Do you love dogs? What if you could harness your affection for animals to provide a fun and safe place for pets to hang out while their owners go about their routines, vacations, and unexpected events?
According to the latest statistics, Americans recently adopted new pets at a staggering rate, especially dogs. Rover.com reports that 49% of Americans have adopted a new dog since early 2020.
If you ever thought about working with dogs, here’s your cue to secure the rewarding livelihood that a dog boarding business can provide.
We interviewed Larry Fosnick Davis and his wife. They conditioned their Seattle-based dog daycare and boarding business, Metro Dog Seattle, for continued success.
With all the great insight Larry offered, we were able to compile this step-by-step guide to help you start your very own boarding business. Keep reading to find out if opening a dog daycare is the right business for you.
Step 1: Learn more about pet boarding
Let’s start with an overall view of the pet care services industry.
What is dog boarding?
Simply put, dog boarding is the act of caring for dogs while their owners are away. Boarding facilities charge a set fee to pet owners for an agreed-upon length of stay.
The goal is to provide a safe and fun place for animals to lodge when pet owners have obligations to attend to or want their animals to socialize. Simple, right?
Learn the lingo
Learn the “dog words” associated with this business by checking out this glossary published by the American Kennel Club (AKC), a leading authority on dogs in the United States.
Study other terminology sources, such as this grooming glossary provided by Petco.
The good news is that there are wonderful organizations that set standards for the doggy care industry. Here are a few notable ones.
The AKC is a respected, 130-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to canine pets. Turn to them for expert advice on breeds, behavior, products, and services.
The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) and Alley Cat Allies provide information for feline pets.
Other international and national organizations
Related trade organizations for animal lodging and care include:
- The International Boarding & Pet Services Association (IBPSA)
- National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS)
- National Dog Groomers Association of America (NDGAA)
Last time we checked, organizations like these are an excellent place to dig up some research. So be sure to go out and do it.
Pick up a copy of Pet Boarding and Daycare magazine and leap into this list of other pet-related publications.
Research if Professional Pet Boarding Certification (PPBC) might help you achieve credibility in your desired market.
Other certification programs are available through the IBPSA, NAPPS, and NDGAA.
After all, earning a certificate from a respected organization could be a good selling point to set you apart from the local competition. It makes sense, right?
Step 2: Pick up some training and experience
You’ll want to fetch some training and experience. There’s a lot that goes into caring for dogs, so you’ll need to be sure you have what it takes to keep both them and their owners happy. Let’s get into it.
Now let’s go over some skills you’ll need to operate a boarding business confidently. Technical abilities are a must.
Of equal importance is nurturing the soft skills furry four-legged friends need to feel safe and secure. Let me explain.
Complete a course on pet handling techniques like low-stress and fear-free. According to Larry, these skills—along with pet first-aid—are essential to pet owners.
Pursue additional training in the following areas:
- Pet safe cleaning and sanitation to limit the spread of disease
- Breed knowledge to understand their various needs
- Grooming, such as nail clipping, brushing, and bathing
OK, I know what you’re thinking: what about those soft skills? Here are some tips on techniques to learn and practice:
- Clear communication because owners love their pets and want to talk about them!
- Patience because you will need to learn and adapt to many personalities, both human and pet.
- Empathy because you’ll be caring for someone’s best buddy, often considered a family member.
In truth, treating each pet as your own will be the key to success in this business.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) maintains an engaging library on dog care that I recommend you review and save to your favorites list to reference as needed.
Gain experience by jumping at the chance to:
- Work for a boarding business.
- Walk dogs or pet sit with apps like Rover.com or Wag.
- Work in a related field, such as for a veterinarian, groomer, or animal shelter.
- Watch pets for friends and family.
- Take a pet first-aid class, like the one offered by Metro Dog.
Pets at home are OK, but not enough
Prior experience with pets, not just the ones at home, is highly recommended because you will need to determine if you can:
- Physically handle different breeds and sizes of dogs.
- Deal with various personalities and behaviors.
- Properly feed, medicate, and groom them.
- Know how to recognize issues that require you to call a veterinarian or the owner.
The best part is that experience is easily accessible and, in many cases, requires no formal education or training.
Step 3: Decide what type of animal boarding business is right for you
When you think of the ubiquitousness of pets and how much people love them, the number of pet business ideas from which you can profit is wide open and very promising.
As such, boarding kennels can trail off into several different directions, so you’ll want to know which is best for you.
Prepare yourself for this important decision by taking IBPSA’s complimentary webinar on business models. The following sections offer some specific points to consider. Keep reading.
