How to Start a Dog Walking & Pet Sitting Business
If you want to start your own dog walking company, this article covers all the steps to take to get started. Starting and growing a successful dog walking and pet sitting business will certainly be challenging at times however today it’s easier than ever to get started because so many resources are available to this established industry.
Along with following the steps in this article, I recommend checking out our:
The certification is the best step you can take to get started because it covers how to do the actual job and includes a complete set of policies that work as a system to ensure you are offering the highest quality pet care while also keeping the pets in your care safe.
It’s also a good idea to get personalized coaching from an experienced pet sitting business owner.
- Get personalized coaching here.
You can also get a lot of good advice by contacting other pet sitters in other towns (or even in your own town) to ask for tips. Many pet sitting business owners are very willing to help each another out. Getting good advice early in your business can save you months or even years of frustration.
Lastly, if you just want to start walking dogs or pet sitting cats, but don’t want to start your own business, there are many options for you. With the right knowledge about the industry, you can get a job at an established pet sitting business or you can also be successful by getting started on a dog walking app.
For more information about how to become a dog walker without starting your own business, read our article:
How to Start Your Own Dog Walking Company
Every dog walking startup will be a little bit different, however here are the general steps to take to get your company off the ground:
- Gain relevant industry knowledge and experience
- Shop your competition and decide on your services
- Choose a name for your business
- Get a dog walking contract / service agreement
- Get advice from business professionals
- Decide on your business entity
- Find out if you need a business license
- Decide how you will track client details and visits
- Decide how you will take payments
- Set up business bank accounts
- Decide if you will hire staff
- Purchase dog walking insurance
- Advertise your services
This article covers technical and legal aspects of starting a business. You should always seek the advice of a licensed professional, such as a Certified Public Accountant, Enrolled Tax Agent or a Licensed HR Professional to cover legal topics specific to your area.
Gain Relevant Industry Knowledge and Experience
If you are new to pet care it can be helpful to take a pet first aid course, certification course, and volunteer at your local shelter to gain experience and get caught up with the current state of the dog walking industry.
It’s also helpful to start pet sitting and dog walking for friends and family. You can also ask around to see if any of your co-workers might need pet sitting for an upcoming trip. Try to think of any other dog owners or pet owners who might be interested in having you pet sit for them and let them know you offer that service.
You can also get started by pet sitting on an app like Rover or Wag. Try to get a few visits under your belt to see if you like the work.
Take a Pet First Aid Course
Pet sitters do not need to be medical experts to be great at their job, however they do need to be able to notice any changes in a pets health and know when it’s the right time to take a pet to the vet.
As a professional pet sitter, it’s important to be prepared in the case of an emergency and know the steps to take if you need to administer emergency first aid. The first aid courses below will get you up to speed. However, as a pet sitter or dog walker, you should always seek the advice and take the direction of a veterinarian before providing any medical treatment beyond very basic first aid.
- PetTech Pet First Aid (In-person)
- ProTrainings cat and dog first aid (Online)
- See more pet first aid options our our Resources page
Volunteer at Your Local Animal Shelter
Animal shelters are always looking for volunteers. The most relevant volunteer experience for dog walkers is a Behavior and Enrichment (B&E) volunteer.
B&E volunteers are responsible for walking, clicker training, de-stressing, and providing overall care for cats and dogs in the shelter. A good B&E volunteer program at a shelter will teach you:
- How to clicker train loose leash manners
- Proper animal handling skill
- Positive reinforcement animal training
- How to work with stressed out animals
- How to stay safe when working with all types of pets
A good B&E volunteer position at a shelter is very similar to the work of a professional pet sitter and dog walker, however pet sitting and dog walking tends to be much less stressful for both the pets and for you.
Become a Certified Professional Dog Walker and Pet Sitter
Becoming a certified professional dog walker and pet sitter will help you grow your business because the best clients look for sitters who took the time to get professional training. Also, getting certified is about more than just getting a logo you can feature on your website or social media. It’s about offering the best possible pet care and keeping the pets in your care safe.
The PetSitterCourse.com Certification will teach you the hands-on knowledge you need to offer professional dog walking and pet sitting service. The self paced online course covers every detail about how to do the actual job. Such as what questions to ask at the meet & greet, how to handle keys, dog walking safety, administering medications, client communication, what to do at the visits, the best equipment to bring, and more.
This course also includes a set of proven emergency procedures, a 49 point visit checklist, an example document and policy pack, and a proven client onboarding course. The PetSitterCourse.com certification is the best value for money certification available for professional pet sitters and dog walkers and is a great first certification to get. Click here to see all of the details about this certification course and to enroll today.
