If you love dogs and are looking for an independent business idea, becoming a dog walker might seem like a dream job for you. Working outside in nature, getting exercise, and playing with dogs all day – what could be better? But there is a bit more to it than that.

The business side of it may take some time to learn. For instance, there are permits you will need. Plus, would you leave your dog with anyone? Of course not, and neither would most people. That’s why it’s important to do everything you can to establish trust and accountability with potential new customers, a kind of trust that is unlike other businesses because pets are a part of our families.

A man walking a dog

Is Dog Walking a Viable Business?

If you have been thinking about starting a dog walking business, one of the first things you are probably wondering is whether it’s even possible to make a living at it? Or would it be more of a side hustle to earn extra cash? The truth may surprise you.

According to Glassdoor Canada, the national average dog walking business income is $50,145 per year in Canada, which is close to our general national salary average. But even if you don’t want to do it as a full-time business but as a side job instead, one of the most attractive things about it is its flexibility.

Understanding the Dog Walking Business in Canada 

You need a lay of the land before launching any new business, and that includes dog walking. Preparation and research is vital to growing a startup, so take the time to review industry statistics. For instance, federal government data shows there were 4,734 pet grooming, sitting, training, and boarding businesses in Canada as of 2020 with an average annual revenue of $157,000. Furthermore, the pandemic triggered an 18% surge in pet ownership in Canada, according to Statistica. 

Canada’s pet grooming and boarding industry has seen steady increases in consumer spending due to rising pet ownership and changing consumer attitudes (an increasing number of pet owners like to pamper their animals with premium services). However, the industry did experience a revenue decline of 15.3% in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic limited demand for services due to many people working from home and providing their pet care. In the future, as more people head back into the office, it may be an excellent time to help these new pet owners with dog walking services they might not have needed until now.

What Kind of Business Insurance Does a Dog Walking Business Need?

Dog walking insurance is usually required to get a municipal permit to run your business. But it doesn’t just benefit you – it also protects pet owners and can be a huge selling feature for potential clients because of the peace of mind it can bring them. It gives your business added credibility and accountability. Plus, many dog owners won’t leave their pets with someone not insured.

No insurance policy is created equal, but good policies should cover you against most of the following situations:

  • Injuries to dogs while they are in your care
  • Injuries to other animals or people caused by dogs in your care
  • Property damage because of dogs in your care
  • Lost or stolen dogs
  • Death

There are several different types of coverages within a dog walking insurance policy you may require depending on how you operate your business and the services you provide, including:

  • Commercial general liability – covers your business against third-party bodily injury or property damage if, for example, one of your customers is injured at your place of business while picking up or dropping off their dog. CGL may also cover your liability for any injuries caused to others by the dogs in your care, and you can include an extension to cover any injuries to a dog that’s in your care.
  • Professional liability – covers misconduct, negligence, or failing to deliver a service as advertised.
  • Commercial auto – if you use your vehicle to transport dogs, you’ll need more than a personal car insurance policy since most private-passenger vehicle policies don’t cover accidents related to business activities.
  • Commercial property – covers your place of business, equipment, and inventory if damaged by fire, theft, or vandalism. This type of coverage may also include business interruption insurance, which is designed to provide you with financial support for lost income following an insured event. For instance, if a fire damages your place of business and is uninhabitable while repairs are underway, business interruption coverage may pay for the income you lose.

When purchasing dog walking insurance, you will want to speak with a licensed insurance broker to determine which of the above you need to include. Be sure to ask about any exclusions that may apply to your policy, since some insurers won’t provide coverage for certain breeds.

Business Registration, Licences, or Permits: What Will I Need?

In most cases, you don’t need a business licence to run a dog walking business in Canada, but many local governments do have municipal requirements. For example, in Toronto, you will require a commercial dog walker licence at $301 per year to walk three dogs or more. Also, note that this permit will not be issued to anyone until they obtain commercial general liability insurance. Check the regulations in your city to see if your municipality requires them.

It’s also strongly recommended that you register your business with the government. You may decide to make it a sole proprietorship, which means you, as the business owner, make all decisions and are responsible for all payment of debts and taxes. Additionally, you may need to register for a business licence in your town to operate your business legally.

There are three main types of structures for any business, and they’re related to taxation. A dog walking business can be formed as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation. A sole proprietorship may be the most common business structure for dog walkers (especially if yours is a part-time business) as it’s easy to set up, and both you and your business are considered the same to the Canada Revenue Agency. But be aware you are liable for the debts of a sole proprietorship.

A partnership involves at least two people operating the business who share the revenues, expenses, and tasks. When filing a tax return, both partners must apply the percentage of revenues and expenses as agreed.

Establishing a corporation is more complicated and involves declaring your business a separate legal entity, putting taxation and legal distance between the company and its owners or shareholders. In addition, while bookkeeping is necessary for all types of businesses, if you incorporate, you’re required to file financial statements that must be audited by a chartered accountant annually.

It’s also necessary to develop a business plan to map out things like how many hours you want to work, which days of the week, and your yearly revenue projections.

How to Get Customers for Your Dog Walking Business

Check if your target market isn’t already saturated with dog walking companies. Otherwise, you may find yourself struggling to find customers. Furthermore, setting yourself apart from the competition while also turning a profit will be challenging. Research your competition to find a niche you can carve out for your business. Researching competitors can also help you define what you should be charging for your services. 

If you’re starting from scratch, here are some ways to get the word out:

  • Design flyers and business cards to place on entryway bulletin boards in vet clinics, supermarkets, dog grooming facilities, and pet stores.
  • Advertise on Craigslist, in church bulletins, and neighbourhood newsletters. Social media is also great, but local is what counts most in a business like this. 
  • Create a website with a personalized domain name. Register with search engines such as Google. That will make your business appear more “legit”, and it’s also an excellent way to garner positive reviews. That, too, is important when trying to establish credibility and trust. Eventually, positive reviews will likely become your source of referrals.
  • Consider designing a logo and t-shirts or other simple advertising ideas for wearing when working.
  • Word of mouth recommendations are highly effective in gaining new customers. Encourage friends and family to help you find new customers by referring pet owners to you.
  • Craft some referral bonuses, coupons, and bundling offers (reduce prices to care for more than one dog).

6 Dog Walking Business Tips

Dog walking can be rewarding financially and personally, and it’s not an expensive or difficult type of startup business to launch. But how you prepare is critical to ensure you’re successful. Consider these six tips when planning to launch your services:

  1. Educate yourself on canine behaviour and stay up-to-date on your pet first-aid skills, collars, harnesses, and leashes.
  2. Familiarize yourself with leash laws in your area and off-leash areas.
  3. Set up clear policies and procedures for handling dogs in advance, share them with your customers, and stick to them.
  4. Learn the personalities of each dog in your care and monitor how they get along with others.
  5. Think of other ideas or services you might be able to offer to differentiate yourself, such as pet sitting or grooming.
  6. Research small business loans and other resources you may be able to obtain.

Above all, before you begin offering services to pet owners, make sure you have a dog walking insurance policy to protect yourself, others, and the animals in your care.

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