From Dog Lover to Business Owner: How to Succeed in a Dog Care BusinessWritten by Alla on June 08, 2016
Are you a real pet lover, and are dogs your favorites? Then you’re probably already in the club with millions of other dog fans!
According to CAROdog.eu, there are around 223 million owned dogs around the world, with 77.8 million of them living in the US alone, and 6.4 million in Canada. That’s a lot of dogs!
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As for Europe, the UK is the #1 dog loving and owning country with 8.5 million dogs, followed by Poland with 7.56 million.
When I was nine years old, I would ask my parents every day to buy me a dog. Nothing stopped me. Neither going for long walks in crappy weather, nor sharing my not so large room with a pet.
And what’s not to love about them? Dogs are loyal, they’re always happy to see you, protect you, help you lose weight, save your love life and are your best friends, be your snuggle buddies, children, and even therapists.
If you enjoy taking care of them, why not consider turning all that love into a successful business?
By the way, I’ve heard many times that building your career based on your hobby is half-way to success. If you’re passionate and persistent, you’ll succeed for sure. Make sure to look through my suggestions when starting your dog care business.
The dog care business – what’s it about?
Basically, a dog care business is analogical to childcare: it may contain anything related to taking care of the baby, or the dog at this point. As there are various options for children, they vary for dogs as well, and might include, or mix, the following:
- Dog walking – walking, jogging, playing with the dog(s) outside. It’s probably the most popular option because it needs the least amount of experience and qualifications;
- Dog boarding – dropping off the dog at the ‘sitter‘s’ home and letting it socialize with other pets for a couple of days;
- Dog day care – like kindergarten for children, a day care is something in the middle between walking and boarding (while the owners are away running errands);
- Dog sitting – having someone coming over to the owner’s house to take care of the dog: may include walking, playing, treating;
- Dog grooming – washing, trimming, brushing, styling the dog‘s hair, cutting nails, brushing teeth, etc;
- Vacation care – usually the ‘pet hotels’ where one can take care of the dog when the owners are not in town;
- Organizing of special events – dog playtime, fun events, etc.
Some specialists also offer psychological help for the correction of the dog’s behavior, its basic treatment and care.
The market need: Does anyone need dog care businesses?
Yes! People need their dogs to be taken care of, because they want the best for their dogs. They feel guilty that their friends are all alone all day long, missing and waiting for them.
Besides loneliness being harmful to the dog’s psychological condition, possibly leading to depression and even physical complications, it may also cause some damage within the home interior.
In addition to that, the owners might not always have the time to bathe and comb their dog‘s hair on a regular basis, brush its teeth a couple of times a week, or simply keep it active and energized.
Business opportunity: Can you really make money walking dogs?
Yes, you can definitely make money! The dog care business is on the rise and still needs people willing to work part- or full-time.
In the UK, professional walkers earn approximately £64,000 a year, with the hourly rate varying from £10 to £20 in London.
Of course, the income depends on the geographical region you live in, but these numbers look impressive!
Market size of the dog care business industry
To evaluate your future market size, you have to calculate how much people are spending on their favorite pet in your area.
For example, in the US, basic annual expenses for one dog are around $1,249 excluding food and vitamins, with those numbers growing each year, totaling $5.41 billion in pet services like grooming and boarding alone.
The entire amount of expenses is expected to reach $62.75 billion in 2016.
According to the Huffington Post, the real expenses of owning a dog are close to $2,858 in the first year, so the total annual expenses are even higher!
So how do you start a dog care business?
To start a dog care business, you need to know what to expect and what to be ready for. To begin with, try watching this tutorial from an experienced business owner.
Are you qualified for the dog care business?
To know, if you are qualified for the dog care business you need to get real first.
The truth is, not everyone can do it (otherwise, all those millions of dog owners would be in this business).
It’s not just swooning and kissing all day (only some part of the day maybe though).
Dog care is hard work, which requires some qualifications. And besides the basics – loving dogs, being friendly and able to easily connect with dogs and their owners – you must have a set of skills to fill in this job.
Skills needed to be a dog care business owner:
- Good concentration, reaction and coordination
- No allergies or other health issues
At first, you have to be patient:
“…when walking four or more dogs at a time, patience is a must. Don’t even get me started on the “accidents” in the house,” says Wendy Newell, an experienced dog walker with background in sales.
Then, you need to have excellent concentration, reaction and coordination – managing an active bunch of playful doggies is quite a challenge!
