If you could design the perfect dog walking service...
Posted 11 March 2012 - 04:32 PM
I'm close to launching my dog walking business, and would love to get your thoughts on how to improve my service. So regardless of whether or not you need or use a dog walker, I'd love to hear your ideas about what your ideal dog walking service would look like. Any and all input is appreciated!
A little bit about my business:
* My passion is herding breeds (border collies being my obvious favorite), so I've decided to build my service around the needs of that group of clients. There are already a lot of other dog walkers in my city that "do it all", so having a niche specialty (herding breeds) gives those dog owners a good reason to call me over the generalists in the area.
* I take my job seriously, and focus on quality rather than quantity. Clients are entrusting me with their best friend and their house key, the magnitude of that responsibility is not lost on me. I don't have employees (nor will I in the future), so my client capacity is a maximum of 12 (if they're all part time). While this does mean less monthly income for me, it allows me to give each of my clients the best personalized care.
* All walks are GPS tracked in real time, and the client receives a text or email when I arrive, and when I leave. This way they know exactly when I was there, how long I was there, and where the dog and I went during the visit.
* I carry professional liability insurance, am a licensed business with the state, and am about to become certified in canine first aid and CPR.
* The sessions are 45 minutes, and one on one (no pack walking, or dog park trips). I'm happy to do group walks, but only if it's with dogs from the same household.
* My main focus is on providing dogs with a mind/body workout. How those 45 minutes are spent is up to the client, so each service is customized to the dog's needs and interests. They can opt for some vigorous off leash play/games (if they have a fenced backyard), a walk around their neighborhood, fun clicker training sessions, or some brain games. And to top it all off, a few minutes of massage (to help them wind down), and a parting gift of a stuffed Kong to keep them busy till their owners get home.
So, as a Border Collie owner, what do you think? What would you like to see in a dog walking service?
Posted 11 March 2012 - 06:16 PM
Kylie Rusty Stormy
Posted 11 March 2012 - 06:34 PM
1. I am very lenient and don't expect much since I have 5 dogs and if she is extremely busy it is ok to miss me but she must let me know. She has missed a few without telling me. I finally had to get a little crappy about it and she is better.
2. I only expect a potty break and some loving so she does not spend much time here which is also fine.
3. You should have a dead set time for cancellations (same day) without a charge.
4. How do you plan to bill? My dogwalker charges some people weekly but those of us that have been around a while are billed monthly. This makes life much easier being billed monthly or even bi-weekly.
5. Other than the GPS how do you plan to let folks know how the dogs did that day? I love the GPS idea but also really like the handwritten note. This way I know she really did come in the house. No note = not being paid for that days' service.
6. You may want to think about making sure the form they fill out has any food allergies listed. My dogwalker normally does not have anyone else but at times she has a backup person and sometimes that person is trying to be sweet but brings treats my dogs cannot have.
7. You need to have a backup person just in case. If you end up sick or need a vacation you need a backup person. Problem is I don't know this person which I hate. I have a fear aggressive dog and I really don't trust someone to remember how to make proper introductions - yep it has happened.
8. Truthfully, you may be getting into the "niche" side of things but I really doubt I would pay much more than what I would someone who does it all. Yes you are doing double the time than most (at least here and not sure it is worth it) but the economy makes it hard to pay much more than I am now. I even cut back from 3 days to 2 days starting next week plus I already get a "discount".
I know I kind of sound like a downer but at the same time I give you credit. I wish you lived here as I know my dogs would love the extra attention you will provide. I hope it all works out.
Posted 11 March 2012 - 06:37 PM
I know some who are just doing little guys - Chihuahuas and Yorkies and such - but no one who is any other kind of specialist.
Are you going to call yourself "the Border Patrol"?
One thing - for me a lot of what having a dog walker is about is dog-time for my "only child." I can't afford the space and cost for a second dog. Perhaps you could amend your no-pack-walks rule to allow for dogs that know and do well with each other.
FWIW, My dog gets 4 sessions a week. If the weather is really foul it can be a 45 minute session, but usually it runs over an hour, with the average being 90 minutes. There is some interactive stuff - Frisbee, ball, some climbing, some swimming and lots of running. Plus the dogs race, chase and wrestle.
Posted 11 March 2012 - 07:12 PM
I like texts and notes left. Mine don't get walked other than in my back fields, so GPS wouldn't matter to me. I'm a very picky trainer, so wouldn't want anyone else doing any of that.
