Owning a dog means having unconditional love; however, it also means having added responsibility. For starters, what do you do with your pooch when you need to go to work or an event?
Enter doggy day care, which promises to look after your furry friend until your inevitable return. Many dog owners regularly take advantage of dog day care services because their dogs make too much noise due to separation anxiety, or they have no backyard and thus bathroom breaks, or simply because they feel bad for leaving a living being alone for 10+ hours per day with nothing to do.
The good news for you is that, especially if you already own a dog, you might be able to easily start an at-home dog day care business. Doggy day care can be quite lucrative- most centers charge an average of $25/day. That means that, even if you care for just four dogs a day, you can easily gross $100.
What it takes to start a dog day care
1. Check your local ordinances.
Before you start caring for any dogs, check your city/town or county ordinances for limitations on home-based businesses. Due to residential/commercial zoning laws, some residences are restricted from conducting any commercial activity on the premises. Other cities/towns restrict how many pets you can house under your roof.
Even if your city/town/county has no rules pertaining to a dog care business, your homeowners association may not allow you to operate such a business due to concerns about noise, pet waste, bites, street traffic etc.
In short, don’t spend any money or too much time on your dog care business until you find out if having such a business is even possible.
2. Obtain a business license and insurance.
While there is no federal licensing requirement to open a dog day care, states and counties may require that you purchase a dog care license. The license itself cannot be purchased until your dog care facility (i.e., your house/apartment) passes an on-site health inspection. Such an inspection determines if your facility is free of physical dangers and/or toxic substances that would harm the dogs in your care, and also if you are able to follow proper sanitation procedures so as to prevent disease from spreading from one dog to the next.
You should also purchase business liability insurance, which protects you from suffering large monetary losses should a dog be injured or die while in your care.
Finally, to protect your home and personal belongings from dog-induced monetary damage, you should talk with your homeowner’s insurance provider about obtaining additional coverage.
3. Obtain dog supplies.
You’ll need to procure at least one dog kennel, bed, leash, and food bowl per dog in your care. In most cases, you won’t need to buy new items; area dog shelters and humane societies often have stockpiles of such items, which for whatever reason they cannot use. If you make a small donation, you could easily walk off with almost all the dog supplies you require.
Inspect the layout of your back yard and put up fencing, or additional fencing, to secure the perimeter. You don’t want to lose a dog in your care simply because you had a large gap in your fence line or a fence that was too short. You should also assess and address any potential dangers in your backyard like poisonous plants and jagged fences, as well as the chemicals and tools you store in your garage.
4. Advertise your dog care business.
Create a website that showcases your dog care business and its rates and specials. Consider how you might attract hesitant dog owners- maybe you can guarantee certain daily activities like one long walk/day, a visit to the local dog park, or several hours of playtime. Some dog day cares install video cameras in the play or feeding areas, enabling owners to log into the website through a special link and watch their dog throughout the day.
Posting flyers at area stores is another way to attract local attention, or you might consider advertising your services through some newspapers. Don’t forget to ask for customer referrals in exchange for a discount on a future visit to your dog day care.
5. Qualify your customers.
Nothing will shut down your fledgling dog care business faster than an unexpected infectious disease or dog fight. To prevent such a calamity from occurring, do not accept any dog that doesn’t come with a veterinary guarantee of having all its vaccinations up-to-date. Likewise, do not accept any dog into your care if you suspect it has a problem like kennel cough- while this isn’t a deadly infection, it can lead to bad reviews and complaints from other dog owners who later find their previously healthy pooch sniffling and wheezing.
Prior to accepting any dog, have it undergo a rudimentary temperament test. Ideally, this should occur before the owner leaves the dog for a full day in your care. You can offer a future discount on services or a free day of dog care in exchange for having the owner drop off her dog with you for a few hours.
Once you have that dog at your facility, introduce him to a test dog in your care that is known to be non-aggressive. See how the two dogs interact and if the visiting dog tries to dominate the other dog or even bite it. Doing these tests ahead of time will save you the headache of having an unexpected dog fight break out. Furthermore, if you find out that the visiting dog is too aggressive, you’ll know better than to accept it into your care.
6. Set your prices fairly.
Many dog care businesses try to undercut their competition by setting rock-bottom prices- only to lose out on making a profit and then having to shut their doors. Consider your business’ start-up and operating costs, as well as your time, and set your prices fairly for both you and your customers. Typical dog day care rates run $15-$35/day depending on the size of the dog. If you go lower or higher than that range, you’ll risk either not making a profit or not attracting any business.
7. Expand your services- slowly.
If you find that running a dog day care is both fun and profitable, you may want to expand into overnight dog boarding. Doing so will definitely require that you undergo a site inspection by your city’s health and/or agricultural board in order to procure a kennel license. However, if you already underwent a health inspection while starting your dog day care business, you should be good to go for the kennel license.
Again, determine if you have the needed materials and sleeping areas for boarding dogs. Also, don’t undercut your prices; kennel fees run $25-$35/night.
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