A dog might just be man's (and woman's) best friend. Imagine walking a bunch of them, getting exercise outdoors (yours and theirs), and being paid for it. Yes, starting a dog walking business can be a good, full-time career choice.

More than 63.4 million homes in the United States have dogs, many left at home during the day by pet owners who would prefer to hire a dog walker like you. Here's what you need to know about how to start a successful dog walking business.

Benefits of Running a Dog Walking Business

Of course, one of the benefits of running a dog walking business is that you get to spend time with a lot of dogs. You can also make a decent living as a dog walking business owner. Payscale gives the range of the hourly rate for dog walking as $10 to $29, with a median average wage of $14.94 per hour. You can make more if you walk more dogs or scale up your business so that you have a team of dog walkers working for you.

Other benefits of running a dog walking business include:

  • More flexibility than a 9-to-5 job
  • Independence
  • Healthy exercise
  • Time spent outdoors
  • Making new friends (dogs and people you meet in parks)

Some potential drawbacks include:

  • Variable income (clients may quit, go on holiday, and cancel for other reasons)
  • Poop scooping
  • May need to work even if weather is bad

Are Training Courses Required?

While you often aren't required to have any training courses to start a dog walking business, you should check the requirements for your state. Still, having some training can help you be a better dog walker or grow your business.

For example, it might be necessary to become a certified dog trainer if you wish to offer overnight and pet boarding services. Also, dogs can become sick or get hurt just like humans, so you might want to attend a class to become pet first aid and CPR certified. You can find these through local programs and sometimes through veterinarians, who may charge a fee.

Having some background in business administration can be helpful in turning a passion for walking dogs or doing pet sitting into a viable career choice. You'll likely also need a driver's license and may require a business license and other regional licenses or permits depending on where you're working.

Doing the Groundwork for Your Dog Walking Business

It shouldn't be expensive to launch your pet care business. Some things you might need before starting include:

  • Dog treats and treat dispensing bags
  • Leads
  • Crates for transportation
  • Chew toys
  • Poop-and-scoop bags
  • Business cards
  • Insurance
  • A vehicle
  • A valid driver's license

Ongoing expenses might include car fuel costs, vehicle maintenance, and business insurance.

If you want to increase how much money you make, you can extend your service offerings (e.g., providing dog-running services for high-energy canines and charging double the median rate to make $30 an hour since a lot more work is required). You can also offer services that include:

  • Dog training and education classes
  • Strength and agility training
  • A pet sitting business
  • Pet boarding

Research the Dog Walking Market

To find a demand for your services, you need to locate an area in your town or city with a lot of dogs (check local parks). Also, check to see if the area is already saturated with established dog walking services. Look at how much other dog walkers are charging as a guide for setting your own fees. Also, look for ways to differentiate yourself from the competition, which may involve having a professional brand or adding service or certifications that others don't have.

Make a Business Plan

A dog walking business is a business, so it makes sense to develop a business plan. This will help you develop a framework and strategies to guide your development, especially during the first crucial months of operation. It can also help you prepare for growth down the road.

Writing a business plan doesn't need to be difficult. You need to have a sense of what you want your business to be and the competition you'll face. You'll also have to decide on its organization (especially if you are hiring other dog walkers or administrative staff), whether you'll offer additional services, and what kind of marketing and promotion you'll do, as well as make financial projections (so you know when you might expect to turn a profit).

Get the Right Insurance

As a new business, your dog walking venture will need insurance. This might include liability insurance, vehicle insurance, personal commercial and property insurance (in case a dog damages your home or business property), and even animal bailee insurance if you decide to transport dogs in your care or house them in a boarding service.

Forming and Marketing Your Dog Walking Business

Before you start officially walking a tugging leash-load of eager canines in local dog parks, you'll need to decide on a legal entity for your business and figure out how to market the venture so you're not left walking by yourself.

Decide on a Legal Entity for Your Dog Walking Business

A sole proprietorship or a limited liability company (LLC) are the usual choices for dog walking businesses. A sole proprietorship would be a dog walking business created and run by a single person. Their personal and business assets are not kept separate, so they could be liable for any debts the business incurs. An LLC keeps personal and business assets separate so the owner or owners of the business are not personally liable for any debts the dog walking company incurs.