No dog allergies, or any kind of seasonal allergies – you‘ll have to spend a lot of time outside. You should also consider obtaining the necessary shots before working with dogs.
Checked the list of skills needed to become a dog care business owner? Ticked all boxes?
Then start planning and analyzing your customers, market, and what you can do for them. You can do this by asking yourself a few questions.
Planning your dog care business
1. Who are your customers?
A typical dog care business customer is a busy dog lover who wants a dog to have fun during his or her absence.
2. Who are your competitors?
To get to know your competition in the dog care business, you need to find out how many similar businesses are in your area, what they do, how they promote themselves, who their major customers are and who the leaders in this market are.
You might know them if you are a dog owner yourself. Or you might know some people in your neighborhood who use their services.
Also, you might want to look into ads in local groups on Craigslist, Facebook or any other local websites and directories.
Not all of your competitors might be active online, so you might want to check the near-by parks and dog playgrounds as well.
3. What are the challenges?
Being an owner of a dog care business is tough. If you want to be successful you can’t offer exactly the same service as your competitors.
Otherwise, why would a customer choose you if they are already happy with their current service?
That‘s why, after analyzing your competition, you should come up with something that can distinguish you from the rest.
Decide what kind of services you‘ll offer. They can range from special walks at 6 am, to hiking and jogging late at night. It’s completely up to you.
4. What’s your business plan?
First, let’s define what a business plan is.
Your business plan is essentially your answers to a comprehensive list of questions. The most important questions are: where do you want your business to go, and what do you want your business to look like in three, five or 10 years? What level of revenues and profits do you have at that time? How many employees? How many locations? And so on.
A business plan can really help you understand your industry. It can guide you through the steps that are needed to take to build a successful company.
Also, don’t forget to come up with a cool name for your company. A catchy title is a huge bonus for a business because:
- your dog business will stand out of the crowd,
- people will remember it quickly,
- when it comes to taking care of their pets, you’ll be the first they’ll recall,
- you can make cool t-shirts with the fun name!
When the initial planning is over, take care of the required paperwork to start your business.
5. What is the necessary paperwork for a dog care business?
Licenses and permits
Whether you need a license or a permit depends on the country, state and region you live in.
For example, it‘s not necessary in the US to get a license for grooming. It‘s most likely though that you‘ll need to get a business license if you open a dog care facility.
Americans can check whether they need a license in their state here.
Certification and training
Even if special certification and training are not required legally, getting both is highly appreciated by your clients.
Besides, you‘ll learn a lot of things about your business, make new contacts and get advice about running a dog care business.
A lot of companies provide this kind of certification, and as for the dog sitting business, one of the most famous is Pet Sitters International.
Insurance for your dog care businesses
There are special insurance offers for dog care businesses. They aren’t very expensive (from $200 / £120 per year).
It’s definitely worth getting insured because accidents do happen, and it can be very expensive if you’re not covered.
Just take the example of the Virginia dog owner whose puppy swallowed corn on the cob and needed to get medical attention. Without insurance, it would’ve cost $3600 just to remove it and fix the puppy.
You can compare plans and prices for the US here and for the UK here.
Creating and signing a contract
Besides getting business insurance, it‘s highly recommended to create a contract that protects you and your business in unexpected situations with clients.
Dog care contracts, sometimes called dog care service agreements, should specify the services to be provided, restrictions, dog needs and anything else you think that‘s worth mentioning.
The contract is a legal document; therefore, it‘s important to have one. It even makes sense to get the contract reviewed by a legal advisor to make sure everything is in line with the state and country laws.
When preparing a dog care contract include the following information:
- Rules. Indicate the pet owner’s rules if you take care of the dog in your client’s house, or if you need to visit the house in order to pick up the dog. Do not be afraid to mention whether or not you can visit the toilet, which rooms, tools and appliances, etc.
- Services provided. Each service you’ll be providing, whether it‘s feeding or playing with a dog, should be included in the contract section. Also, add the frequency of visits and services that will be helpful when generating a quote and/or invoice later.
- Dog routine. All dogs are different, and you should ask the owner as many questions as possible to get all the necessary information about the dog’s routine: feeding, play, sleep time, favorite toys, personal preferences and so on.
- Dog medical history. You should know about any special condition that a dog has and see the passport and vaccination certificate.
- Pricing and payment options. The rates for your services should be clearly indicated. If you want to receive a deposit, you have to specify it in this section. Note how you want to get paid: cash, bank transfer, or credit card? Specify when the payments have to be made and sign up for online invoicing software to track your clients’ payments and manage your expenses.
