Genna Lenden of Puplins Dog Walking Cheshire in her car being licked by a dacshund.

Say Hello To Puplins Dog Walking (Cheshire)

Welcome to the first interview in our Business Pawspectives series. In this series, we'll be meeting petpreneurs from around the world and getting to know more about them, their businesses and what makes them tick. 

In this first instalment, Book Your Pet's Liam Marshall sat down with Genna Lenden, owner of Puplins Dog Walking in Cheshire, England.

Take a look at their chat below:

For those of you who'd prefer to read this interview with Puplins Dog Walking Cheshire, you can find the full conversation below!

Liam: Welcome everybody to our Business Pawspectives series. Today [we're joined by] Genna, who is the owner of Puplins Dog Walking, which is based in Cheshire, England.

So, Genna, give us a bit of an introduction about yourself and your business and let people know who you are and what you do.

Genna: Yes. Absolutely.

So I'm Genna Lenden and I run Puplins Dog Walking. But it's not just walking I do. I do walking and dog grooming, and I also do canine holistics as well which is something that I've just ventured into because the business is growing and is really going really successfully. So it's just an added extra that I'd like to offer to our clients.

So I'll give you a little bit of the story about my background I suppose and how I ended up getting into dog walking and working with dogs. 

I've always loved dogs and I've grown up with dogs and we've always had big dogs. When I was born, we had two Pyrenean Mountain dogs, and so being a little tiny tot I was around such big dogs from the start. Then from then on we've had Rottweilers and German Shepherds. So we've always been around big dogs, me and my sister growing up.

I suppose growing up, when you're younger people say to you, what is it, you want to do? What job do you want to do? From a really, really young age I just used to say, I want to be a police dog handler.

My dad was in the prison service so I kind of had that authoritative role around me. I saw that career around me and I suppose I just ventured into I don't want to be a prison officer, but I'd love to be a police officer and a police handler. Going back, 30 years now, but when I was at school, the police would come in and do demonstrations with police dogs, where they do agility, jump over hoops, and things like that. And the police would demonstrate to you what the police dogs do. I just used to, sit there in awe of them, wanting to just be part of it. So yeah, that was my dream growing up.

I went through school and got to the age of 18 and I applied for the police. I was turned down because of my height at the time, there was a height restriction and I needed to be five foot seven and I was five foot one and a half and that half made all the difference.

It kind of ruined my plans and there was a bit of, what do I do now?

So I ended up going to university and fell into doing a business degree which was great because it gave me the career that I've probably had for the last 20 years working in marketing. But working with dogs was probably always the love that I had and it was always something that I wanted to always go to.

I was just still always at that point to go back to it and volunteered at pack walks and dog shelters, and things like that. However, I was still not doing anything full-time.

I'm probably a big believer in, the universe and getting signs and things like that. I used to always be like, how can I get into working with animals when I'm in such a good position, financially? I've got a really good job. I've got really good career prospects. I've got a good salary. How is it that I just pull the plug on this and go and start from scratching and build a business in walking dogs or working with dogs ?

What helped me with that was when Covid hit I was made redundant. So that was kind of like the time I thought, I'm going take the bull by the horns and start doing something about this love of mine that I've had my whole life.

So I went back to college to study dog grooming and got qualified as a dog groomer. Then from there, I took the opportunity with my business background with my qualifications and academic qualifications to start a business, and that's where Puplins was invented suppose.

It's still part-time at the moment because I work for the family business, which is a joinery business, but the part-time I do for dog walking I'm fully booked and I'm actually turning away people as well who would like to work with me.

I suppose the USP (or the unique selling point) of my business is that I'm a one-to-one dog walker.

You can get quite easily dog walkers that do pack walking. I feel like my strength is working with big dogs, powerful dogs, and dogs, that could be reactive with other dogs or dogs that have special circumstances nervous.

So, I believe that when dogs like that are walking in packs, they're not getting the best out of the walk. They're not getting the best of what they need as an animal. So being one-to-one means that you can spend that quality time with that dog. Whether it's anxious, you know exactly the environment to take them to, the situations that you're going to approach and how you can deal with them.

I'm going to give an example - this one dog from a two-dog family that I walk. One is a nervous dog since Covid and since some work that's been going on at home, he's become very, very nervous. He's a gorgeous, social, lovable dog but outside of the house he started to dislike men and he started to get really nervous around the road and road noises like at the crossings and things like that.

So I was able to take him out walking on a one-to-one basis without his sister who was actually day blind. So obviously, they've both got two completely different needs but walking them one at a time I was able to concentrate on his nervous energy and it's just such a nice experience to build confidence with that dog.

He's walking to the point now where he's really confident, he's not worried about crossing the road, he's not so worried about other dogs coming over. He's not trying to attack every man that walks past because he thinks that something bad's going happen. So, It's that kind of gratitude you get from your job - and it's an unspoken gratitude you get from animals, which is why I really enjoy working with them.

