In mid-2019, Gail and I went through the process of considering, planning, setting up, licensing and beginning to run her new home dog boarding business (Gail’s Home Dog Boarding in Morecambe, Lancashire). Even as retired professionals (from nursing and education) we were not quite prepared for the complexity of the task; we certainly learnt a lot along the way!
Are you thinking of starting your own home dog boarding business? This is the first in a series of articles in which I will share some of our experiences. Hopefully, it will give you a head start and help you take a few shortcuts along the way. I don’t yet claim to be an “expert” in setting up or running a home dog boarding business, but the path through the forest is usually easier when others have gone ahead of you…
How do you know if a home dog boarding business will suit you?
Before embarking (sorry) on your new canine career, here are ten important questions I think you should ask yourself. Consider them seriously and answer them honestly.
1) “Do I genuinely love dogs?”
Dogs, in my eyes, are lovely and wonderful creatures. They are often fluffy and friendly, enthusiastic and full of character. Yes, a few people are wary of them (perhaps after a bad experience) but on the whole, people seem to like them and young children usually warm to them naturally and easily. So if you’re reading this and thinking of working with dogs, it’s fair to assume that you like them.
But the question isn’t about liking. Do you absolutely, genuinely love dogs? And I don’t mean just the cuddly ones. Or just puppies. Or just your favourite breed. Some dogs are less friendly, more smelly, less well-trained, more noisy, how about those?
To be a car salesman, you can probably get away with only a moderate interest in cars. To work on the checkouts in a supermarket you don’t have to be the most outgoing person in the room; if you can hold a comfortable conversation with most people, you’ll be fine. But… unless you fall head over heels in love with just about every dog you meet, I suggest you stop reading now. Yes, really. Being crazy about canines is just too important to skimp on. If you’re not passionate about the welfare of a dog in your care, then they deserve better.
2) “Do I have any relevant qualifications or experience?”
Formal qualifications for home dog boarders can be important (particularly a pet first-aid certificate); these can be obtained relatively easily by most people. But you should also think about any relevant life experience you might have:
If you own a dog (or have done) then you already have a useful skillset when it comes to looking after someone else’s dog. If you’ve never had a dog, why not? There may be practical reasons (such as living in a high-rise flat), but if you’re truly besotted with dogs, you’ve probably found a way to be a dog owner by now.
When Gail and I attended our pet first-aid course, she was surprised to discover how many similarities there are between human and canine medicine. Her 37 years in the nursing profession provided huge insight when learning about dogs’ illnesses, diseases, treatments and care. Any experience you might have in a caring role, whether as a nurse, assistant, or support worker might provide useful transferable skills. Parenthood, too, is a nursing and caring profession (and grandparenting, as we are now discovering!)
Small business experience
Before entering the education sector, I ran my own small business (in an unrelated area) for ten years. If you have a track record in owning, running or managing a small business, starting a “side gig” or just generally being entrepreneurial, then you will already be familiar with some important home dog boarding business principles.
3) “Do I need an income now?”
Gail and I have both taken early retirement, choosing to live an inexpensive lifestyle supported by small pensions and a modest income from two property rentals. For Gail, starting a home dog boarding business was never about the money (see Question 1)
Like most small business start-ups, even if you do an amazing job of serving your customers, it may still take some time to become well known in your area and build up a bank of regular clients.
Getting started isn’t necessarily expensive (Gail spent less than £300 from start to finish) but if you’re out of work or switching careers, you will need some sort of financial buffer (other income, savings or both) to see you through the first months and even years. If you’re looking for the next get-rich-quick scheme, look elsewhere!
4) “Am I physically fit and healthy?”
Gail has a recurring problem in one of her hip joints; this is why she only boards small to medium-sized dogs at Gail’s Home Dog Boarding. Larger dogs tend to be stronger and the extra pulling on the lead is no good for her. However, she is a keen walker and a runner; she has kept physically fit for many years. So taking dogs for very long walks twice a day is no problem for her. If you want to be amongst the best home dog boarding in your area you will need to offer regular long walks to fit, healthy dogs.
Be realistic about your physical fitness. I’m hugely overweight and very unfit. There’s no way I would start my own dog boarding business because I simply couldn’t walk the dogs often enough or far enough. Gail does almost all the walking; I make the coffee (and do the “clever” stuff on the computer.) Do what you’re good at.
Skiing experts have been heard to tell newcomers, “Don’t ski to get fit. Get fit, then ski.” The same applies to a home dog boarding business. If your body’s not up to it, give it a miss!
5) “Do I like walking outside in bad weather?”
They say opposites attract. That’s probably why Gail and I have been happily married since 1986: we are very different.
Gail loves being outdoors. She will happily walk for hours in any weather; rain, wind, cold, anything! The only weather I’ve ever known her shelter from was a shower of hailstones so big and fast they could make your skin bleed.
