How to start a pet sitting and dog walking business
The pet industry is valued at $100 billion dollars and is expected to triple by 2030, thanks to the popularity of pet ownership and favorable demographics. A recent survey found that almost two-thirds of 18-to-34-year-olds plan to get a pet in the next five years.
It’s not surprising then that the average household spending on pet products and services is expected to grow from $980 in 2020 to $1,292 by 2025 and reach $1,909 by 2030. Moreover, doggy daycares are also seeing growth in the percentage of owners who use them daily — from 22% in 2021 to 28% in 2022.
If you love animals and have an entrepreneurial spirit, a pet sitting and dog walking business can be a rewarding venture.
If you’re interested in getting into either or both businesses, here are the key steps to getting started.
Write your business plan for your pet sitting and dog walking business
To ensure your pet sitting or dog walking business is a success, you need a business plan. A well-thought-out plan can guide your strategy, identify risks, and help you secure funding to expand and grow your business.
Here’s a suggested outline for your pet sitting and dog walking business plan:
- Executive summary: A brief overview of your business and why it will be successful.
- Company description: Include detailed information about your business and explain your competitive advantages. For example, what types of pets will you care for? Will you accommodate big and small pets? Will you focus on a particular niche, such as extended stay or day boarding only? If you offer dog walking services, can you also offer in-home care at the owner’s residence? You may also consider add-on services such as grooming, training, and boutique pet gifts and supplies.
- Organization and management: Outline how your company will be structured and who will run it. For example, will it be a partnership, LLC, S-Corporation? Who will be responsible for day-to-day management?
- Market analysis: What is the industry outlook? Who are your target customers? What competition are you up against? How will you compete against other pet service providers in your area?
- Financial plan: Include a description of your funding requirements, your detailed financial statements, a financial statement analysis, and your profit and loss projections for the next five years.
- Marketing strategy: Outline your strategies for reaching the right people, communicating your value differentiator(s), and selling your services.
Pick a business structure
Your choice of business structure — whether it’s a limited liability company (LLC), corporation, or partnership –— will impact your daily operations, taxes, and the amount of risk you’re willing to take with your personal assets. Choose a structure that balances legal protections and benefits.
The four most common are:
- Sole proprietorship: This means that the business is owned and run by one person with no legal distinction between the owner and the business.
- General partnership: A general partnership is the simplest variety of partnerships and is created automatically when two or more persons engage in a business enterprise for profit. No state filing is required.
- Limited liability company (LLC): This is one of the most popular forms of business entity for small businesses. An LLC offers limited liability protection (shielding your personal assets by protecting them from debts and liabilities associated with the company) and pass-through taxation.
- Corporation: A corporation is a separate legal entity owned by its shareholders, thereby protecting owners from personal liability for corporate debts and obligations.
For more information on business entity structures, read Comparing company types.
Choose a business name
Naming your pet sitting and dog walking business may not be as simple as it seems. When selecting a name, try to make the name short, easy to remember, descriptive of the business, and capable of drawing attention. Depending on the business form you choose, you may have to register and/or receive approval from the local or state government where your business is formed.
For more information on naming rules for different entity types, read Naming your startup business.
Register your business
You may also need to register your new company with your state and/or local government.
To do this, LLCs, corporations, and general partnerships must register (online or through the mail) with the Secretary of State or business agency where they conduct business.
Importantly, if you choose to operate your business under a name other than your personal name (even if you are a sole proprietor), you will need to register that business name with state and/or local governments a process known as filing a “doing business as” (DBA) name.
Get federal and state tax IDs
Before you can pay business taxes, you may need to register your business with the IRS and obtain an employee identification number (EIN). An EIN is the equivalent of a social security number for your business and is required on your state and federal tax filings. (Note: If you’re a sole proprietor without employees, then you don’t need an EIN. Instead, you will file your taxes using your social security number.)
An EIN is also needed to open a business bank account and ensure the separation of your business and personal finances.
You may also require a state tax ID. Typically, you’ll need to get an EIN before you apply for your state tax ID. Check with your state or a business lawyer, as the process will vary by state.
Open a business bank account and credit card
A business bank account and credit card keep your personal and business transactions separate and afford certain legal protections. For example, if you operate your pet sitting and dog walking business as an LLC or corporation, maintaining a business bank account helps you maintain liability protection and the security of your personal assets in the event your business is sued or found liable.
A bank account and credit card also help build business credit — something that suppliers and vendors will verify before transacting business with you. For this reason, consider opening your business accounts as soon as you start incurring business expenses or accepting money.