Ideally my dogwalker/petsitter would have 4WD so s/he could make it up my driveway and not be prevented from coming in case of inclement weather.
Posted 11 March 2012 - 08:56 PM
@ 2Devils: Wow, thank you for the thorough reply! I guess I'll respond in order:
1. My business model is a little different than most dog walkers which eliminates the possibility of overbooking. I work in set time blocks (45 minutes) so each client has their own guaranteed time slot. When they sign up they have three schedule choices Mon-Fri (5x a week), Mon+Wed+Fri (3x a week), or Tue+Thur (2x a week). Once they choose their schedule, they pick which available time slot they'd like, and from thereon that's reserved for them. There are already plenty of other companies who focus on flexible scheduling as their main selling point, so I'm happy to let them keep that corner of the market. The drop in business model really only works if you have enough employees to cover the scheduling fluctuations, and I don't, nor do I want to. So I guess my service is really geared towards the "9-5ers" who want the peace of mind of a consistent schedule.
3. I do give each client a set amount of days per year (10) that they can use for cancellations or vacation time, and if it's not planned in advance they will be credited the amount on their next bill, but beyond that I have to charge the full rate. Some clients will consider that a deal breaker, but hopefully others will understand the reason for that policy. Dog walking isn't a hobby for me, or just a summer job, it's my career, which means I'm dependent on that monthly income to pay my bills. My hope is that people will understand that they're not just paying for their dog to be walked, they're paying to reserve their dog's spot in my route as well. It's kind of how a child's daycare works: you pay a set rate to reserve your child's place in the program, but if you keep Suzie home sick for a three weeks, you don't necessarily get a refund for those days.
4. Yes, billing will be done either monthly, or biweekly (their choice) on a prepaid basis. I accept checks and debit/credit cards (via Paypal).
5. Yes, I'm happy to leave notes as well. In addition, I'll also be putting together a short monthly newsletter for each client that's a kind of summary of what tricks we worked on, games we learned, cute pictures, funny stories, how many miles we walked, etc.
6. I'll be doing an in home meet and greet with each new client where we'll go over all the care details, as well as the service contract and vet release form.
7. In an emergency (car accident, injury, etc.) they'll be notified of the situation as soon as possible, and be given the option of having my husband (co-owner of the business, and also licensed and insured) fill in for me, or be given a credit for the days I miss. There will be detailed profiles on each dog (personality, fears, health info, allergies, etc.) and spare keys kept in a safe location for my husband to access in the event of an emergency.
8. In my city 30-60 minutes are the average walk times offered. Other companies off 15 minute potty breaks as well, but most people here hire a dog walker because they need help exercising their dog, in which case more time is needed. I had to come to the realization early on, that I can't be everything to everyone, so unfortunately some people won't be able to afford my service, but that's okay, there are others who can.
I don't think you sound like a downer at all, you've given me great feedback (which is exactly what I need), so thank you!
@ Geonni banner:
Yeah, in Tacoma there is a dogwalker/daycare company that caters exclusively to small dogs. But that's the only one I know of that specializes in anything.
I love the name! But unfortunately it would be a big (and expensive) pain in the butt to change the business name now.
I definitely get the appeal of having the doggy social factor. There are quite a few services here that offer that kind of thing (daycares, off leash adventures, etc.) , but there are still some dog's who prefer the one on one attention, or don't get along with other dogs for whatever reason. The little Dachshund, Emma, that I care for is terrified of other dogs, so daycares and pack adventures are a no go for her. So for now, I'm going to focus on the individual sessions. But someday I'd love to be able to offer playdates, where a client can opt to have my dog tag along for the session.
The other problem with offering group services in my area is the lack of appropriate places to take the group. We have some dog parks, but they're all small and crowded, and I wouldn't feel comfortable bringing a group there. For off-leash hiking you'd have to drive a ways to find it. So logistically it would be pretty hard to pull off. You're lucky you have places like that in your area though, if I were a dog I'd certainly love that service!
Posted 11 March 2012 - 09:05 PM
I certainly understand the picky trainer part, the last thing I would want to do is mess up someone's training progress, so it would be a completely optional thing. My service area is pretty urban, so short of some snow chains (for the rare snow occurrence) 4WD isn't really necessary in my area, but I could see how it would come in handy for your terrain.