There are a number of other certifications that will help you become a great pet sitter and dog walker. The following article covers the other certification courses we recommend:
Shop Your Competition and Decide on Your Services
Take a look at the other dog walking and pet sitting businesses in your area. Understand how much they charge and get a feel for their most popular services. You might even want to hire another company to care for your pets when you go on vacation so you can see exactly how they offer their services.
For more information about what services to offer and how much to charge for your pet sitting and dog walking services, click here.
Choose a Name for Your Business
Search Google for pet sitting and dog walking services in other states or even other countries. Make a list of your favorites and try to find one that is:
- Cute and memorable
- Not trademarked
- Not being used in your town already
- Has an available domain name
You can check to see if a pet sitting company name is trademarked in the US by searching the name on TESS, the Trademark Electronic Search System. Try to find a name that is not already trademarked. If a trademark is marked as “Live” it is still being used.
Search for available website names by using Uniregistry or NameCheap. If the website name you want is not available, consider adding “care” to the end of the URL. For example PawsAtHomeCare.com
Get a Dog Walking Contract / Service Agreement
There are many contracts / service agreements available from resources such as:
- PSI – Membership includes an contract
- NAPPS – Membership includes an example service agreement
- Dog Walker Startup Guide – This book includes a contract
Your contract should spell out exactly what your clients can expect from your services and exactly what you expect from your clients. This includes:
- When payments will be due
- What you include in your services
- What extra fees might be charged
- Wording that states both you and the client agree on the terms in the contract
The best way to create your contract is to get a few example contracts and combining them into one that works for you.
For more information about what should be in your pet sitting and dog walking contract, check out our article on the subject, here.
Get Advice from Business Professionals
Start building your professional team early.
- You will want the advice of a lawyer to get your contract set up in a way that protects you.
- A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) will help you understand what type of business entity is right for you. A CPA can also help you understand how to bring on employees or independent contractors in a legal way. Alternatively, an Enrolled Tax Agent (EA) can also help with these questions, and are often more affordable than a CPA.
- Good mentoring and coaching can save you years of frustration. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The path to becoming a professional dog walking is well paved. A professional coach will guide you through industry specific issues, and can be your most valuable resource. Be sure to be in contact with your local SBDC for free mentoring, just understand it’s unlikely an SBDC mentor will understand the ins and outs of operating a pet sitting agency.
- If you plan on hiring staff, look for the advice of an HR Professional. Many times payroll software like Gusto or Quickbooks Payroll will provide HR advice and even an employee handbook. See our resources page for more information about payroll software.
CPAs and Lawyers are very expensive, often $125 – $250 per hour. However, they know most small business starups cant afford that, so they help out with a free consulting to get you started.
Decide on Your Business Entity
The two most common business entities for dog walking companies are:
- LLC – Limited Liability Company
If you are not sure which to choose, you probably want to go with an LLC. In the US, filing for an LLC will get you an EIN number which is needed to set up business bank accounts and take credit card payments. An LLC also provides some liability protection. For details about an LLC talk to a CPA or an Enrolled Tax Agent (EA) in your area.
You can file your LLC through your Secretary of State (SOS), usually for $40 – $400 depending on your state. A list of all of the SOS websites for every state is available here. If you are not sure how to file an LLC in your state, go ahead and call your SOS. They will be able to offer some guidance. You do not need to pay a special service to file your LLC, unless you want legal advice before setting up your LLC.
S-Corp: If you make more than ~$45,000 (after expenses), you may want to consider converting your company to an S-Corp because there can be some tax benefits to doing so. Again, talk to a CPA to sort this out.
Decide How You Will Track Client Details and Visits
In the early days of my company I used a large desk calendar to keep track of visits. I soon found that using pet sitting specific software makes life much easier. Two of the most common dog walking and pet sitting systems are:
- Precise Pet Care – free to try for 30 days
- Time to Pet – free to try for 14 days
If you decide to use dog walking software, try out a free demo and choose one that suits you. Remember, no CRM (customer relationship management) software is perfect and it’s usually easier to change your processes to fit the software than it is for the software developers to change the software.
Also, as you set up your software, be sure to check out our article that guides you through which questions to ask on your client’s home profile and pet profiles:
Decide how you will take payments
When you first get started, you might as well keep in simple. Taking cash, checks, Paypal, and / or Square is a great way to start.
However, as you grow, you will likely want to be able to take credit cards through your online pet care software.
Taking credit card payments through your online pet care software can help you get more clients and legitimize your business.
