There are over fifty million dogs in the United States. One in four homes has a dog. Many dogs sit home all day while their doggie parents work. A lot live in Condominiums and apartments, which means they don’t get to be outside during the day at all. Dog walking has become a necessity. If you love dogs this is your chance to cash in on a fantastic career and start your own dog walking service.
Dog walking is a great career because you can earn money while you exercise. And while the work can be physically demanding it’s fun so you hardly notice. The good news is that you won’t have to fight traffic, or do the nine to five grind and you can actually make a good living at it. Think about it you get paid for playing with people’s dogs.
If this seems like an interesting enterprise you will need a few things to get started. You are going to build a kit. This is easy and you can build it for less than $100.00, not a bad investment for your own business. You will need a plastic box about 15x21x18 with a lid for your car.
In your kit should be a fanny pack, which you will wear and use everyday. I got the fanny pack with water bottle holders on the sides. In the fanny pack you will pack waste bags, water for yourself and the dog, your keys, sun block, business cards and treats, and maybe even an extra leash. The fanny pack is essential because you want to keep your hands free.
It’s nice if you have a shirt with the name of your company or your name on it. This lets people you come in contact with know what you do. I’ve gotten business this way. You can buy a shirt later if you are starting with bare bones financing.
A good strong key ring is a must. You will want to have “all” your client’s keys with you at all times. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a client call at the last minute and request a walk. Put your name and phone number on the key ring so if it is lost you can be contacted to have it returned. Never label the keys with your client’s address. Use the name of the dog instead. If you have two dogs with the same name use Ally 1 & Ally 2 for example.
You will need an endless supply of dog waste bags and you can’t be afraid to use them. Hey if this is the worst part of the job you can’t complain.
Business cards are a must. You can make your own on your computer or buy some cheap at a local printing place. If you can afford to buy them get some door hangers too. I’ve put door hangers on doors where I see or hear a dog in a back yard. I’ve gotten work this way. One time I saw this poor girl with a business suit and high heels being pulled by a Great Dane. I pulled over and gave her a business card. I had that dog for over five years before he passed away of old age. Business cards are a great marketing tool and this business sells itself.
In this day of our litigious society release forms are a must. This basically lets your customer know that unless it was negligence on your part they will be responsible for vet bills should the dog get sick or hurt while in your care. One time I had to rush a dog to the vet because she was allergic to bees, which we didn’t know until she got stung. Her head blew up like a balloon and I got her to the vet just before she went into anaphylatic shock. Another time I was driving a bunch of dogs back from the dog park when one of them had a seizure. The customer had no idea his dog was epileptic. Unforeseen things happen make sure you are covered. You can find basic release forms on line.
Note pads and a pen are important. Some customers want a daily activity report on their dog. I had both pens and note pads with my name and number on them. They are a great marketing tool. In this age of cell phones I text a lot of my customers with updates.
Buy and keep an appointment book. Write down all of your appointments everyday even if they are regulars, this way you can fill in time slots and at the end of the month you can use your appointment book to do your billing. It will be a lifesaver when you start getting busy and it’s a good resource at tax time. Be sure to write in pencil and keep it updated.
A tax manual gives you a chance to record all your expenses for the year by month. It comes in handy at tax time and much better than a shoebox. Be sure to keep receipts for all business expenses. I filed mine monthly in an accordion file.
A mileage book will help you record mileage when you’re working. Unless you have a separate car for your business you are not allowed to write off the cost of your car, although you can write off a portion of the gas and maintenance as long as you keep a log.
An address book is essential. You should keep your customers numbers with you at all times. I kept mine in my cell phone and in a book just in case my phone wasn’t usable. I’ve had to call clients on the spot if their dog is sick or if something happened at home. Keep your customers numbers with you at all times.
Always have a First Aid Kit on hand. You hope nothing happens, but if does you’ll be ready with your doggie first aid kit. You can buy dog first aid kits on line, but they have instructions for building one on line as well.
Now that you have your kit together you will need to figure out what your fees are going to be. Check around to see what other dog walkers and pet sitters are getting. Look through your yellow pages and call a few pet sitters to see what they are charging. You want to be competitive, however different areas command different fees. Find out what the going rate is in your area. My business grew fast and I was actually able to raise my rates with in a six- month period. This business really does sell itself.
You will want to charge accordingly if you are walking more than one dog in a family. You can give a discount, but make sure you charge. You can also set a monthly rate if you walk the dog more than one time a day. Set up a pay structure that both you and the customer are comfortable with. To get first time customers you may want to offer an introductory price, say a months worth of dog walks at half price, or you can offer a goody bag to first time clients.
Although I never charged extra for services like feeding a dog or giving them a pill some dog walkers do charge for extras. If you have to go back to the house later to do these things then by all means charge them as you are using more gas.
The next thing you will want to do is set up your books. You will need a billing system to bill your clients. I used quick books and billed at the end of every month. I sent them a bill with all the dates I walked their dog. Okay where is that appointment book? I go through the book for each client and make up a bill. Most of the time you will be billing after the fact. Clients may need to cancel during the month so billing after just makes more sense.
You will need another set of books (tax book) for your income and expenses. This is where you will mark down your mileage from your booklet, any treats you bought, money spent on gas, sun block, waste bags, of course your start up kit and anything else you buy that helps you run your business. You can even write off walking shoes. I recommend getting a tax preparer who has experience in doing business taxes. If you run your business out of a home office you can also write off ten percent of your mortgage, rent and utilities. List all of your income and all or your expenses, using the receipts you saved (I keep all my receipts in a basket), use them when I do my books and then file them in my accordion file by month.