Posted 11 March 2012 - 10:50 PM
Posted 12 March 2012 - 05:09 AM
Impressive thinking. Good luck with your new business. Most of the details will shake out in the first few months and all the important questions should be resolved (including, is this economically worth doing?) within two years.
I have a farm and a pack, and have only used a dog walker once - when I was on the road, staying with a friend and we'd be away for 14 hours straight. The dog walker was too harried to hear my warning and as a consequence Luke scared the hell out of him. It was a short, sharp correction.
That said: were I living in an urban, surburban venue with one or two dogs, my first questions of any dog walker would be: "What do you know about dogs? Can you read them? Why should I assume that my dogs, who've never met you before, will accept you as pack leader?"
I would accept a number of very different answers to these questions.
I don't believe that most pet owners would know to ask them but the answers might be, even for dog ignorant owners, an effective marketing tool.
Posted 12 March 2012 - 07:58 AM
Re: having your husband fill in. I would bring him along on the meet & greet then. Some dogs will have issues with strange men.
@donald, pack leader? really? It's up to the owner to convey any issues with their dogs, not expect a dogwalker to go all Cesar Milan on them. I would NOT want that. I have one with issues and I tell my petsitter exactly what to watch for and how to handle any situations, but more importantly, I prevent any situations from occuring by proactively managing the situation.
Posted 12 March 2012 - 08:14 AM
Again I would not be someone you are geared towards.
I agree with Laura that if your husband is your backup then he should be on the meet and greet.
If you are doing some training with the client dogs I think many will be happy to have someone help. I know I prefer to train a certain way but I am more experienced and kind of set in my ways. Many pet folks that will definitely like the extra help. The only you may need to do periodically is actually show them in person what you are doing and what they should be doing so the dog is not getting conflicting information so for these clients I would say you need to find a way to schedule time with the owners.
Posted 12 March 2012 - 09:35 AM
The most important thing is to get someone who knows your dogs. I do the same dogs over and over so I know them and care about them as much as their owner does. If I am taking care of a new dog or dogs I spend a lot of time with them and their owner (if i can) so that those dogs know me and know that my coming there means they get to play and to get out and to get a treat.
It's important to get someone who is careful. I always check to be sure gates are closed before I ever go in the house. I open doors about a foot, watch the ground, and just kind of slide in to be sure no one gets out. The one thing I really don't want to ever happen is to have a loose dog. That is just a nightmare.
When walking dogs you want to be sure they have a secure collar on so they can't slip the collar. I don't have strong enough hands to use a pinch collar and I don't like them anyway. I always carry a strong choke chain. Some dog walkers carry their own special collars and just juse those instead of the dog's regular collar.
If something will go really wrong while taking care of dogs it will be while they are being walked. The walker can drop the leash (I always have mine wrapped around my wrist just in csse) Or the dog can slip the leash.
But the worst thing that can happen is that strange dogs run up on you. That is always difficult. You have to try and keep ahold of your dog and keep the other dog away. It takes a lot of strength sometimes to keep the situation under control. I have never been bothered by big dogs but I have had trouble with little dogs - like yorkies or other terriers that weigh about 6 pounds. They have no dog manners. Usually their owners are chasing right behind them because those little guys are really good at slipping out the door and then taking off. I'm always praying that the dog I'm walking won't haul off and kill the little dog. Owners of those dogs are so clueless sometimes.
The reason that I have just about quit walking dogs all together is that it's dangerous - for me and for the dog I'm walking.
Posted 12 March 2012 - 01:30 PM
I agree with Tommy that the worst part of walking my dog is all the loose dogs that approach us. No matter where we are-busy village sidewalk or a huge field, someone always has their dog off leash who has no recall. It is amazing how people just assume all dogs are friendly and want to be approached by their rude strange dog running full speed at their face! (in this past week 3 loose dogs have approached us while we were on leashed walks and their owners were yelling behind them)
I would definitely ask all clients how their dogs react to strange dogs approaching on a walk.
Posted 12 March 2012 - 02:58 PM
8. Truthfully, you may be getting into the "niche" side of things but I really doubt I would pay much more than what I would someone who does it all.
That's because you're a dog person with multiple dogs....I also think like you. But the money is in the yuppies who are willing to spend quite a lot to have extra care for their "fur babies". If she gathers a clientele that have that mind-set, she can make quite a bit...they ARE willing to pay. I have also found that there are people who don't think they are getting the best unless they pay the most for it. Seriously. (I have a private boarding kennel and that is what I did wrong...did not charge enough for a better service than what they could expect elsewhere. Once established, it is hard to raise rates to where they need to be.)
