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Starting Up a Pet Business

So you would like to start your own pet service business?

I get emails and phone calls about this every week, so to save us all some time I've put together general pointers below, with the hope that it will cover some of the questions you have.

question marks Under the Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963 all animal boarding establishments, including home boarding, requires licensing by the Local Authority in which they reside.

My best advise to you is to contact your local authority and the animal warden, to find out what rules and regulations apply where you live. Should you be looking at putting dogs in kennels on your property, that is a completely different matter and something you would also have to check with the local council.

This is what one of our advertisers has said about when she started up: "When I was doing my research into setting up dog sitting in my own home, I rang various sitters in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and some other counties. Everyone I spoke to was very helpful, but only one sitter in Buckinghamshire told me that I needed a licence from Bucks County Council to run a dog sitting business. If someone sets up this type of business in this county without a licence, they can be fined or shut down. Environmental health at the council told me that dogsitting is a "burgeoning cottage industry". It is definitely worth checking with the local council what the regulations are. I was very grateful to the dogsitter that told me about the regulations, as I could easily have started my business, advertising at vets and pet shops, and then had a surprise visit from environmental health. All it takes is one complaint from a disgruntled neighbour to set the ball rolling."

There is no legislation on this, so unfortunately there are no qualifications that have to be met. I have got 3 dog instructor degrees (general obedience, competitive obedience and agility) and 25 years experience of dogs, including dogs with problem behaviours. Does that make me suitable for dog boarding and doggie day care? I'm not so sure...

I think the important things to look at are personal qualities. Are you a responsible person? Can you cope in stressful situations? Can you protect the dogs in your care? How much REAL knowledge about dogs do you have? Do you ever go to seminars in dog language and dog psychology or do you just love dogs a lot and you've always had a dog? Is that really enough? How will you know how to care for a Border Collie that chases motorbikes? Or the Pug that collapses with breathing problems if walked too far in the sun? What will you do with the terrier that is jumping up/down up/down to get you to throw the ball for him? Can you tell the difference between dandruff from a stressed dog and the dandruff on a dog who's diet is poor?

dog bin Pick up the pooh, so the rest of the community don't have to suffer because of you. You might know where the dogs normally pooh, but the rest of the world don't, so pick up that pooh or at least grab a stick and flick it away from the pathway!

Safety of the dogs and individuals around them. Not allowing 'your' dogs to pester people and/or their dogs in the park, etc etc. Is he/she a chaser and you risk a traffic accident by letting him/her off in a park with wildlife? Make sure you query the owner about the dogs level of recall and what distractions he can take/not take. Bob missing Fox Terrier

Loosing a dog in your care. Could you cope if a dog gets lost while in your care and isn't found? I've lost dogs in my care for up to 2 hours, when they've gone on a hunt, but thankfully enough, they've always returned. A client of mine lost their dog when he was out with his dog walker and Bob Fox Terrier has been lost for over a year now. Can you imagine what the dog walker must be going through, not to mention the owners? To find out what to do if a dog gets lost or stolen, go to the lost dogs page.

Feeding and eating issues. Make sure you are aware if the dogs you care for have an allergy to something or a tendency to eat stones/plastic/socks or other items that could be dangerous to them. Does the dog have any guarding issues around food?

Click here to download an excel sheet as an example of a contract you could use when taking on boarding dogs.

NEUTERED OR ENTIRE DOGS?puppies  playing
I take on both neutered/spayed and entire dogs. On the rare occation that an entire dog has caused problems with the other dogs in my care, I have advised a neutering, but if they mix well with the other dogs, I don't see a reason for turning them away.

The one thing I find is more of an issue with entire males than with neutered males is the marking (weeing on walls, plants, bags, etc to put their scent in your home). I have had a fair amount of neutered dogs that mark indoors too, but it happens more frequently with entire males, especially if a dog has marked indoors previously OR if you've had a bitch on heat in the house recently.

When I've got a bitch in season boarding here, I first make sure that I don't have any entire male dogs in care at the same time.

dog sitting Puppies, older dogs that can't cope with being run into, dogs with injuries or illnesses, epileptic and diabetic dogs? Will you take on dogs that can't be walked off lead? Will you take dogs that don't get on with other dogs?

Will you take dogs that are severely nervous AND in that case, do you know how to build their confidence up rather than turn them into fear aggressive dogs because they were shoved in with a pack of other dogs (making them even more scared than they originally were...)? You take on a lot of responsibility when caring for someone elses dog and you need to know what you are doing. If you are not sure, then ask to shadow another dog sitter/walker for a few weeks or assist in dog training classes and behaviour consultations to boost your knowledge of dog behaviour.

WHAT SHOULD YOU OFFER THE DOGS?home boarding for dogs
Again, this is very personal choice and you'll have to work out what you have time for in a day and what you would be willing to do on a regular schedule. I give the dogs in my care at least 3 hours walking per day, mainly off lead. They have lots of time playing with each other in the background while I sit here and work (it gets quite noisy at times!).

They also get a bit of training, such as recall, stay and search exercises.

Some dogs might need special attention because they are shy/hyperactive/not housetrained etc.

searching dogs This is a very personal preference. I would prefer only to have 4 dogs here per day (including my own Saluki cross), but that is difficult to survive on economically. If I have the right dogs, ie dogs that I know and enjoy having around, then I can cope with having up to 5 dogs per day, but if I have a dog that pulls a lot, isn't house trained or is very hyper despite long walks and mental stimulation, then 3 dogs in a day is more than enough. It is all depending on how much work each dog needs.

