challenges that come with starting and operating a dog walking business—and what she’s done to grow her small businesses over the years.
If you’re thinking about starting your own dog walking business, keep reading to learn more about the ins and outs of the industry and how you can make sure to get your business off on the right foot (or paw).
How can I start my own dog business?
Every entrepreneur’s path is different. While Katie started pet sitting as a side hustle, she eventually realized the business was capable of much more than that and founded Paw Inclusive in January 2019. Whatever your reason for starting a dog walking business, follow these eight steps to increase the chances your business succeeds.
1. Figure out a business name
First things first: Once you’ve decided to start a dog-walking business, you need to come up with a name. To attract the eye of potential clients, that name should be playful and catchy.
Katie chose Paw Inclusive because for a variety of reasons. It was catchy, it gave her enough flexibility to add additional services in the future, and it was descriptive of the business she was trying to build.
“I really wanted to make sure that it was an all-inclusive space where you can bring your pet, whatever their needs are,” Katie says. “The name tells everything we do.”
2. Structure your small business
Once you’ve got a name picked out, it’s time to figure out how to set up your business. After reading articles and talking to her accountant, Katie decided to set up her business as an LLC.
When it comes to how to structure your business, there’s no right or wrong answer. If this is your first time starting a business, follow Katie’s advice and talk to a trusted advisor who can walk you through your options.
Choosing the right small business structure can determine how easy or hard it is to grow your company. Learn more about various small business structures to determine which makes the most sense for your unique circumstances.
3. Understand your market
Before launching your business, do your due diligence to figure out more about your market. Run a quick Google search to determine who your competitors are, what neighborhoods you might want to work in, and what your potential clients are like.
To do this, consider searching for local dog-walking companies using Rover.com, the nation’s largest network of dog walkers. Head to nearby dog parks and try to chat with dog owners to see what their pain points are so you can begin trying to solve them. You might also consider talking to pet groomers and employees at local pet stores.
Try all of these tactics, and you should have a pretty good idea of the market you’re hoping to operate in.
4. Price your services correctly
After surveying the market, you should have a good idea as to the prices your competitors are charging. Use that information to determine how much you’re going to sell your services for.
Katie’s prices are based on the way she runs her business. Whereas most pet care companies work between specific hours, Paw Inclusive is “more go with the flow,” and willing to work around client’s schedules. These approaches are not the same, and that’s reflected in the pricing of the multiple packages she offers.
“When you’re just starting out, you need to figure out which kind of business you’re going to be, and price your services accordingly,” Katie says.
5. Promote yourself
In order to succeed, you need to attract customers to your business. To do this, you can create a website to toot your own horn, post your business on online directories, and leverage the social media platforms that make the most sense for your needs.
Katie likes Instagram a lot, too. She recommends spending time searching hashtags (e.g., #newyorkdogs, if you’re in New York), following different people who have pages set up for their pets, and otherwise doing whatever you can to build a trusting online community.
Regardless, nothing beats word-of-mouth marketing. Katie does her best to give customers delightful experiences in each interaction so that they’re most likely to recommend her business.
Here’s another tip: Don’t forget about advertising in the real world.
For example, you might decide to invest in a magnetic car sign emblazoned with your company name and logo. You can put these giant magnets on both sides of your car and you’ll become a moving advertisement. You might also want to put up flyers on community bulletin boards (e.g., at the grocery store, coffeeshop, and library).
6. Obtain dog walking insurance
Yep, you read that right.
Dog walking isn’t all fun and games. Accidents happen, and dogs will occasionally damage property or even injure themselves or others.
For these reasons, Katie says that it’s important that you insure yourself and your business. While you’re at it, you may also want to consider disability and life insurance for additional peace of mind.
“If you’re the only person working for your company, that’s one thing,” Katie says. “If you have anyone else, you need to make sure they are covered under a pet care policy. The additional fee is so worth it.”
If you’re struggling to come up with the money you need to acquire insurance, consider applying for a Fundbox line of credit. If approved, you’ll have access to a revolving credit line you can draw against on an as-needed basis.
