Earlier this year the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association (PFMA) released its 2022 list of pet ownership by household. With an estimated 62% of UK households currently owning some kind of pet and 13 million of those being dog owners, there is an increased demand for dog walkers. This is especially true as Covid restrictions have ended and people are gradually moving back to office-based work, at least some of the week.
There has never been a better time to take the plunge into dog walking. Here we will take you through sourcing supplies, pricing, advertising solutions and insurance options so you can have everything in place to make your new business a success.
Supplies and equipment
There are a few basic supplies you will need to budget for first and then as the business grows you may find you need to invest in some of the larger business purchases.
Dog waste bags, can be purchased from around £7 for 250 to £20 for 1,000, or with so many more environmentally friendly options now, £15 for 500 biodegradable bags.
Couples adapters, allowing two dogs to be walked on a single lead – around £6 each.
Dog toys – around £1 each for the basic tennis ball style, to £15 each for water-resistant, extra-durable balls.
Dog ‘poop scoops’ – £1 each for a plastic shovel to around £25 for a telescopic scoop with integrated disposal bags.
A first-aid kit suitable for dogs, costing from around £15. For an example of a suitable kit, go to www.petsathome.com/shop/en/pets/dog/dog/dog-first-aid/first-aid-box-for-pets.
Specially converted van with built-in caging and additional air-conditioning, available from suppliers such as Vantastec (www.vantastec.co.uk/van-conversion/dog-van-conversion).
Prices for used dog transport vans advertised on eBay typically range between around £3,000 and £13,000 (www.ebay.co.uk/b/Dog-Transit-in-Commercial-Vans-Pickups/122202/bn_7023057022?rt=nc&_sop=12).
Cages or dividers for vehicles purchased separately to convert your current vehicle to carry dog safely cost between £40 and £150, depending on the size and specification. For examples of dog cage suppliers, go to https://www.petz.uk/best-dog-car-crate/ and https://www.doggiesolutions.co.uk/collections/dog-crates-1.
Pricing and VAT
Dog walkers charge different prices depending on the breed and size of their dogs, their location, and the level of demand and competition in their local area.
Dog walkers typically charge between £7.50 and £15 per dog for a small group walk lasting around 45 minutes to an hour and from around £15 to £25 for solo dog walking. You may want to incorporate discounts for walking two or more dogs from the same household or for anyone who requires their dogs walked five days a week.
Although dog walkers who walk a number of dogs at a time can earn a significant hourly income, NarpsUK (pet sitting association) recommends that its members walk no more than four dogs at any one time. In some cases, this may also be a condition of local authority by-laws.
Dog walkers may need to apply a mileage charge for collecting and dropping off dogs outside a certain radius. Some also charge an additional fee for services such as drying the dog after the walk, feeding the dog and changing its water.
Dog walking is standard-rated for VAT and business owners must register for VAT once their turnover reaches the mandatory threshold. Our blog on VAT can give you more details about registering for VAT see Why you should and shouldn’t register for VAT
Promoting the business
When promoting your business keep in mind who your future clients are. On what social media platforms are you likely to find your future clients. Use this knowledge as the basis for your advertising.
Creating a short video about the dog-walking service, uploading it onto online video-sharing websites such as YouTube and including a link back to the dog walker’s website. Go to www.youtube.com and enter ‘dog-walking service UK’ in the search box for examples of other dog walkers doing this.
Asking for customers’ consent to upload photographs of their dogs’ walks onto photo-sharing websites such as Instagram and Pinterest. Go to www.pinterest.co.uk/ideas/ and enter ‘dog-walking service UK’ for examples of dog walkers doing this.
Creating a Facebook business page. Go to www.facebook.com/business for further information about how to use Facebook for business promotion.
Listing in specialist directories such as:
Dog Walker Directory which provides a free basic listing.
Forwalks.co.uk which charges £15 for a 12-month listing and £45 for a five-year listing.
The UK Pet Directory which provides a free basic listing and charges £6, £12 and £24 for an annual bronze, silver or gold listing respectively.
Pet-Pages which provides a free basic bronze listing and charges £20 per year for a silver listing and £40 per year for a gold listing.
Registering with online communities that enable dog owners to search for dog walkers and book dog-walking services. Communities usually charge a monthly fee and/or take commission for bookings made via their websites. Three examples include:
Building contacts with other local pet care services, including vets, boarding kennels, animal shelters, breeders, pet shops and dog trainers.
Exhibiting at local and national dog shows and exhibitions to promote the dog walker’s service and network with other dog care professionals.
Using livery with their business name, logo and contact details on business vehicles.
Offering a loyalty card with discounts for regular customers to encourage repeat business.
Advertising in local newspapers and magazines. Advertising rates for local circulation paid-for and free newspapers are charged by column centimetre. Costs for a classified advertisement typically range from £5 to £10 per column centimetre.
Using Google My Business (www.google.com/business) to edit and update the information about their business that appears in Google search results and Google Maps. Google My Business also enables dog walkers to respond to customer reviews.
Adding their details to Apple Maps, which enables potential customers to find dog walkers near to them using their Apple devices, such as iPhones, tablets and smart watches. Go to https://mapsconnect.apple.com for more information.
Dog walkers require various types of insurance cover:
Public liability insurance, which covers a dog walker against claims for compensation from customers and members of the public who are injured or adversely affected because of their activities.
Indemnity insurance for dog walkers, which covers them against claims for violations of the GDPR and the Data Protection Act of 2018.
A ‘care, custody and control of animals’ policy, which provides cover against claims for compensation from customers whose dogs are injured or lost while in the dog walker’s care.
Legal expenses insurance, which covers a dog walker against claims for defending or pursuing disputes with customers or suppliers, or to defend employment tribunal cases.
An insurance policy that covers the cost of changing a lock if a dog walker loses keys.
Income protection insurance, which will pay an income if a dog walker is unable to work because of sickness or injury.
Cover for use of any vehicles for business purposes, which must include a minimum of third-party cover.
Employers’ liability insurance, which is mandatory as soon as the dog walker employs staff.
Members of NarpsUK benefit from discounted rates from Pet Business Insurance, which is NarpsUK’s preferred supplier (www.narpsuk.co.uk/static/pet-sitters-insurance).
Other trends to be aware of
A criminal record check (sometimes known as a ‘disclosure’ or DBS check) is often required by pet owners, trade groups and licensing authorities in order to prove that a person is suitable to care for pets or to operate a dog walking service. The National Association of Pet Sitters & Dog Walkers (NarpsUK) requires its members who hold customers’ house keys to have a criminal record check.
BorrowMyDoggy and similar websites may reduce demand for dog-walking services. The website connects dog owners with dog lovers who are unable to own a dog, for example due to living arrangements, but would like to spend time with them. ‘Borrowers’ take a pledge to look after dogs responsibly and not profit from the borrowing.
Dog-walking franchises provide both opportunities and competition for dog walkers. Examples of dog-walking franchises include The Dog Walker (www.the-dogwalker.co.uk), which requires an initial investment of £15,000 (excluding VAT), and Walk my Dog (www.walkmydog.co.uk/franchise), which provides details of the initial investment required on request.
Dog walkers face competition from house and pet sitters, who either stay in their customers’ homes or visit the customers’ pets once or twice a day to walk and feed them. Go to www.housesittersuk.co.uk and www.trustedhousesitters.com for examples of services that connect house and pet sitters with pet owners.
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