If you're in the dog walking business, you need to keep track of your furry clients, local animal control laws, and all the other rules that every small business needs to keep track of. We've put together some tips to help you deal with small business challenges that all businesses face, along with the most important rules, regulations, and "best practices" for successful dog walking businesses.
What Basic Business Requirements Should My Dog Walking Business Follow?
Before you walk a pooch for pay, decide what legal form your business will take. Even if you are operating your dog walking business as a sole proprietor, you should get a DBA (doing business as) or fictitious business name.
Fictitious business names are usually filed with your county recorder, clerk, or assessor. You'll run a name check first to make sure the name you want to use is available. If it is, you're good to file your application for a fictitious business name. Your bank will need to see the approved application to add the fictitious business name to your banking services.
You'll also need to get a business license or licenses. You can use the Small Business Administration's business license tool to find out which licenses you'll need. The type of license and where you should get it will vary depending on where you're planning to do business. A dog walking business isn't likely to need a federal license to operate, but some businesses, including fishing and agriculture, do require a federal license to operate.
You're also required to get a federal and state tax ID number. You may see this number referred to as an EIN or employer identification number. If you're operating as a sole proprietor and aren't using a fictitious business name, you can use your social security number as your EIN. If not, you'll need to request an EIN.
Once all of these steps are complete, you'll be able to open a business bank account and have the qualifications ready for business insurance, which is essential when working with dogs to ensure safety.
I've Got My Basic Business Requirements Done; What Are My Additional Dog Walker Requirements?
The first requirement for a dog walking business is one you've probably already taken care of: you should probably have a love for dogs!
You should also have training and education in working safely with canines. While it's in no means a requirement, trade and technical schools offer certificates in dog walking. You can also gain experience working at your local animal shelter or working for experienced dog walkers and trainers.
Why is training important? You'll want to be prepared for any unexpected events while you're walking your clients' precious pooches. Training will help you to anticipate any problems that could occur and show you how to handle them smoothly and safely.
What Other Dog Walking Legal Requirements and Responsibilities Do I Need to Know?
You'll be taking other people's pets out on scheduled walks in their neighborhood or yours. As a result, you'll need to know local leash laws and other regulations pertaining to dogs.
Each city and county has specific local regulations. Some states even have leash laws along with other dog-specific laws, and they can be strict. For example, Arizona requires that dogs should be on a leash or otherwise restrained at any public park or school.
Sanitation and safety are two other important concerns for dog walking businesses. Nearly all communities have dog waste or "pooper scooper" laws. Choose how you'll collect dog waste while you're walking your clients' dogs. Dispose of the waste appropriately and efficiently.
As to safety, this is where your training and experience should come in. Dogs can be unpredictable and you have no way of knowing how socialized the dogs you're walking will be until you've taken them out. Even more so, a dog may be calm for many walks, but will suddenly experience a trigger for aggression or fear. You don't want to experience a dog bite yourself, or have the dog bite another one in your dog walking group or passers-by.
If you break local leash laws, the consequences could have serious implications for your client and your business. Animal control officers can impound an unleashed dog. Imagine explaining to an owner why you're not returning their dog from his walk!
Should I Make a Dog Walking Contract for My Clients?
It would be great if everyone could do business on a handshake basis, but laws, regulations, and legal responsibilities for you as the dog walker and for dog owners are too complex to rely on verbal agreements.
You should have a standard dog walking contract that details your business relationship with the dog's owner. The contract should include your responsibilities as a dog walker, including:
- When you will take the dog for a walk and how often
- Whether the dog will be walked alone or in a group with other dogs
- The size and limit for group walks
- How you'll handle dog waste or behavior issues
- Payment terms, amount, and frequency
Owner responsibilities should be included in the contract as well. They can include:
- Making sure owners vaccinate the dog and provide tags, ID and a local dog license
- Owner-supplied equipment, including a collar, leash, and any other needed restraints, such as a muzzle
You can find sample dog walking contracts by using an online legal or contract service. Some dog walker training programs will also provide sample contracts.
Follow Dog Walker Requirements and Laws and Protect Yourself With Dog Walker Insurance
Even if you obey all dog walking laws and meet all of your dog walker responsibilities, problems can still arise.
This is where dog walker insurance comes in handy. It will provide coverage in case of injury to yourself, dogs, or passers-by. When you take care of all of your basic business requirements and dog walking-specific responsibilities, business insurance can be affordable and effective in protecting you and your canine-friendly business.