There are two types of home-based kennels: at the customer’s home or in your home. And here’s a fun fact: Experts feel this is a wonderful option for anxious dogs.
If you offer this arrangement, be transparent about other pets and pet guests in the home and the conditions of the house. Consider setting up a meet-and-greet with prospective customers.
Before trotting off in this direction, check local laws and ordinances, especially if you’re a renter.
Pet sitting and dog walking
Larry and his wife started small. Initially, they sat pets and walked dogs for extra income. Two decades later, they invested $700k to open a larger location to serve as a local “community center for pets.”
Please keep it simple by registering with a service like Rover.com, a bookings portal for sitters and dog walkers. Also, read this article on how to start a pet sitting business.
Don’t snooze on offering dog sitting as part of housesitting as these services are often combined and allow you to travel to exciting destinations.
Like pet sitting and dog walking, housesitting is an excellent way to begin your business with limited start-up funds.
Investigate how to start a dog kennel
Kennel-based animal care facilities might be what most people think of for boarding. There are crated and private room facilities, like The Doggy Dorm. There are even crate-free layouts, like at Dogs Unleashed.
If you’ve got the resources to make it happen, consider opening a brick-and-mortar location. Big or small, physical space will provide the most freedom to allow you to accept more furry guests than doing it at home.
Start a doggy daycare at a veterinarian’s office
If you are a veterinarian, then assess how to offer kenneling as an additional service. Pets with age-related or health issues usually benefit from this amenity.
Include cats and other pets
Tips for boarding other types of pets are available on petinsurance.com.
Larry and his wife diversified their services to include daycare, boarding, pet sitting, walking, first-aid training, and more, made possible by their years of experience in the industry.
Some providers endorse and sell products, such as personalized tags and collars, shampoos, and collapsible dog dens.
Larry says retail is new for his business and, while speaking about Metro Dog’s new location, mentions:
So, don’t be afraid to add on products and services related to pets.
Step 4: Write a dog boarding business plan
You’re super excited about the idea of making tons of fluffy friends, right?
So, let’s document a plan to put this idea in motion. A business plan is crucial, and we have advice and resources to help.
Sniff out the market
Before drafting your business plan, it’s best to analyze the market. Tease out your target audience and local options for pet lodging. Here’s the magic: you’ll land in a better position to make intelligent decisions.
No matter the type of business, the sections of a business plan are the same. Make it a practical, living document by delving into specifics within each area.
Specific items to highlight in your kennel business plan are:
- Additional services you might provide
- Answering the question, “Are there kennels in my area?”
- The best location for starting a dog kennel
- Financial projections and costs, especially as the business grows
- Pet boarding kennel insurance to provide adequate coverage
- Regulations for being a pet boarding business owner
- The unique competitive advantage of your professional dog kennel
When you’re ready to play ball, use our in-depth guide that comes with a free business plan template.
We’ve all done it: create a beautiful plan on paper only to realize that bringing it to life requires adjustments.
The bottom line is that while you need to go through the exercise of writing a business plan, it’s not a static document. Just remember to be flexible and embrace change, and everything will work out.
Step 5: Choose the right name for your pet care business
After figuring out your boarding business model, devise a memorable and playful name. Let me show you how.
Have fun, but leave some wiggle room
Make sure the name is easy to spell, pronounceable, and gives strangers some idea of what your business does.
For instance, Room & Bark Boarding Services is light and easy to say, and there’s no guessing what the enterprise offers.
Are you not sold on cute and quirky names? Then try sleek and elegant or something that includes your location, like South Austin Pet Lounge or Metro Dog Seattle.
Try to ensure it won’t need changing in the future because that can be troublesome and expensive.
Hang a tag with a brand
Remember branding when choosing a name because it’s like a shiny label your business wears to distinguish itself from others.
Ask yourself how your name will look on a logo or graphics and an image you might incorporate that complements your selected moniker. Learn more in the sales and marketing section (Step 13) of this guide.
Gobble up a dot com
Check to see if your business name is available as a dot com. Using one for your website will give you an established look and make your virtual address easier to remember.
Search for available domain names and dig into UpFlip’s guide on creating a website. Give it a go!
What if I buy an existing business?
In most cases, boarding kennels that are “for sale by owner” already have a name. Research the business’ reputation to decide if you want to keep the name or rebrand with a new one.
Chew on a bit of feedback
Run your name through Google Trends and seek your friends’ and family members’ feedback.