7. Get ready for challenges
When you start any business, you’re going to run into challenges sooner or later. Successful entrepreneurs know this perfectly and are able to roll with the punches and pivot with agility.
When COVID-19 made landfall in 2020, Katie faced significant business challenges. With more and more people working from home, demand for dog-walking services plummeted.
“We were at zero percent capacity for three months,” Katie explains.
Despite these impossible circumstances, neither entrepreneur gave up. For Katie, it was her love of animals and how lucky she felt being able to do what she did for a living that got her through the slow period.
8. Prepare to get paid
After you’ve figured all of the above, it’s now time to determine your approach to invoicing.
To improve cash flow, Katie bills her clients and collects payment at the beginning of each week. That way, she knows each customer is paid up and good to go.
“Every once in a while, a client forgets to pay,” Katie says. “Of course, I’ll still show up and walk their dog. I’ll just let them know they owe two weeks’ pay next time.”
Starting a dog walking business: Frequently asked questions
Now that you have a better idea of what it takes to build a successful dog walking business, let’s turn our attention to some of the most common questions people ask when deciding whether this line of work makes sense for them.
Is it hard to start a dog walking business?
Truth be told, starting any small business is hard. It requires jumping through a ton of hoops and being responsible for your livelihood.
But if you’re a dog lover who is determined to succeed as an entrepreneur and are interested in starting a dog walking business, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option.
How much can a dog walking business make?
That depends. According to Glassdoor, the average dog walker in the United States makes a little less than $28,000 per year. At the same time, it’s not unheard of for people to clear as much as $150,000 per year walking dogs. It largely depends on the cost of living in the area you’re operating in, the number of clients you land, how hard you’re willing to work, and whether you want to scale your business and hire employees.
What qualifications do you need to be a dog walker?
Unlike other careers, you don’t need a degree of any kind to be a dog walker. If there’s a bona fide qualification for this career, it would probably be something like this: must love dogs.
That said, if you’re planning on starting your own dog walking business, it won’t hurt to get a degree in business administration or marketing. You’d also be wise to get some formal training in first aid for animals so you’d know what to do in the event of an emergency.
Are dog walking businesses profitable?
According to IBISWorld, the U.S. dog walking services industry is expected to haul in $1.1 billion in 2021. Suffice it to say that well-run dog walking businesses can be quite lucrative.
While you might have to fork over some additional expenses compared to a run-of-the-mill white-collar business—like pet walking insurance and a pet first aid class—the bulk of the expenses will be the same as if you started any business. For example, you’ll have to pay for a business license and a website, and you’ll have to pay to establish your LLC.
Do you need insurance to be a dog walker?
While you might not be legally required to obtain insurance to operate a dog walking business depending on where you live, the fact of the matter is you’d be foolish not to get insurance. What would happen if a dog got injured or worse on a walk? What if one of the dogs you’re walking bites someone in the park or destroys some property? Without insurance, your business can be crushed financially.
As Murphy’s law teaches us, anything that can go wrong will at some point. By getting dog walking insurance, you’re protecting yourself against unforeseen events outside of your control.
How do I get more dog walking clients?
There are many different ways to land more dog walking clients. You might start off by asking your friends and family whether they need your services. You can also create a referral program that encourages clientele to refer their friends for some sort of incentive (e.g., 10% off their bill for six months). Of course, traditional marketing (e.g., flyers on a bulletin board) and content marketing (e.g., blogs on your website and posts on Instagram) can also be helpful.
The bottom line
If you’re the kind of person who wants to own their own business—and you love dogs—a dog walking business could be the perfect match. Just remember that starting any business is not easy. Even when things are going smoothly, an unexpected event can take the winds out of your sails at any given moment. That’s why it’s so important to protect yourself by forming an LLC, getting appropriate dog walking insurance, and having access to small business financing options that are there when you need them.
Here’s to building a dog walking business that serves your neighbors effectively and brings joy to your community!