The questions should concern the things that will be stressful for you to handle, to make sure the dogs personality and yours will gel. Personally I don't mind having puppies here that aren't housebroken, but I want to know about it in advance. I don't mind having dogs that are extremely energetic, but they have to have some self control. I usually don't worry too much if people say they have a little hurricane on 4 legs or that their dog is incredibly noisy, as a lot of those behaviours are down to boredom and the dogs being under-stimulated. After 3 hours walking and play with a lot of other dogs, usually the 'problem' dog is as good as gold!

Flat Coated Retriever For the most harmonious work environment, try to target dog breeds and types that you know you have a preference for, so that you wont' get stressed out by having a type of breed in your home that you don't really like and therefor will get extra frustrated with their behaviours.

I now have a greater number of Labradors and Spaniels than anything else and that suits me perfectly. I do have a great love for Boxers too, but my own dog doesn't like them, so I sadly have to turn them away.

A scared dog will demand a lot of protection, which can be very frustrating and stressful. Puppies demand constant attention, so you have to have a pretty empty schedule to take care of pups. It isn't fair on older dogs to be mixed with a lot of young boisterous dogs, so try to also match the ages of the dogs that come to stay with you.

Personally I always ask that the dog owner come for a walk with me and my dog and the regular day dogs, to start off with. First of all this will show if my dog will accept the new dog, but it will also give me a good idea of the level of training the dog has had, how it interacts with other dogs (the owner might have said that they are fine with other dogs, but I can sometimes see worrying signals that they send out that the owners have missed) and how easy it will be to get the dog to bond with me.

If the initial walk works out well, then we book the dog in for at least 1 day and 1 nights trial boarding, to make sure that the dog will settle in with us at night and won't have any unmentioned issues. Once the trial has been done and has worked well, we are ready to book the dog in for future boarding.

dog vaccinations Personally I won't take a dog into my home that isn't fully vaccinated. If I didn't run dog training classes and take boarding dogs in a professional capacity, then I would accept the homeopathic alternatives, but because I have puppy classes in my garden and I have a range of different dogs visiting me every week, I can't take any risks, so I only accept the type of vaccinations that you get at the vets.

I don't ask people to treat their dogs against kennel cough, as the outbreaks of kennel cough that I've seen in a home environment has never been worse that a bit of a cold, with a couple of days coughing and the odd watery throw up. When I worked at Battersea Dogs Home I saw what kennel cough can do to dogs, but then they are stuck in an often damp and cold environment (we cleaned the kennels at least once per day), stressed beyond reason (brings the immune system down) and probably not on the best diet. I would imagine it would be quite a similar environment in boarding kennels. Kennel cough can cause pneumonia in deep chested dogs and that can be lethal, so if I took on Great Danes or other deep chested dogs into my care, then I would have to consider asking people to have their dogs kennel cough vaccinated. The kennel cough vaccination isn't a failsafe either... there are so many strains of kennel cough, you can't be sure you've treated your dog for the right one.

This is what one of our advertisers had to say about kennel cough vaccinations: "we advise our Customers to get their dog vaccinated and do not walk dogs (or one to one only) that have been in kennels (vaccinated or not) for a period of 2 weeks after their return from kennels as they can carry the virus and not show any symptoms. The trick is to get the Customers to remember to tell us...
We have found that having most of the dogs vaccinated for the last 3 years has been a great help. In fact my own dog got kennel cough twice in a year before I got her on the yearly vaccin. Since then (touch wood!!!) she has not caught it..."

I advise my clients to get their dogs micro chipped, but I don't require it. With the amount of dogs getting stolen today, I can't imagine why any dog owner would NOT want to have their dog micro chipped.

Level of income is what you make it. Only you can decide how many dogs you are willing and able to take into your home each day and the prices depend on what your clients are prepared to pay. It is a great side business or an extra income for someone who works from home or is a house wife/husband and mad about dogs, but not necessarily sufficient to give you a full income.

dog in collar You must be covered by insurance. You will need Public Liability insurance, should one of the dogs in your care cause an accident or damage. You will also need Care Custody & Control (liability to animals), should something happen to the dog in your care. It is very hard to find insurance companies that insure our type of business, so I would suggest you turn to Cliverton Ltd, who have insurance for just about anything animal related.

This is what one of our advertisers had to say about insurance: " I contacted Cliverton to find out if they would have paid for vet bills relating to a dog in my care if an accidental injury had occurred. They will only pay vet bills (minus excess) if the sitter is proved to have been negligent and they won’t pay vet bills relating to previous or ongoing medical conditions. I have 2 dogs of my own, a lab who rarely goes to the vet and a working cocker spaniel who is very accident-prone. Because he enjoys spends a lot of time in the undergrowth and is a scavenger, he has often been to the vet for cuts/xrays etc., so I am acutely aware of how easily accidents happen and how expensive they can be to put right. That is why I could foresee potential problems with this particular dog. Before I agree to look after a dog, I now ask owners for the medical history on their dog. It might be worth other sitters doing the same to avoid problems and to check what their insurance coverage is. Cliverton suggested I get owners of dogs with medical conditions to sign a disclaimer, or just not take on such dogs at all. Were you also aware that Cliverton require us to get written permission from owners to allow dogs off lead?".

ADVERTISINGdog sitting
Advertising in the local papers might work for you, but hasn't for me. You can also try putting up notices at your local vet, groomer and pet shop.

I've found that the best ways of advertising my business has been through having a web site (I can help you with that. Have a look at dogbasicsdesign.com) and by advertising on Yell.com.

You can also advertise on LocalPetPeople.com. A lot of the people advertising here say they get main bulk of their enquiries through my web site (I have over 6500 visitors to my site each week).

To advertise on LocalPetPeople.com, please fill in the form.

My main reason for the page is that there is such a great need for day care, home boarding and dog walking in this country, but there isn't enough people offering this kind of service or they are just too hard to find. I'm hoping to help on that account.

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