Google Trends will tell you what searches are trending on the Internet, while your friends and family will just tell you their opinions.
After that, you decide, but it can’t hurt to hear what others think, especially if they’re looking out for your best interests.
If all looks good and you’re ready to make it official, then register your business name with the government.
Step 6: What is legally required to start a dog daycare business?
Selecting a legal structure is like placing your doggie daycare in the right-sized crate. The truth is, this step is usually beyond the expertise of many entrepreneurs.
So, expect to incur costs engaging the services of an accountant, attorney, and tax professional. The best part is, many of these professionals make excellent business coaches!
Licenses and permits
Figure out what licenses, permits, and tax forms you’ll need. It all depends on your location and the services offered. For example, your city might have a barking ordinance. It’s understandable.
Evaluate how to set up your business as one of the following:
|Sole proprietorship||The easiest option, but doesn’t protect personal assets.|
|Limited liability corporation||Protects personal assets and provides tax advantages but has time-consuming administrative requirements.|
|Franchise||It’s an agreement to sell services for a franchisor in exchange for an already established business, sort of like a pre-assembled doghouse.|
|Corporation or partnership||A less likely option because most pet boarding businesses employ fewer than 50 people. Learn more on Investopedia.|
As expected, dealing with live animals and their byproducts merits a figurative collar and leash to control the effects on the facility, community, and environment. Learn about regulations in your locale and comply with them.
For example, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OhioEPA) has precise rules about animal waste. Non-compliance can result in serious penalties. Don’t let this be you.
Step 7: Select a location
Larry and his wife found a dog daycare location in 2001. He says:
The location you can have or access goes paw-in-paw with the type of boarding business you can own. Let me explain.
How much does it cost to build a dog boarding facility?
A brick-and-mortar location requires you to investigate the feasibility of building a new facility, leasing a space, or buying an existing building.
While investigating, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can I find a dog boarding business for sale in the area where I want to do business?
- Is there commercial leasing for a pet boarding business near me?
- What’s the proximity to similar boarding facilities?
- What are the area’s demographics, and how do they compare to my targeted customer base?
Dig a little deeper by making these inquiries:
- Is this location the right size for the services I want to offer?
- Should I buy a business for sale?
- What utilities and infrastructure are needed?
- What are the zoning laws for my type of business?
A quick note about leasing a commercial property
Investigate the condition of the property to ensure business disruptions will be minimal. At least make sure the building passed its code inspections.
Nevertheless, some things are unavoidable, like when Larry’s landlord closed his whole building for two weeks—right in the middle of the busy summer boarding season—to upgrade the electrical system.
Designing a kennel or at-home location
The right location and design will elevate you to alpha status in this business.
The Barkleigh Store (cute name) sells a book on how to design a kennel. Information for an at-home operation is also available in Upflip’s guide on starting a pet sitting business.
No matter your location, zoning is super-important. Learn as much as you can so that you don’t bark up the wrong tree with local authorities, especially the public health department.
Step 8: Hire the right people
Now let’s consider your labor options. Like Larry and his wife, you could start on your own or with a partner, at least until business picks up.
Limiting staff keeps costs down without worrying about whether you can pay employees fairly and keep them around. It’s a perfect option if you plan to start with walking and sitting gigs rather than a full-on boarding facility.
However, hiring someone who has experience could get things off the ground sooner rather than later if you have the money to do it.
Just be sure that whomever you hire has the same level of passion for pet care as you and that they’re comfortable and confident working with dogs of all breeds and sizes.
For inspiration, view this kennel attendant job description and interview questions.
If you bring on some helping hands, use the following checklist to comply with employment laws:
- Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.
- Keep employment tax records per this guide provided by the IRS.
- Pay federal unemployment tax.
- Hang Workplace Posters in a visible spot.
Step 9: Stock your boarding facility with equipment and supplies
However you decide to outfit your boarding business, just remember that cleanliness and organization are your keys to success. Now let’s go over the equipment and supplies you’ll need.
If you’re planning to start small like Larry and his wife, only basic supplies and equipment are needed.
It should include the following:
- Hands-free leash and waist pack
- Poop bags
- Pet first-aid kit
- Dog wipes
- Treats and water
For an extensive list of pet-sitting supplies, have a look at this guide from Pet Sitters International.
For those opening a brick-and-mortar boarding business, there’s quite a bit more to consider.
Most importantly, the days of crated dog care are on their way out, as many dog owners now prefer cage-free environments for their precious companions.
Have some crates and large kennels for overnight care.