License and permit requirements for a pet sitting and dog walking business
Most businesses need some form of license or permit to operate. These can vary by business type, location, and regulations.
Here is a list of the typical business licenses you may require:
- Basic business operation license: This is a license from the city in which your business will operate, or from the local county (if the business will be operated outside of the city's legal boundaries).
- Home occupation permit: Your local government may require this permit if it considers your business a legal home-based occupation.
- Local permit: Some cities require permits for commercial dog walking and small animal boarding.
- Sales tax license/sellers permit/resellers permit: This license/permit has many names and those names vary by state, but it is required for the selling of almost all products and services.
Also check your local zoning laws. These will regulate whether you can sit pets in your home. If you rent or lease, also refer to your rental agreement. Most laws and leases allow you to keep pets in your home, but they may limit the number of pets being cared for at one time.
Insurance requirements for pet sitting and dog walking business
Since you are working with live animals and engaging in physical activity, insurance is a must and is available for pet-related businesses. In addition, you will need to obtain general liability insurance to protect you against injury to your clients’ pets or damage to other people or property.
If you operate out of a home or building, you may also need insurance to cover the property.
Lastly, if you have employees, depending on the state in which you operate, you may need to have workers’ compensation insurance.
A fidelity bond will protect you against any loss that results from dishonest acts by your dog walking staff. A bond is often needed to obtain most business permits.
Have a pet care contract
Establish a services agreement that clearly outlines the services your business provides, fees, limitations and liabilities, and other information that your clients must understand and agree to.
Consider joining a professional organization
Professional organizations — such as Pet Sitters International and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters — may provide benefits such as certification, group rates on insurance and bonding, business tools, networking opportunities, and more.
Hire professional staff
Your clients will expect your staff to demonstrate care and affinity for their pets, basic animal first aid, and the ability to control difficult pets. They must also be trustworthy.
Use background checks before you hire sitters or walkers. While you may not be able to share this data with clients, demonstrating that you have verified your staff is often necessary for your business.
Market your business
Think about how you will get the word out about your pet sitting and dog walking business. Here are some tips:
- Launch a website: Create a website that is optimized for search engines, this will ensure your business ranks high when someone searches for a local pet sitter or dog walking company. Use key search words and phrases in your body copy, headers, and metadata. Finally, be sure your website is designed with desktop and mobile users in mind and make it easy for anyone to book your services. Read Top 3 tips for building a company website.
- Create social media and review site profiles: Set up business pages and accounts on Facebook, Yelp, Instagram, Google my Business, and Twitter. Ask customers to tag you and their pets in their pictures and post reviews. Regularly post updates, news, and specials.
- Get in touch with like-minded businesses: Send emails introducing yourself to local pet businesses. Drop by your nearby pet store or veterinary clinic and explain who you are and the service you’re offering.
- Foster customer loyalty: Use email newsletters and offers to keep in touch with customers. Include incentives for repeat customers or create a reward program.
Frequently asked questions for a pet sitting and dog walking business
How much does it cost to open a pet sitting and dog walking business?
A pet sitting and dog walking business can start out with very little overhead, often no more than $500 in costs for basics such as a website and online booking system. But to truly build a robust and professional business, additional investment is needed. This can include investing in properly establishing your business, frequent training and education, and protecting your business and your clients with bonds and insurance.
What are ongoing expenses for a pet sitting and dog walking business?
In addition to upfront costs, like license fees, your ongoing expenses will include:
- Rent or mortgage payments
- Business registration
- Business taxes
- Wages and benefits
- Marketing and advertising
- Appointment and invoice tracking
- Business supplies
- Pet supplies (leashes, poop bags, treats)
- Background checks
- Training and certifications
Is a pet sitting and dog walking business profitable?
How profitable your business can be depends on several variables. These include the number of dogs you care for, the competition in your area, how many employees you have and what you pay them, as well as fixed and variable costs such as rent, supplies, and insurance.
A simple formula can determine profitability: Revenue – variable costs – fixed costs = profit.
How much should you charge?
According to a recent Pet Sitters International survey, the average fee for a 30-minute pet sitting visit is $20.71. Look to your expenses and the competition to determine what you should charge.
If you live in an area with a high population of pets with very little competition, you can likely command a higher market share and charge a higher rate.
Being an entrepreneur is about embracing the uncomfortable and pushing into the crazy. There is no right answer to starting a pet sitting and dog walking business and it's not always "all or nothing". Work hard, do your research, and fill a need, that's how you'll find success.
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