Genna Lenden of Puplins Dog Walking Cheshire sat on a hay bale, dressed in Book Your hoodie and baseball cap. She is looking directly at the camera.

Liam: When you first start with new dogs that you're working with, how do you sort of figure out what those individual needs are and how do you build those relationships with them? What's the process that you have behind that?

Genna: So from my business background I kind of have a marketing strategy where I'm specifically advertising online to people that want one-to-one services because they've got those special circumstances like reactive dogs or nervous dogs. From there we'll have a bit of a conversation with the owner to just go look at what is it that they've got issues with and the next step is to meet the dog, have a meet and greet and put something in the diary to go and sit with them for half.

I want to meet them, spend some time with them, see how they react in the home environment and see how they are with their owners there.

It's kind of like a questionnaire to the owners of what they don't like, and what we could work on together and then it's a case of booking the appointment to have a trial walk.

We always do a trial walk, just to make sure that the dog's happy with me, just as much as I'm happy with the dog. And from the trial walk, we then have a bit of a sit-down and go: This is what's happened. This is what we think we can work on. And we go from there. We take that walk into booking them on a regular basis.

I've extended my hours to three days a week now for my dog walking and every day is busy. So there is obviously a spot in the market for these kinds of dogs that aren't benefiting from pack walks, so to speak.

Liam: Yeah, absolutely. It's really great that you're supporting those dogs with these, not special needs, but with additional needs, or different needs because their owners have their careers as well. T

Thinking back to when you were in your busy marketing career, possibly, I presume you've had dogs throughout your life as well, and have probably been in the position of the owners that you're helping now.

So you've kind of as well got that touch point with the owners as well as the dogs just to support them as well as supporting the needs of the dogs who perhaps they're a bit nervous or anxious or reactive.

Genna: Yes.

Liam: And I suppose when you've got a dog who behaves in that way around other dogs or in a group setting, it can impact you as well. You can become anxious and nervous about how your dog is out in the world.

Genna: Of course. Yeah, and that stems down to them. It goes down the lead to them. Just the energy, in the space with them. Obviously, it rubs off with them, doesn't it? I mean, I'm definitely not a trainer, and I'm not any kind of rehabilitator, but physically, you can see what a dog needs as a dog lover.

I just think the most sensible thing is to take them to a park with very few animals to start off with, until they build up the confidence. And what's really lovely Liam, is that you see their confidence building over time, and it's almost that it's intangible. You can't physically touch it or anything, but you see the dog just come into the room and be really comfortable to just, I mean, go the toilet around you. One dog in particular that I walk, he wouldn't go to the toilet when he was out with me.

For so long he was just so nervous. His tail was always tucked underneath his legs and then over time, over a good month or so, with building up a relationship with me, building confidence with me and building trust with me as well - which you've got to do with animals - he's now quite happy to have a sniff around and have a little wee.

Liam: It's a measure of your success as well. That's kind of the question when people start their business - How do you measure your success? And the thing a lot of people just default to is financial success, being the only measure that you have in business. If you're making a profit, then you're successful. But like you say there are other ways to be successful.

Obviously, the goal is to make a profit when you're in a business. But there's also that enrichment to your own life in terms of the quality of your life and seeing the progression of those dogs and how you've helped them to develop.

So it's nice to be able to measure success in ways that sit outside of the traditional norm in a business sense.

Genna: Definitely, definitely. And you do see that. That's the reason that I've carried on doing this, Liam.

I'd like to take this even further, once the family business, I work for kind of, has that space for me to flee the nest. I'd just like to take this and run with it because I've seen that there's that gap in the market for these types of dogs - special circumstance dogs could we call them? What I get from it is so much more rewarding than meeting any KPI or any budget in my corporate life. Any budget I'm supposed to smash, any event that's been a success. Any kind of ROI that's completely exceeded expectations.

I get so much more of this because I've done something to enhance this animal's life and that then passes on to their owners as well. Their role is then to have a much better quality of life with that animal. If it kind of stops animals going into care, or going into shelters because they can't be dealt with - because every animal, I do believe can be dealt with or trained or helped in some way - it's a tiny drop in the ocean where I am at the moment, but it's something that gives me real pride to do.

It's that unspoken gratitude you get from the dogs as well that they can't tell you, 'Thanks very much', but you see it when you're taking them back home and they see you the next time and nothing beats that feeling when you're knocking on the door, to pick the dog up for the walk that day, and they're just so excited to see you. I just love that feeling.

Liam: You mentioned at the beginning that you were branching out into a more holistic side of the business is that kind of inspired by that and can you tell us more about what that holistic element of the business involved?

Genna: Absolutely, yes. So, I'm a Reiki Master, I've studied Reiki for the last 12 years, and I've become qualified as a Reiki master, and I've practised Reiki on friends, on family, and nobody appreciates it more than my own dog.