Here are a couple articles that explain how to connect payments to pet sitting software:
- How to connect a merchant account and payment gateway using Precise Pet Care – Explainer video here
- Time to Pet – Credit Card Processing
Set Up Business Bank Accounts
It’s a good idea to keep your business cash in a separate set of bank accounts. This way you can track how much money is going in and out of your business.
You can easily set up a business bank account with a local bank in your area. Look for a bank that does not charge any extra fees and allows you to set up as many accounts as you need for free.
Decide If You Will Hire Staff
When you are first starting out, you might want to be a solo-sitter for a while and do all of the visits yourself. However, if you plan on pet sitting full time (or even part time) you will want to consider hiring staff.
If you offer pet sitting service every day of the week and try to do all of the work yourself, you run the risk of getting burnt out. Hiring staff is one of the best ways you can prevent burnout from pet sitting. If you are looking to start a company that is at all larger than a side hustle, it is highly recommended that you hire staff to help you and allow you to get days off.
There are also ways you can structure your service offerings to further reduce the chances of burnout. For more information about burnout and how to prevent it be sure to read one of our most important articles:
Hiring staff will help you get better clients because many of the best clients look for dog walking and pet sitting companies that have a team. Clients want to be sure their visits will always be covered and hiring staff ensures you always have backup if needed.
Hiring is one of the hardest parts of growing a successful pet sitting and dog walking business, however it’s one of the most important steps you can take to ensure the long term success of your business. And luckily hiring is made much easier if you use the resources offered by PetSitterCourse.com You can save years of training development and get started with a huge head start when you use the PetSitterCourse Team Training Page and the PetSitterCoures.com Hiring Course, which teaches a proven hiring and onboarding process for new staff. Lastly, here are a few helpful (and free) articles, again broght to you by PetSitterCourse.com, that will help you get started with hiring staff:
- 5 Things to Look for When Hiring Dog Walking or Pet Sitting Staff
- How Much to Pay Pet Sitting Staff
- How to Schedule Pet Sitters so Everyone Gets Two Days off Every Week
- How to Onboard New Pet Sitting Staff
- 5 Reasons Good Pet Sitters Quit
- Employees VS Independent Contractors
- The Four Main Roles in a Pet Sitting Agency
- The PetSitterCourse.com Hiring Course
Obtain Pet Sitting Liability Insurance and Bonding
Before you start offering your services you should get liability insurance and bonding. Liability insurance covers you in case anything goes wrong at a visit, such as losing, injuring, or accidentally killing a pet. Bonding covers if anything is stolen or damaged at a visit.
Here are the main companies that offer dog walking and pet sitting insurance and bonding:
I have used the Business Insurers of the Carolinas for years and they have been good to work with.
I also purchase their Non-Owned Auto insurance so I don’t have to worry about liability if a sitter gets into a car crash.
Advertise Your Services
One of the easiest ways to advertise your services is to drop off gift bag full of snacks, business cards, and information about your services to local veterinarian offices, groomers, and pet stores.
It’s also helpful to create a simple referral program. The best referral programs go something like this: “We make a $10 donation to a local animal rescue for every referral.”
Most companies will make the donation in the referring party’s name and send a note to the client who provided the referral whenever you make a donation in their name. The PetSitterCourse.com certification course includes an example referral slip you can add to your gift bag.
Hang up businss cards at local resturants and banks. Make a flyer and hang them up at local pet stores. You can even make business card magnets and tape them to poop bag dispensers in nice neighborhoods.
The main thing you need to do is raise awareness of your company.
One of the most effective ad campaigns we run is a Google Ads campaign which targets users who are in the market to book a vacation.
Google can tell when someone is researching and booking their vacation, and they can serve up ads for your company to those in-market users. We run display ads to people who are “in-market” for travel. You can read more about in-market google ads, here.
When you are getting started with Google Ads, make sure you don’t get stuck with the inefficient and more expensive Google Ads Express. You will need to call Google to activate your full Google Ads account. You can take an online course from Udemy to learn how to run your own Google Ads or outsource your Google Ads to a marketing company.
For more tips about how to market your company, check out our blog:
Starting a Pet Sitting and Dog Walking business takes time, planning, and knowledge, but remember you don’t have to do it all at once. If you spend one week to one month on each subject, you will be able to get a good start and be up and running in a few months to a year.
If you stick with it, you will be able to quit your day job and do one that you love and enjoy a career working with pets!
We covered a lot in this article. To make sure you start off on the right paw, be sure to check out the other resources available from our website here:
- 39 Resources for Professional Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers
- How to Offer 7 Day Per Week Service and Get 2 Days Off Every Week
- Simplify Your Schedule With Time Slots
Do you have more questions about how to start a dog walking business? Please comment below! I would love to hear what you have to say!