FAQ: How to Start a Dog Walking Business in California

Walking a golden retriever in the Golden State sounds wonderful. Making money while doing it sounds even better. Learn what it takes to start a dog walking business in California

By , Attorney
Updated by Amanda Hayes, Attorney · University of North Carolina School of Law

If you love animals and want to build a business around walking dogs, you can. But like with any business, you need to make sure you're following all the rules before you officially open.

Here, we answer common questions about providing dog walking services in California. To learn the general steps you need to take to launch your business anywhere, read our article on starting a dog walking business.

To learn about other California business opportunities, see our section on starting a business in California.

Which Type of Business Structure Should I Choose for My Dog Walking Services?

As a business owner in California, you have several business structures to consider, each with its advantages and disadvantages:

If you're starting your business on your own, your best options are a sole proprietorship or single-member LLC (SMLLC). If you're going into business with at least one other person, you'll choose between a multi-member LLC (the same as an SMLLC but with more than one owner), a partnership, a limited partnership, or a corporation.

California sole proprietorships. If you don't register your business with the California Secretary of State (SOS) and you're running your company by yourself, then you're automatically a sole proprietor in California. A sole proprietorship is less expensive and requires less work than an SMLLC. But you'll be personally liable for anything that happens with your business—for example, you'll be personally on the hook if your business is successfully sued to cover a vet bill. (For further guidance, read about forming a sole proprietorship in California.)

California LLCs. If you want to protect your personal assets, you'll need to file Articles of Organization with the SOS to form an LLC. However, doing business as a California LLC comes at a cost. You'll be responsible for paying an $800 minimum tax to the Franchise Tax Board (FTB). You'll also be responsible for filing biennial statements and reporting other yearly taxes. (For more, read about how to start an LLC in California.)

California partnerships and limited partnerships. When you go into business with another person in California, you automatically create a partnership. There's no need to file any forms with the state (though you should draft a partnership agreement to govern your business relationship). Like sole proprietors, general partners are personally liable for business debts. If you want to stay a partnership but limit your liability, you can form a limited partnership. You must file a Certificate of Limited Partnership with the SOS to form a limited partnership in California. California partnerships don't need to pay the minimum $800 business tax but limited partnerships do. (For more information, read about how to create a partnership in California.)

California corporations. If you want limited personal liability and a structured management scheme, forming a California corporation could be a good option. To create your corporation, you'll need to file Articles of Incorporation with the SOS. Your business will also need to pay the $800 minimum tax to the FTB. (To learn more, read about establishing a corporation in California.)

With your dog walking services, forming an LLC probably provides the most benefits. While California does impose a minimum tax on LLCs, your personal assets will be protected. You'll also have flexibility in how your company is taxed and managed, which can be advantageous as your business grows.

You can register your California corporation, LLC, or limited partnership by mail or online at the SOS bizfile website.

For more information on the different business types, read California's section on entity types on the SOS website or our article on choosing a business structure.

Do I Need to File a DBA for My Business?

When you do business under a name that's not your legal name, you're using a fictitious business name (FBN)—also known as a "DBA" (short for "doing business as") or a "trade name." California requires you to file an FBN statement with the county clerk's office in the county where your business is located if:

  • you're a sole proprietor using a business name that doesn't include your last name
  • you're doing business as a partnership and your partnership's name doesn't include the partners' last names, or
  • your company is an LLC or corporation and the name your doing business under is different from the legal name that's registered with the SOS.

(Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17913 (2023).)

For more help on choosing a business name and registering your DBA, see the FTB's guide to DBAs.

Do I Need to Apply for a California Business License or Seller's Permit?

No. You're only required to have a seller's permit if you'll sell or lease taxable goods. For more information on state licenses and permits, visit the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CTDFA) website.

But you need to check with your city or county for local license requirements. Most California cities don't require any special license or permit to walk dogs.

For more, read our article on how to get a small business license in California.

What Taxes Do I Need to Pay to California for My Dog Walking Business?

You have to register your business with the appropriate state department or agency for taxes only if you pay and report:

  • sales and use tax
  • special taxes (such as for cannabis, fuel, or alcohol), or
  • employment tax.

So, unless you have employees, you won't have to register for taxes for your dog-walking business.

If your business is organized as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or LLC taxed as a partnership, it's considered a pass-through entity. In that case, you'll pay and report your business income on your personal tax return. If your business is organized as a corporation or as an LLC taxed as a corporation, your business will report and pay taxes.

State payroll taxes. If you have employees, you'll need to register with the California Employment Development Department (EDD) to file state payroll taxes like wage withholding and unemployment insurance. You can manage your employer payroll tax account online using the EDD's e-Services.

Sales and use tax. Because you're only providing services, you don't need to pay any sales and use tax in California. However, if you sell products—like leashes and collars—alongside your services, you'll need to pay register with the CTDFA to report and pay sales tax on those items.

You should also check with your city or town for specific tax requirements.

Do I Need to Comply With Local Zoning Laws?

Running a dog walking business likely doesn't require you to abide by any zoning laws because your business probably doesn't have a set location you operate from. But if you do have a headquarters, you should check the zoning ordinances for your city or town.

For more information, read our article on the legal requirements for starting your small business.

What Health and Safety Codes are Associated With a Dog Walking Business?

Dogs generally need to relieve themselves when you take them on walks. Many local governments have specific rules requiring people to clean up after their dogs. For example, San Diego's municipal code says that you can't let your dog pee or poop on any property that you don't own, and if your dog does, you have to clean up after them. Similarly, most local governments have laws requiring that all dogs in public places be leashed.

For instance, Orange County has pet laws that cover issues like:

  • leashes for dogs
  • dogs on school property, county parks, and beaches
  • barking dogs
  • dogs on private property
  • cleaning up after dogs
  • dog licenses, and
  • inhumane treatment of dogs.

Review your local laws about pets before you start your business.

What Types of Insurance Do I Need in California?

California generally doesn't have specific insurance requirements for businesses. If you have employees, California does require that you get workers' compensation insurance.

Otherwise, it's up to you whether you want to purchase insurance for your business. While not required, it's a good idea to invest in good insurance coverage. The cost of your policy might depend on:

  • where you live (say, Los Angeles versus Redding)
  • the size of your business
  • how long you've been in business for
  • what you need coverage for, and
  • the potential hazards of your business (think about the risk of dog bites, damage to furniture, and the kinds of dogs you'll care for).

A business based on dog walking comes with special risks: You're dealing with live animals and engaged in physical activity. So, you should really consider looking into some insurance coverage before you start taking customers. You should specifically look at the different types of pet insurance, which can give you coverage for vet bills, dog bites, and furniture damage.

For more general guidance, read about what types of insurance your small business needs.

Additional Help With Your Small Business

In California, you can launch your dog walking business without much paperwork. You might even only be responsible for filing a couple of forms per year and paying a small fee. But it's important that you do your due diligence before you start advertising your services. You don't want to get your business up and running just to put it on hold to resolve compliance issues.

You can visit the SOS website and the California state website to research what your business needs. California also provides a starting a business checklist to help get you started. You can also read our article on how to start a business in California. And if you have specific legal questions, talk to a California business lawyer.

If you're interested in educating yourself further, check out Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business, by Fred S. Steingold (Nolo).

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