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How to start a dog walking business in Canada

This guide presents everything you need to know about starting a dog-walking business in Canada.

Setting up a dog-walking business in Canada isn’t as complicated as you may think. However, there are a few necessary steps to take in order to set up your dog-walking business correctly.

What permits, qualifications or licenses do you need to start a dog-walking business?

In Canada, you don’t need a federal or provincial/territorial license to be a dog walker. However, you might need to be licensed at the municipal level – especially if you live in a highly populated city.

For instance, you need a permit if you plan to walk dogs on a commercial basis in Toronto, and you can only walk up to 6 dogs at a time. A commercial permit is required for anyone walking more than 3 dogs — even if that person is the owner (excluding a service animal, if required).

If you live in a city where a permit is required, you’ll also likely be required to hold business-level general liability insurance to cover the cost of damage to people and property (and you must include the city as one of the insured parties). Acquiring a permit may also require:

  • Payment of a fee, which can vary depending on the length on the permit you want
  • Personal ID such as a driver’s license or passport
  • Completed permit application
  • An additional application for a permit to walk dogs in public parks

You don’t need any formal training or educational qualifications to start a dog-walking business. But, if you have qualifications in fields such as animal first aid, animal behaviour or veterinary care, this could enhance your reputation in the eyes of customers and build your business more quickly.

Registering your dog-walking business

The exact requirements for registering your dog-walking business vary depending on where you live. In fact, you may not even be required to obtain a business registration number. You only need a federal business registration number if you plan to incorporate your business or need to open a CRA program account (for example, to collect GST/HST or deduct income tax, CPP and/or EI from your employees’ payroll).

Check with your provincial/territorial and city governments to find out if registration is required at these levels.

Choosing the right business structure for your dog-walking business

Your business type determines how much tax you’ll pay on the money you make and how personally liable you’ll be for business debts.

Here are your main options in Canada:

  • Sole proprietorship. You’ll continue to pay income tax and other remittances to the government as an individual. You personally will be held liable for business debts or lawsuits against your business.
  • Partnership. This is essentially the same as a sole proprietorship, except profits are shared with your business partner(s). Under a general partnership, each partner is held personally liable. Under Limited Partnerships and Limited Liability Partnerships, only general partners (those who manage the business) are liable, while limited partners (investors) are not.
  • Corporation. Here, your business becomes an entity in its own right and your personal finances are separate from your business finances. In addition to filing your own personal tax return, you’ll also file a separate business tax return. Plus, you’ll have to pay yourself a wage from company profits. You can’t be held personally responsible for business debts and will have reporting and management responsibilities.
  • Cooperative. Cooperatives are best for groups of people who share similar social or economic needs and want to operate a business democratically. In Canada, all cooperatives must be incorporated, either at the federal or provincial level. Cooperatives can be set up as for-profit, not-for-profit or charitable organizations.

Incorporating is more expensive and complicated to set up. If you’re launching a dog-walking business, you may not see it as worth the hassle. You could launch as a sole proprietor or partnership, then incorporate later.

Setting up bank accounts for your dog-walking business

Setting up a business bank account is easy — and usually a required first-step for many small businesses. Depending on the bank and business account you require, you can either apply online, in person or over the phone. The process is similar to opening up a regular chequing or savings account, but may require a bit more paperwork — such as business licence or insurance documentation.

What insurance do you need to run a dog-walking business?

Most small business owners will find it essential to invest in the following types of insurance:

  • General liability. This protects you and your employees if legal action is brought against your business for damages done to a client’s person or property.
  • Business contents insurance. This protects any professional assets you keep in your place of business regardless of whether you rent, own or work out of a home office. Coverage can potentially extend to computers, office furniture, inventory, machinery and equipment.
  • Personal injury. Helps cover costs associated with recovering from a work-related injury.
  • Commercial auto coverage. Get car insurance for vehicles you use for to pickup/drop off dogs. Coverage can be obtained for supply vans, trucks and regular passenger vehicles.

Some insurance companies offer dog-walking insurance, which protects you against all of these potential outcomes, while also covering the cost of lawsuits if a dog gets hurt or injured in your care. To get insurance tailored for dog walkers, you may need to ensure the dogs you walk are vaccinated and that you have a record of each one’s medical history.

Creating a business plan for your dog-walking business

Unless you plan to apply for financing, you don’t need to create a business plan top start a dog-walking business. But doing so can still be helpful. Laying out your plan clearly will allow you to spot potential obstacles to your success or reasons why you might want to reconsider starting a business or explore other options.

A great business plan should include:

  • Company overview. The name of the business and its owners, the business type and its address. Perhaps a short mission statement, explaining your operational goals.
  • Your target market. Who will you market your services to and why? It pays to be as specific as possible. The better you know your audience, the easier it is to market to them.
  • Products and services. A full list of what products and services are offered by your business, plus how much you will charge.
  • Competitors. Who are your competitors? How does your business differ from theirs? Why is yours better?
  • Marketing plan. Are you planning to distribute brochures? Where will you market your business? What is your monthly marketing budget for each marketing platform?
  • Financial plan. How much will it cost to launch your business? What are the estimated monthly running costs? What are your monthly sales forecasts? (You should list a minimum viable target amount, an average target amount and stretch targets for long-term growth).

Things change quickly in the world of business, so you might want to review and amend your business plan at least once every three months.

How much should you charge for dog-walking?

On average, dog walkers in Canada make between $10 and $40 per walk. 30 minute walks will be on the lower end of the pay scale, and walks lasting an hour or more will cost on the higher end. Dog walking in more populated cities like Toronto or Vancouver typically cost more than the same services performed in suburban regions.

As with any service-based business, the amount you charge may can potentially be adjusted based on the demand for your services or the amount of competition in your local region. If you offer a better service, have more experience and/or qualifications, you may be able to ask for more.

You can bring in a little extra business by offering related services such as letting dogs out for potty breaks when their owners aren’t home, visiting pets to play with them and keep them company and handling pets at major events such as weddings. These services will need to be individually priced, with smaller services costing at, or around, minimum wage and more complicated or time-consuming services costing up to hundreds of dollars.

Consider offering a discount for second and third pets in the same household, although you should make sure the money you’re making covers your costs and adequately rewards you for your efforts.

How to market your business

Here are some great ideas for marketing your dog-walking business.

  • Flyers. Since you’re most likely only targeting customers in your local area, it makes sense to put up flyers around your neighborhood. Target supermarkets, shops, parks, schools, vet clinics and anywhere else where your customers are most likely to see them. Make sure you have permission to post in public places or on private property.
  • Business cards. Get a few hundred business cards printed. Have them in your wallet ready to give to any potential clients you come across. Hand them over to your friends and family members to give to pet owners they know. Give some to your customers, so they can easily refer you to their friends.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO). A lot of people will search for a dog walker on Google. If you can optimize your website to rank highly for the keywords your potential customers are using, this will attract them to you passively.
  • Organic social media marketing. It’s no secret that pictures of cute animals are a massive hit on social media. If you create a page sharing this sort of content (including some subtle marketing for your business), there’s a good chance it’ll get shared around.
  • Paid social media advertising. On social media, it’s really easy to target specific demographics. If you want to advertise only to dog owners in your local area, that’s definitely possible.

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