You'll need a name for your dog walking business. It's a good idea to pick one that is unique, memorable, and easy to pronounce. Depending on where you live, you may have to reserve and register the business name through the Secretary of State, ensuring that it's not similar to the names of other businesses. Besides the state's business records, you might want to check that your name isn't taken through federal and state trademark records.

Since websites are essential to just about any business, you should check that the domain name for your business is also available.

If you're operating your dog walking business as a sole proprietorship, you may have to register a "doing business as" (DBA) name if you want to have a different one than your own name for the enterprise.

Set Up a Business Bank Account and Credit Card

You'll want to open a business bank account to keep your personal and company assets separated in case of legal action and for accounting and tax-filing reasons. A business credit card also helps maintain this separation and can be used to build up your dog walking venture's credit rating so you can raise money, extend lines of credit, and get investments if the opportunities crop up later. You also might need a business bank account to register your dog walking business with the state.

Register for Taxes

Before your business is officially unleashed, you may need to register it with the state and register for different federal and state taxes. You may also need to apply for an employee identification number (EIN), a unique nine-digit number that the federal government uses to identify your business for tax purposes.

You'll have to do some research since specific state taxes might apply, such as a sales tax or franchise tax.

Draw Up a Contract for New Clients

In most cases, dog walkers draw up a service contract for clients to diminish liability and be clear about the pet care services offered. Contracts can be drawn up by lawyers or tailored from examples, such as this one offered by the Free Legal Document Project.

The terms of service should be clear about what is and isn't included in your dog walking services. For example, will the dog be walked alone or in a pack? You might also want to include a veterinarian release so you have the right to take Rover to a veterinarian if he is injured or becomes sick and you can't contact the owner. You would also specify who would be responsible for the vet bills.

Get the Word Out

For your dog walking business to survive and thrive, you'll need new customers. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to do this, getting referrals through happy existing customers. A service like Vistaprint will let you easily create business cards that you can hand out to dog owners. (It also has other customizable marketing materials, such as postcards, flyers, and door hangers.)

You can either use one of the company's existing designs, modified with your information, or upload your own. If you go the latter route, you can hire a professional graphic designer to create the design and perhaps take care of creating a logo and any other branding needs you may have. You can hire a freelance designer through a talent-matching site like Upwork.

These days, it's also important to have a business website, offering essential information about your services, getting communications from potential clients, and perhaps even booking walks. You could hire a website designer or do it yourself through a free service, such as WordPress, if you have the technical knowledge. If you need more help, you can turn to website builders like Squarespace and Weebly.

Having a social media presence is also important so you can post pictures and stories about dog walks that will leave their owners misty-eyed and to communicate updates, such as new walking routes or additions to your catalog of services. To really use social media effectively, you can read guides on producing effective strategies.

You might also want to get a free business listing on Google My Business, letting customers connect with you through Google Search and Google Maps. You can also get a page on Yelp, keeping in mind that it's always a good idea to respond in a timely and positive manner to customer reviews, both good and bad.

Day-to-Day Considerations for Your Dog Walking Business

When running your dog walking business, you'll need to keep track of your payments and costs - for tax purposes and just to see how your business is faring financially. One inexpensive but powerful solution is Skynova's online accounting software, which is geared toward the needs of small businesses. Requiring no special accounting knowledge, it provides a quick overview of your owed and paid tax. Your transactions are automatically recorded into the correct accounts, with all accounting data from the subledgers automatically transferred into the general ledger.

Skynova accounting lets you invoice your clients simply, customizing the look of invoices with your own logo and perhaps including a personalized note. You can simply send the invoice with a couple of clicks (no need to open the email software) and see when the invoice is opened and read.

Sending electronic invoices is faster, easier, and more professional than writing out and delivering invoices at the end of a dog walk. If you're quoting services to a potential client - for special dog training, for instance - Skynova also has a free template for that.

How to Unleash Your Dog Walking Services

Walking dogs might be a labor of love but, as a business, it will come with labor pains during its launch. You need a lot of hustle and upfront planning so that you're prepared for any challenges that may arise - whether it's finding competitive pricing for your services or deciding how to legally set up your business.

During this time and during the running of your business, you may find that Skynova can help. We offer a series of online software modules designed for the needs of small business owners. Whether you want to send recurring invoices to your regular clients, need to upload receipts and match them with expenses in our accounting software, or arrange to land work and get paid faster with a series of business templates, Skynova's software products may prove to be your real best friend.