12 Steps to Starting a Dog Walking and Pet Sitting Business
If you want to start your own dog walking company, this article covers all the steps to take to get started. Luckily starting a dog walking and pet sitting business is easier than ever because so many resources are available to this established industry. Along with following the steps in this article, I recommend getting coaching and reaching out to other pet sitters in other towns to ask for advice early in the process.
Experienced pet sitters tend to be very willing to help one another and getting good advice early in your business can save you months or even years of frustration.
If you haven’t read our article about how to become a dog walker, be sure to check it out for tips for other ways you can work as a professional dog walker or pet sitter without having to start the company yourself. Check out that article, here:
How to Start Your Own Dog Walking Company
While every dog walking start-up is 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
- 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
- Create a website
- Obtain pet sitting liability insurance and bonding
- Advertise your services
This article covers some technical and legal aspects of starting a business. You should always seek the advice of a licensed professional in your state or region to answer questions specific to your situation. If anything in this article sounds like legal advice, it’s not. If anything in this article sounds like financial advice, it’s not. This is for your education only.
With that out of the way, let’s get started.
Gain Relevant Industry Knowledge and Experience
If you are new to pet care it can be helpful to take a few courses and volunteer at your local shelter to gain experience and get caught up with the current state of the dog walking industry. Here are the ones I recommend:
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
Get a Dog Walking and Pet Sitting Certification
Getting a dog walking and pet sitting certification is the best thing you can do to learn how to be a professional dog walker.
Certifications will teach you the ins and outs of caring for a pet in the client’s home and will set you apart from the competition when you are taking on clients or looking for a job at an established dog walking company.
Pet sitting certifications are offered through a number of organizations. The best and most affordable certificates are offered by:
PetSitterCourse.com This 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 everything from what questions to ask at the meet & greet, to how to handle keys, to how to do the actual visits. The more advanced courses will even teach you how to interview and hire staff.
NAPPS Certification The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) has been an industry leader since 1989. NAPPS is committed to supporting their members through education, resources to build a successful business, and certification. The NAPPS Certification covers a broad range of knowledge related to professional pet sitting.
PSI Certification The Pet Sitters International (PSI) Certification is one of the most common certifications for pet sitters. While their website states having the only knowledge-assessed exam for professional pet sitters, knowledge-based exams are available through both the NAPPS and PetSitterCourse.com certifications. Although the PSI certification is exam only and does not require coursework to be certified, PSI does offer a number of industry leading online courses for pet sitters.
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.
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
- 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. You may want to consider getting professional legal advice when choosing your company name because trademark rules can be complicated. A local Small Business Development Center may offer free advice and low cost classes.
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
I recommend getting a few example contracts and combining them into one that works for you. Also, it’s important to note that a service agreement and a contract are basically the same thing. If you are not sure what should be in your contract, be sure to get advice from a lawyer.
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. An HR professional will guide you through all of the regulations you need to know to make sure you are in compliance with employment laws in your area. While a CPA will know the basics, an HR professional will be able to answer your questions about any employment laws. If you have trouble finding an HR professional in your area, I recommend reaching out to SimplyHR. Their getting started guide is what I used to hire my first employees.
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.
I would love to know more about how companies are structured outside of the US. If you have advice for how to structure a dog walking business outside of the US, please leave a comment below.
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 cloud based software makes life much easier. Two of the most common dog walking and pet sitting systems are:
If you decide to use dog walking software, try out a free demo and choose one that suits you. Remember, no CRM 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
I started off only accepting checks, cash, paypal, and a square to take payments. I later wanted a better way to accept credit card payments.
Taking credit card payments through your online scheduling system can help you get more clients and legitimize your business. To take credit card payments through your pet sitting software you will need:
- A merchant account: This handles the actual transaction and movement of the money
- And a payment gateway: This allows you to connect payments to your pet sitting software
I use First Data for a merchant account because I got my rate down to 2.3% per transaction. (I applied and negotiated with a local bank). I use Authorize.net as a payment gateway because it’s pretty much the industry standard in the US.