After the paperwork stage, it’s time to buy a few things and promote your dog care business!
6. Get the first supplies for your dog care business
Once you’re sure that you want to start a dog care business, you need to get the first supplies for it. Feel free to fill up your shelves with dog food, treats, toys, shampoos, brushes and water bowls. You’ll probably need various sizes of soft beds for dogs too.
Do not forget to fill in the First Aid Kit – accidents happen, and you should be ready for them.
Most common dog accidents include bites, broken bones, gastrointestinal problems, ripped toenails and eye problems.
In order to deal with these emergencies your Dog First Aid Kit should always contain the following items:
- rubber gloves
- hand sanitizer and hand wipes
- dressings and bandages
- tablespoon for measuring
- tweezers and scissors
- hydrogen peroxide 3%
- tasty dog food and corn syrup
- triple antibiotic ointment.
7. Promote your dog care business
Promotion of your dog care business is a huge part of your business that needs to be planned properly.
Word-of-mouth marketing (your clients, friends, family, and neighbors sharing about your business with others) is an essential tool without a doubt.
But to reach more clients, you‘ll need to become visible online and offline as well.
You don’t have to spend millions, of course. You can start with the steps below, and most of them are free or cost very little:
- Create pages on social media (whichever are more popular in your area – Facebook is a good place to start)
- Advertise on local service websites
- Print and distribute flyers through the mail, at veterinary clinics, or in parks
- Create a website or a blog
- Invest in business cards to share your contacts and build personal relationships
This list is just a suggestion. There are endless ways to promote your dog care business! For example, you might know a cleaning lady or a lawn mower who you can ask to recommend your business to her customers with dogs.
Growing your dog care business
1. Build your reputation
Building a reputation is vital for any kind of business. No dog owner will ever let you look after their dogs if you are not trustworthy and have a bad reputation in business.
2. Listen to your client feedback
Listening to feedback always gives you the information from the primary source. Value both the criticism and the good feedback.
It‘s the best way to come up with new ideas and improve the things you do.
3. Take care of your clients, especially the loyal ones
All of your clients are special and valuable. Taking care of them should be your pleasure. So make them feel that way!
Appreciate those who stay with you, because loyalty is the key to success in this type of business.
Treat your customers like your family. Your clients will let you in their house, so be responsible not only for the dogs but also for the safety of the house.
You can apply an example of the Wet Nose Waggy Tail pet care business owners:
“For the security of your property, and at the request of our customers, none of our vehicles are sign written so people will not know you are away on holiday or out at work.”
4. Give your clients a heads up on what’s going on in the neighborhood
If you are an expert in what you do, you can share some information and give your customers advice.
As you spend a lot of time with different dogs, it gives you a better perspective and more insights on what’s going on in the community.
5. Take care of your health
Your health is essential for your business, and taking care of it is a very serious matter. There are some ‘professional’ injuries, like wrist and foot sprains, so be prepared to deal with them too.
6. Hire help if you feel that you can’t handle it alone
You might feel overwhelmed and always rushed – this probably means it’s time to hire some help.
Letting someone else into your business can be a tough challenge – trusting another person can be hard at the beginning.
You can try hiring someone from your family. Who knows, it might become a family business one day, like the one in Canada that‘s owned by the third generation already and has grown into the most prestigious dog care business in Toronto.
To sum up everything:
- you can start a variety of dog care businesses, from dog walking to psychological help for doggies;
- people do often need someone else to take care of their dogs, because neglecting them can lead to depression in their pets;
- it‘s profitable – in the UK professional walkers can earn up to £64,000 a year;
- to be in this business, you have to be patient, have excellent concentration, reaction and coordination, preferably have no dog allergies, or any kind of seasonal allergies (or know how to fight them), be overall healthy, and have all the necessary shots;
- answer these questions before starting: who is your customer, what is your competition, and what can you offer?
- have the necessary paperwork: obtain licenses and permits, certification and trainings, insurance, sign contracts with your clients;
- when you get started: get supplies, gear up with your first aid kit, start promotion;
- when established: build your reputation, carefully listen to the feedback, take care of your clients (especially the loyal ones), and hire help if you feel that it‘s time.
If you’re sure that you love dogs enough to start your own dog care business, then I wish you all the best!
Or do you already have a similar business and want to share your feedback? Feel free to leave a comment below.