On the other hand, I am firmly convinced that if I get rained on (even a little) I shall probably dissolve and die. I’d happily stay indoors all year if Gail allowed me to (which she doesn’t!)
Which type are you? If you’re weather-phobic like me, you’re probably not suited to a home dog boarding business.
6) “Do I have enough time?”
When Gail was thinking about becoming a home boarder, she also considered doggy daycare or dog walking services. But she soon realised that she would have to commit to pet-sitting or walking on the same days at the same times each week, for many weeks in a row. This was simply not what she was looking for. By choosing home dog boarding, she has allowed herself the freedom to book in as many or as few dog holidays as she wishes, working as hard as she wants and choosing her holidays at will.
But when Gail has a dog to stay, that is her only focus for the entire week, fortnight, or whatever. The dog is never left alone in the house and her other commitments have to wait.
If you want to provide a home dog boarding service, will you be able to block out an unbroken period on your calendar? Do you have a full or part-time job on certain days every week or certain hours every day? Or a regular “unmissable” commitment to a club, social group, church or gym, etc? Then it might prove difficult to fit everything in.
Particularly at the start, you won’t be boarding a doggy guest every week. But when you are, it’s a 24-hours-a-day commitment.
7) “Will I be able to understand and apply all the animal welfare standards?”
Since the introduction of new animal welfare regulations in 2018, home dog boarding businesses have been faced with a dizzying array of revised standards to study, understand and implement. When we first started researching how to start a home dog boarding business, Gail and I were quite unprepared for the amount of official documentation we would need to wade through.
However, our professional backgrounds provided us with enough skills to gather all the information, process it and produce an Animal Welfare Policy Statement to meet all the standards. By carefully considering the Regulations and applying them to our situation, we identified appropriate procedures for caring for the dogs in all foreseeable circumstances.
How about you? Are you good with official documents, regulations, rules, procedures and policies? Can you read and understand a professional document and then re-state its main points as they apply to you?
Note: I’m not saying you need a degree in English. If the animal welfare documentation looks a bit too difficult for you, I’m already working on ways I might be able to help soon (watch this space…) But if you haven’t done much reading since school or the only thing you write is your Facebook status, it might be a bit of an uphill struggle. (Of course, if you’re reading this blog, then you’re off to a good start already!)
8) “Am I organised?”
Running a home dog boarding business (or indeed any business) requires a good amount of personal organisation. You don’t need the laser-focused productivity skills of David Allen (author of “Getting Things Done“) or the home organisation methods of Marie Kondo. But you will have to answer enquiries, process applications, book meetings, arrange boarding dates, check and record dogs’ progress, and update clients online. You’ll need to develop a working system that keeps you on top of everything all the time and signals efficiency and integrity to your customers.
Does this sound like you?
9) “Am I online-savvy?”
Home dog boarding is essentially locally-focused and some of your business will be done face-to-face. But people also communicate in any number of other ways: phone, text, email, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger (which I dislike but most people seem to prefer.)
Unless you are determined to go completely “old-school” (good on you if you think you can do it!), you will almost certainly need to be able to send and receive documents online. You will also need a grasp of social media promotion to advertise your home dog boarding business; some website building skills would be a bonus, too.
Here at Gail’s Home Dog Boarding, we have a good mix of skills between us. Gail is great at the practical, physical stuff but not so hot on the online work. My IT skills fill that gap well, but although I’m a pet first-aider too, I’d be no good at all the doggy work day-in-day-out. Which leads me to the final question you should ask yourself…
10) “Do I have anyone to help and support my business?”
If you intend to live and work alone, consider all nine questions above when deciding if your personality type, circumstances and life skills are suited to starting and running a home dog boarding business. It’s quite a list: what if you’re not sure you tick all the boxes…?
Maybe there’s someone who could help? If you have a partner, relative or friend with some of those skills, you don’t have to cover all the bases on your own.
You could also consider accessing or buying in some of those skills (e.g. personal organisation, business advice, web-page design) from a local provider. There may be free or low-cost training courses that you attend in your area.
To be or not to be (a home dog boarder)
I hope these questions have helped you clarify whether or not you are suited to starting your own home dog boarding business. You don’t have to be super-human or super-educated to make a success of it, but all of the above questions are worth some thoughtful reflection.
If you feel you don’t match up in some areas, there are workarounds, so don’t give up on the idea too quickly.
But if you have any doubts at all about your answer to Question 1, think very carefully. This question is at the top for a reason: I’m convinced it is by far the most important! Go for a walk where you cross paths with plenty of dog walkers. Round here, that’s along Morecambe Promenade in a morning. Look into the dogs’ faces as they pass. If you find yourself smiling every time, you’ve probably got it covered.
My next article will be about your HOME, and whether it’s suitable for licensed home dog boarding. If the link hasn’t appeared below yet, check back soon – it’s on the way!
Talk to me!
Are you considering being a home dog boarder?
- How far have you got?
- What are you particularly good at?
- Is there anything you’re unsure of?
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