Another option for payments is an Automatic Clearing House (ACH) payment. ACH payments have the benefit of a very low fee per transaction. The downside is that there is no fraud protection for your clients. So, some clients see ACH payments as a risk.
However, if you can convince your clients to enter their checking account number and routing number into your pet sitting software, ACH payments are great way to save money by avoiding all of those credit card fees.
Here are a couple articles that explain how to connect payments to pet sitting software:
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. It’s also important not to “commingle” your personal and business assets.
I set up a business account with a local credit union. A business bank account is very similar to a personal bank account, except it is linked to a business’s EIN number rather than an individual’s social security number.
Again, I’m sure this is different outside of the US. If you have advice for those outside of the US, please comment below!
Decide If You Will Hire Staff
I was a solo sitter for the first two years I was in business. Then I hired my first employee. You can make more money if you do all of the work yourself, but after a while, it’s easy to get burnt out if you haven’t had a day off in a couple of years.
Personally I think having staff is important to the long term success of any dog walking or pet sitting business. Also, many clients look for dog walking companies that have a team, that way you are sure to always have backup in the case of an emergency.
In the past it was more difficult to hire staff, but if you use the resources on our website, PetSitterCourse.com you can save years of training development and get started with a huge head start. You can use the online training and have the new sitter shadow you or another experienced sitter for the first few weeks they are on board.
Employees VS Independent Contractors
There is a lot of debate about whether staff should be Employees or Independent Contractors. In the industry they are often referred to as EEs or ICs. If you are not sure if you should go with EEs or ICs, be sure to reach out to a CPA and / or a HR Professional in your area
Here are some of the high points of each style of staff member:
- You pay half of their payroll taxes
- They get a W-2
- You will need to pay for worker’s compensation insurance
- A growing number of states require them to be paid at least minimum wage even if they are sleeping at a job (Think overnight visits)
- You can provide supplies
- You can train them and dictate how they do their job
- You will need a payroll service (or file payroll tax forms yourself)
- You need an employee handbook
- You can set a lot of ground rules around your service
- They pay all of their own income taxes, at the end of the year on their own tax return
- They get a 1099
- They do not get worker’s compensation insurance
- They provide their own supplies and tools
- You can require them to maintain relevant certifications, such as Pet First Aid or Pet Sitting Certification
- You can not train them yourself or dictate how they do the job.
- You can require them to offer service in a way that your clients expect from your company (For example, you could require a picture message update from every visit)
- Generally they should have their own LLC and business insurance (Check with your CPA in your state)
- They can work for multiple companies
Personally I chose to go with EEs because I needed to be able to train our team so we could develop our online course. I also liked that I could require everyone to follow the same processes all the time.
If you want to go with ICs, remember you can require an IC to maintain a certification, and PetSitterCourse.com is the perfect training program to teach anyone how to be a professional dog walker or pet sitter.
Just remember if you ever miss-classify an employee as an independent contractor and the tax authorities in your country find out about it, you will owe all of the back payroll taxes. This can be thousands of dollars and this is one thing that can bring a company down.
Create a website
Your website will be one of your most valuable assets. While we do get a good number of clients from word of mouth, by far we get the most leads from our website. After six years of being in business, we get 2-3 new leads every day from our website. Companies that have been in business longer than us report they get 3-6 new leads per day from their website.
If you want to hire someone to do your website, I recommend contacting Barketing Solutions. They will set you up with a professional website that brings in new clients.
If you want to build a website yourself, but don’t have much experience building websites, Squarespace is a great place to start.
If you are interested in tech and want total control over every aspect of your website, try using:
- WordPress – website software (installed on your host)
- Siteground – Host
- Elementor – Website builder
- Astra – Theme (makes the site “look good” on both desktop and mobile)
Be sure to check out our article that covers which pages you should have on your pet sitting website so it will rank well on Google and our article about marketing tips for dog walkers:
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 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 both banner ads and text ads to in-market users 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!