You will definitely want insurance. There are a few companies that can help you, but a broker can hook you up much easier. Business insurance can be expensive, but it is much better than losing everything you have worked for if something tragic happens. Don’t get scared in all my years of walking I never had to use my insurance once.
There are a lot of ways to advertise but word of mouth will always be your best resource. Visit area condominium and apartment complexes that take pets. Wearing your company shirt go and talk to the complex manager. Tell them what your business is and ask them if you can advertise in the complex. They will welcome you because they don’t want dogs messing in their units. Ask them if you can leave business cards to put in the new resident packets. Also see if you put some business cards in their community room, laundry room or near the mailboxes.
Another good place to get clients is corporate housing complexes. Corporate housing is where companies put up new employees until they can get relocated. These complexes often take pets. You can be the person that welcomes them to the area and at the same time take a load off their mind by walking their dogs while they are moving. Getting to know you will be a relief for them as you can be a wealth of information for them, like giving them the names of local vets and groomers.
Other good resource is local veterinarians. Ask them if you can put business cards on their front counter(always provide your own business card holder). Tell them that when you get new clients you will refer them. It’s a win-win situation. Your local pet store is another good avenue for advertising. Laundromats and anyplace else that has a bulletin board are good advertising resources. Always carry your business cards with you. Strike up conversations with people. Let them know what you. You always want to be prepared.
If you have your own dog take your dog to the park in the evenings or on the weekends and talk to every dog owner there. Tell them about your services and give them a business card. Let them know how much their dog’s fitness means to you.
If you live in a tourist area visit local hotels that allow pets. A lot of people bring their pets on vacation and would definitely pay to have their pet walked if they are going to be out all day. Visit the hotel’s manager and give them some of your business cards and door hangers. If asked the hotel clerk can just hand their hotel patron a door hanger when they check in. Again the hotel owner does not want dogs messing in their rooms.
Always do a client visit before you take on the responsibility of walking a dog. You want to meet the dog so they know you when you show up at the door for their first walk. Let the customer fill out and sign the release form. In the mean time get down on the floor and interact with your new client.
You want to test drive a new client. Find out about all their quirks, are they social with other dogs, with people, what are they afraid of, do they ride in the car okay, are they toy or treat aggressive? You’ll want to have all these questions answered before you take the dog out on its first walk. I had a dog that was terrified of garbage trucks. To avoid putting him in a situation where he’d come face to face with a garbage truck I took him to the park. Be sensitive to their phobias. They are like children in your care and you want their experience to be pleasant.
Don’t be afraid to ask your client what they expect of you. Some may ask you to leave a light on as the owner gets home after dark. Still others may want you to turn the television on so the dog has company. You may have to change potty pads if they are dirty. You will get all kinds of requests. Always, always change the dog’s water bowl whether you are asked to or not.
Some homeowners use alarms. There’s nothing worse than setting off the alarm on your first day. The alarm is blaring the dog is howling and the neighbors coming running over to see what is wrong. Then the local police ride up and you have to explain why you are there. I speak from experience. Ask about alarms and get the code before you start. Gated Communities are another issue. You’ll need a way to get in. Some places have a gate code others you’ll need a gate opener. Get all of these issues out of the way ahead of time so there are no surprises on your first day.
Your job is to get your clients dog out for some exercise and a potty break during the day. Each walk will be different, however each walk should last at least a half hour. There are a few ways to accomplish exercise time. You can walk each dog individually or you can take a carload of dogs to a dog park for an hour and let them run off leash. If you do take them to a dog park remember you are responsible for them. They must be watched at all times. If your client isn’t very social still try to make walk time, playtime. For example you can run an energetic dog up and down a hill for added exercise, or bring a ball and let them play fetch. A geriatric dog may just need to be let out to be relieved, but you can still give them a half hour by sitting under a tree or giving them a massage.
You’ll be walking dogs in all kinds of weather. You have to be careful with hot weather as much as inclement weather. Dogs can get overheated very quickly. This is a dangerous situation for any animal. On hot sunny days keep exercise to a minimum. You may not want to play ball. A simple walk and then home again, if you can walk in a shady area all the better. Don’t walk your client on hot pavement. Stick to sidewalks or grassy parks. Make sure your client has plenty of water while out on the walk and then again when they get home. Yes, you still have to walk your clients even if it is raining, however most customers only want their dogs going out for a potty break so they don’t track mud into the house. Ask your customers what they prefer. Never walk a dog in a thunderstorm. It’s a good idea to keep old towels in your kit for rainy days.
Most dogs love snow, but again you have to be able to cater to a whole host of dogs. Be aware that smaller dogs and dogs with little hair become cold faster than most other dogs. You may want to cut their walk in half and warm them in towels when you take them inside. Don’t leave any dog shivering. Icy roads or sidewalks are another concern. Ice and salt dry out a dog’s pads and get stuck between their toes. It can even cause burns. Clean ice and salt from their paws when you get your client back home. They have paw wipes for this purpose.
Remember your job is very important to your customers. They feel guilty leaving their pet behind all day. You make them feel better about it. Also when they come home tired, from a long day at the office their dog will be tired too. You give your customer a sense of security. Besides, what other job can you do where you play and get paid for it?