To keep up with the progression of daytime dog care, customers prefer open areas where dogs can socialize and play.
Indoor and outdoor spaces
Cutting-edge boarding facilities include indoor and outdoor spaces, so you’ll want to consider materials for outfitting both if that’s the route you take. The Home Depot offers a delightful collection of dog playground equipment.
Cleaning and sanitizing
Once you build a safe and secure space for your four-legged guests, you’ll need plenty of cleaning supplies to keep everything sanitized.
Pick up basic grooming supplies, like bathing stations, soaps, shampoos, plenty of towels, and nail trimmers.
There are so many whimsical and clever ways to decorate a pet-focused business. Take advantage of the possibilities and be creative!
Larry says this about his new facility, “It’s also bright on colors and lighting. Even during the public health inspection, the inspector commented on how nice and bright it is.”
If you’re looking for inspiration, then check out what Amazon.com has to offer.
Step 10: Incorporate safety protocols for boarding kennels
The most important part of dog boarding is keeping your furry guests safe and healthy. After all, that’s why their owners brought them to you. The safety of you and your staff is also a top priority.
As we mentioned earlier, you and your employees will need training in first aid for dogs. Keep contact information for each pup’s veterinarian on file.
It wouldn’t hurt to have a working relationship with a local vet’s office, just to be safe. Being up to speed on basic human first-aid will also be helpful in the case of a bite or other injuries.
Meet and greet
Require a “trial day” to help prevent incidents. During the evaluation, closely monitor new dogs to get to know them.
Be sure you and your staff can accommodate and address any anxiety and behavioral issues your pet guest presents.
Require all clients to provide vaccination records for their dogs to limit the spread of illness and disease. All dogs should also be spayed and neutered.
In addition, discuss these areas in your safety plan:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance
- General things that can go wrong and how to handle them
- Regular inspections for safety issues
- Working conditions per Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements
Step 11: Get the right insurance
I’ve been there, thinking there’s insurance for everything nowadays. You’re probably asking if you need to take on that extra expense. The short answer is a resounding yes.
Insurance protects your business if something happens to a dog, you, or your property. General liability insurance is a must because it covers bodily injury, property damage, and medical payments—all-important for a pet business.
On average, kennels spend $300 to $700 for every $1m in coverage, which is about what other types of businesses spend on this type of insurance policy.
Other types of coverage to consider are:
- Commercial property insurance
- Commercial umbrella insurance
- Commercial auto insurance
- Home-based business insurance
Make it a priority to spend some time reading more about insurance for kennels.
Step 12: Handle your kenneling costs and revenue with a sound financial plan
It’s time to talk finances. Ambling in this area will prevent your kennel business from covering the ground it needs to succeed. Let me explain.
Accounting, taxes, and money flow are easier to manage in one location, such as a business bank account for all your business transactions. Some businesses even set up a separate account for payroll.
A well-thought-out budget is like a dog gate to secure your finances by keeping them where you want them to be.
If numbers aren’t your thing, explore affordable budgeting courses from Udemy.com and Coursera.
Manage your budget with an application like Xero or QuickBooks.
Ways to acquire funds for your new business include the following:
- Angel investor or venture capitalist
- Credit cards
- Government programs
- Home equity loan
- Personal funding
- Loans from friends or family
- Loans from a lending institution
- Rollover for business startups (ROBS)
Each option has its pros and cons. Take a look at this SBA guide for an introduction to business funding to learn more.
Pricing is a mysterious obstacle faced by many business owners. Take control of it by determining the value of your service. Start by researching your market and competition.
Refer to the market analysis section of your business plan, check the prices in that market, and then use the information to determine your value proposition on the price of kenneling dogs or cats.
How much is dog boarding?
Most boarding businesses charge by the day, with the option for add-on services like grooming.
The American Pet Products Association (APPA) publishes market research every other year, informing what consumers spend and other significant data. Give it a chance.
Keep in mind that you might need to increase prices annually to keep up with minimum wage increases and inflation.
You might be wondering how much a dog boarding business makes.
For Metro Dog Seattle’s first two years, the salary from Larry’s full-time job supported the business. After the start-up period, however, revenues grew enough to employ Larry and his wife full-time.
Although Larry and his wife opened the doors in 2001, weathering economic and global events over the years, within the last five years, his revenue increased from $660k to over $800k annually. Not bad.
Cuddle up to this dog daycare cash flow. See what the average consumer spends annually on pet ownership—including boarding costs—on Investopedia.com.