I still think the younger set will like the GPS...but also, how about a report card that you make up and have copied. Then you take it to the house and leave it with a report...like you can have things to check like: Walked ____ Played Ball ____ Played Frisbee ____ and little comments that can be cute and also helpful. "Roscoe loved seeing the kids play at the park" or "Roscoe seems to have loose stools." Like someone else said, this will let them know you were there.
Also, have a brochure (you can make these up easily with programs like Publisher - no need to spend a lot of money for a professional one unless you have the money)....not only listing your services but giving information about yourself and your experiences.
Regarding slipping a collar, for those who want walks, you might require them to purchase a harness.
Kylie Rusty Stormy
Posted 12 March 2012 - 04:10 PM
*You'll need to file a dba/fictitious business name statement with your county. Your husband's name will need to be on there as well.
*Make Hubby a part of the busines from the beginning. As others have suggested, have him go along on the meet n greet, but have also have him regularly walk your client dogs. Some dogs do fine with total strangers, but a fair percentage of herding breeds are a bit shy. I don't think Gibbs would allow a total stranger into the house, for example, and he certainly wouldn't allow a stranger to leash him.
*Put a section in your intake interview about dietary restrictions and/or have the human clients supply treats.
*If you have training in doggy massage, offer to teach a class for your human clients.
*Is there a place you can take a dog client to swim? Some dogs love it!
*Have your intake questionnaire and contract reviewed by a couple different sets of eyes. Also review your liability policies regularly.
*You probably already know this, but respond immediately to inquiries. My trainer states on her outgoing voice mail message that she'll respond within 24 hrs to messages, and I think that's reasonable. At the other extreme, I once contacted a groomer who didn't get back to me for 72 hrs. Then she was shocked when I told her I'd already booked someone else.
*Do you have a business plan and marketing plan? These are essential, in order to keep your business going in the right direction and in order to get word out to your target market.
Good Luck! I love to see entrepreneurs succeed!
Ruth and Gibbs, who loooooves his dog walkers
Posted 12 March 2012 - 09:01 PM
Posted 12 March 2012 - 10:17 PM
I think the only thing I would say is to second the suggestion about a harness, rather than just a collar. I was in a car accident this past weekend, (fender bender, but my air bag went off) and my female BC was in her seatbelt harness. I was SO glad to have that harness to clip her leash into, as she was scared out of her mind and it would have taken nothing for her to slip her collar and bolt into traffic.
So, in the event that a noise-or-motion reactive border collie or Aussie reacted badly to something in traffic ... I'd also worry about the collar slipping issue.
That's all I have! Best of luck with your new venture!
To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace. ~ Milan Kundera
Posted 13 March 2012 - 02:24 AM
Posted 13 March 2012 - 06:55 AM
You say that these will be one-on-one - now, will that be for clients with single dogs only? If a client has two (or more) dogs, will you walk/exercise them together? And, if you are devoting 45 minutes per client, I'm assuming that means a minimum of an hour per client when you factor in commuting between clients. That will limit your number of clients per day (you may have already determined that when you said "part-time"), but it also means that for people who work a regular, 8-hour day (plus lunchtime, plus commute), you will wind up with parts of the day that aren't really desirable - like early and late in the workday. Although, perhaps, your model of this being more of an exercise/activity than a potty-walk may make this a non-issue.
Meanwhile, it sounds like you have given a lot of thought and professionalism to coming up with your business model, and I wish you the very best success!
Celt, Megan, and Dan
"When the chips are down, watch where you step."
"The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything." - author unknown
Posted 13 March 2012 - 02:49 PM
Also I would have already decided on what method you were going to walk the dogs with. For me, I would never use someone who put a choke chain on my furkids. If you have to use "force" to get my furkids under control you dont understand them. I would also want to know how you would protect them on walks.
Also will you require your charges to be Neuter/Spayed?
I havent needed to use any dog walkers but I know in the future they will be part of my plans for my dogs to get them out and about.
(5H)MACH 2 Cresent Moon MXF, 2011 PGP Nat' CH (Handle by Denise Thomas), 2011 Speed Jumpers 5th placed finalist (Handle by Denise Thomas). ~Thanks to Denise Thomas for handling Cressa so well at agility nationals and when I wasn't able to.
5H Hunter Moon
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