Why Do I Need a Dog Walking Contract?
A dog walking contract will provide transparency and establish boundaries with your clients. It’s important for a potential client to understand the services you provide, the price, and the payment terms. Your contract will also help manage your client’s expectations, which is extremely important when considering your reputation. Review your dog walking contract with each client to help determine if your service is the right fit for them. While a legal professional should write your contract, you will need to provide them with an outline to follow. The ensuing back and forth is an excellent way to make sure you have not overlooked any potential issues.
Describe Your Services and Add-ons in Detail
The first step to starting your dog walking business is to determine which services you'll provide. In addition to dog walking, do you also provide cat sitting, overnight care or boarding? Your contract should include a complete list of each service you provide along with a brief description. Make sure you are specific, the more detail you include in the contract, the fewer questions, and issues you'll run into down the line. Do you give oral meds but not injections? It is important to be absolutely clear about the additional services you provide. For example, our dog walking service contract states, “overnight services include two 30-minute walks, one when your walker arrives in the evening, a quick outing before bed and one 30-minute walk prior to departing in the morning. Any additional walks throughout the day are scheduled as separate services.” This provides clients a clear understanding of our service and sets their expectations prior to booking.
Explain Your Additional Fees
Once you have addressed the service related details, it is important to lay out your company's policies regarding last minute appointments, cancellations, medical emergencies, dangerous weather, etc. I have a separate section of the contract for each of these policies. At least once a month a client calls to ask why I charged them for cancellation. My dog walking contract clearly states we charge for all cancelations that occur within 15 hours of the appointment start time. When I get questions, I am able to refer to the contract and typically the situation is resolved without issue.
Include Pricing and Billing Terms
Now that your clients understand exactly what services you provide, make sure that your dog walking contract clearly states how much you will charge. Don’t forget to list the prices for add-on services such as additional pet fees, mail collection, and medication. Be clear about any surcharges you may have for after-hours service, weekend service, holiday service, etc. It is very important that your client has a clear understanding of the charges before their first billing period. exactly how you expect them to pay for services rendered. Do you want them to pre-pay, cash on delivery or terms? What forms of payment do you accept, cash, check or credit cards? Which credit cards? My company uses “term” billing and reads “All payments for services rendered are due weekly by credit card only. We accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, AMEX, and PayPal.”
Establish Policies and Procedures
Explain, in detail, the company's policies and procedures to potential customers. Include last minute appointments, cancellations, medical emergencies, dangerous weather, etc. I have a separate section of the contract for each of these policies.
Dog Walker Safety
During the meet, I also discuss the safety of our walkers and their pet as it relates to weather and road conditions and how we handle pet medical emergencies. I also let clients know the required equipment. For example, a collar or harness, id tags, and a strong, non-retractible, leash are all required. No flexi® leashes!
Add a Release of Liability to Your Dog Walking Contract
One of the most important aspects of our contract is the “Release of Liability”. I use our dog walking contract as a guide during the meet and greet. The release of liability states exactly what we are not accountable for. It says to our clients that we will provide service in “kind, reliable, and trustworthy manner” but most importantly it states that animals are “unpredictable” and certain behaviors and unavoidable incidents may occur, especially outside on city streets. I discuss, in detail, our policy on found food outside and off-leash dog incidents. I have never had a client turned off by this. It saves a lot of time and effort by addressing the issues that may occur before they happen. Remember to manage your client’s expectations and deliver what you have promised.
Other Policies and Procedures
While informing your clients about what you do is important, informing them of what your dog walking company won't do is just as critical. For example, we do not use extender leashes. We are a company based in a big city and extending leashes can be dangerous for both pet and walker. While Scout has pack walking features, my company doesn't offer that. We also don't visit dog parks. These are the decisions I made early on, and I have turned down clients who insist on having these services. Now that you have a good basis for what to cover in your contract, you should find a reputable lawyer to draft the document for you. Don't rely on online do-it-yourself legal services. It may look like a cheap alternative but in the legal world, you get what you pay for, and it's worth the extra money to have a document you can rely on to protect your business.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in November 2016 and has been updated for completeness and accuracy.