Step 13: Kick-off a sales and marketing campaign
Marketing attracts customers, and sales bring in revenue. Be the leader of the pack by following the advice in the sections below.
Know your customer
Here’s the magic: Tapping into the pet care services market won’t be difficult as consumers are already spending tons of money on pet hotel costs.
In fact, according to recent Economic Census statistics, consumer spending on pet care services totaled $5.8bn. Think about that for a minute.
Figure out what your ideal customer looks like by creating a customer avatar. Keep reading.
Partnerships and Specials
Build relationships with other entrepreneurs. Veterinarians, pet stores, and groomers might be open to exchanging service promotions.
For instance, “Buds N Suds” grooming can provide their customers a unique promotional code to redeem with your business for 10% off your services—or vice versa.
At Metro Dogs, Larry offers special deals for foster and service dogs. Think about what this could mean for your business.
Establish a logo and brand identity
DIY or hire a graphic designer to develop a simple and effective logo and brand identity. Branding is your visual introduction to the public, so be sure to do the work required.
While you’re at it, follow Forbes’ expert advice for small businesses. It provides excellent guidance for establishing your:
- Tone – Are you professional, casual, or funny?
- Values – What’s important, and how will you communicate it?
- Blog – Because 81% of readers trust the information.
You can DIY your logo and brand identity, but if it’s too time-consuming, then consider hiring a freelancer to assist.
The digital age all but demands a strong strategy for online marketing. You’ll fare much better if you set up a website, social media profiles, and email newsletter subscriptions.
If you’re interested in going further, buy digital ads, try search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, and set up a digital business card with Popl.
A fun fact is that featured snippets can establish you as a dog-boarding authority. It’s worth your time to learn how to optimize for these in your web-based content.
Printed marketing collateral
Include printed materials in your marketing strategies, such as brochures, car magnets, flyers, door hangers, t-shirts, and other printed items. Take advantage of the robust templates and graphics-editing tools on Canva.com.
Direct contact can be effective. Visit dog parks or even try cold calls to fetch initial clients.
Professional appearance as a walking advertisement for your business
Sales and marketing tactics are super important, but what reigns supreme is your level of service and how you represent your business.
Maintain a clean and organized facility. Provide efficient and friendly service to match. Implement neat uniforms, even if it’s simply a branded polo shirt.
Proactively seek reviews and respond to negative reviews professionally.
Take it from Larry, who says:
Don’t leave traditional media outlets out of your marketing plan because they can still provide great exposure for your business.
Television talk shows interviewed Larry and his wife, and he’s written articles about pet safety. The Seattle Times quoted him about safety hikes with dogs, and the couple demonstrates pet first aid at events.
Step 14: Establish sound business processes for daily operations
Business process maps might seem like something giant corporations pay consultants tens of thousands of dollars to create.
However, they’re a simple tool that any entrepreneur can use to:
- Establish operational processes.
- Create customer-facing materials.
- Deploy new products and services.
- Work through the ideal and alternative paths of daily processes.
LucidChart has several excellent tutorials, videos, and a free cloud-based application to get you started.
Well-thought-out processes will also give you a better idea of which tasks to delegate to staff. Use them as a starting point for a policies and procedures manual.
Key processes to document
Here are a few ideas of process diagrams you can create to document your business operations:
- Acclimating new pet guests
- Answering pet parents’ questions and concerns
- Handling incidents
- Laying out the facility
- Keeping people and pets separate and secure
- Processing payments and reconciling accounts
- Running the back office and providing administrative support
- Sanitizing on a schedule and performing the related activities
- Scheduling exercise, feeding, and grooming
Refer to this article by AKC Pet Insurance to guide you to the kinds of processes you might need.
After mapping your processes, set expectations of acceptable and prohibited behavior (by staff and customers) with clearly written policies centered around topics such as:
- Hours of operation
- Health conditions and medications
- Pick up and drop off
- Weather events
Check out the policy and procedure templates available on Smartsheet.com and Template.net.
People will always need pet care, so go out and do it!
The three pillars of Metro Dog Seattle’s success are tenacity, knowledge, and flexibility. As Larry says:
Now that you know what it will take to open your very own dog boarding business, what’s your next step?
At this point, there’s not much standing between you and a room full of loveable furballs!
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I the right person to own a pet boarding business?
- Do I have what it takes to handle customers and their concerns?
- How can I ensure my facility is profitable?
- Do I still want to be a dog daycare business owner?
Learn even more by watching our video on how to start a business. Now go out and do it!
Great article. But “bussiness plan?”
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