She comes over and she sits next to me whenever she needs it and she'll sit there and I just know, she wants a little bit of Reiki type thing. So I suppose that's what's helped me with when I'm walking bigger, dogs, or reactive dogs, I'll do a lot of work on myself and my energy before I go to pick them up. With dogs, I truly believe that energy passes down the lead and passes around to them. From there I do believe that's helped, without me realizing, the journey of each individual dog.

So I thought these dogs that can't walk about or these dogs that are a bit older, they don't go out so a walk wouldn't benefit them but me maybe visiting them for half an hour sessions and doing some hands-on Reiki on them would definitely benefit.

There's so much more in this day and age of energy healing and mental health issues, and animals, have mental health issues just the same as humans and I truly believe the holistic side of what I've got qualified in and what I'm experienced in, I can pass that on through animals as well.

So that's where I'm envisioning. It's just the destination at the minute that's holding me back on that.

I've not really got anywhere to have them to be able to do that. I mean, I can go to their house and do it and they're in their own surroundings, and that's all lovely and very calming. But I'd like to be able to invite them to somewhere which is a really calming space for them to spend time with me and like-minded people and it's a good energy place for them to leave happy. 

Genne Lenden from Puplins Dog Walking Cheshire walking a black staffordshire bull terrier in the park.

Liam: So just talking about the timeline of your business. You mentioned that you had first started as a  groomer and then the walking came after, but the walking is now sort of the primary element of the business.

How did you go from grooming to walking? How did that timeline kind of settle itself into walking?

Genna: Okay, yes, I became a qualified groomer and nobody says to you, when you finish grooming you need X amount of month's experience in this. You are just free to go for it.

I wanted to gain the experience, so I kind of gave myself a year. I said, right, I'm gonna have a year of practising my trade on family dogs, friends' dogs. That soon became friends of friends' dogs because they were like, Genna's grooming, so it was a build-up of me practising my grooming and people would say, "Do you not walk dogs?" "You're great with dogs, why are you not walking dogs?" And yeah, I started to walk dogs and I was thinking, it would also help me build up that client base as well for when my grooming business comes into its own.

Then the walking side just kind of took over. I would be grooming now as well more than I do if I had the premises. 

I'm working on something in the background that hopefully by the start of next year, I will have those grooming premises and that will be something I'm going to run as a business where I will be in there grooming. But I'd like to kind of see a three-year plan with it where I'd almost like to have a school where I'm training people to do the grooming as well.

I'd never let go of the dog walking business because it's changed my life. It's helped me mentally as well as any of the dogs I suppose. You can go through quite a lot with being made redundant and losing your job, and this has given me, just such a different direction to focus my energy in.

It's been so rewarding and I've not had that meltdown from losing my job because of it.

Liam: You did say it was kind of like the universe giving you a little bit of a push to do it.

What sort of advice then would you give to people who perhaps don't have that same push? The people that are back in the corporate world who are thinking this isn't my passion I would love to work with animals but I don't know how to make that transition. I don't know how financially I'll support myself and they have all of those common worries.

What advice would you give to them?

Genna: I would just say go for it. I 100% wish I'd done this much sooner. You can sit comfortably in a really stressful environment that you're not really enjoying, but you're sitting comfortably financially. If you just pull that plug you will just get rewarded for it in so many ways.

It's almost like I did very little advertising Liam. I kind of started off going, okay, I'll walk the neighbor's dog and then these dogs just came, they just came to me. People just started contacting me, "Will you be able to help?"

There is a market out there for our profession. People need our services more than ever now people are going back to work from the lockdown of Covid. They're needing us more than ever and animals are needing us more than ever. There are so many animals and dogs that get put into care and shelters because Covid changed everybody's situation.

Now people are realizing, I can't look after my pet. There are people like us out there who can help you and can help you with that routine so the animals do not have to go into shelters.

Liam: It's funny how you mention that as well, in terms of how Covid changed the situation.

Obviously there was a whole lockdown puppy boom. Those dogs and those puppies from an early age had been completely surrounded by their owners for the whole time and then may have had a hard time transitioning when their owners had to go back to the office. But likewise, you have the dogs from the other side of the spectrum who were used to their owners going out to the office every day and suddenly were surrounded by them. So I suppose in some ways there were probably a lot of dogs out there who might have felt smothered by their owners, and struggled with it in that way. And potentially with their owners still being at home, still are. 

So having someone who can come and take them out of that environment for a space of time, like yourself, to go on a walk or even to sort of go to a daycare centre or stuff like that, those things are also beneficial. It's not just making sure that the dog isn't left lonely. It's making sure they have alone time.

Genna: Of course, yeah, they get used to it.

I've been lucky I fell into university, I fell into a business degree. It's massively helped me along the way because I've been educated on how to run businesses. 

Liam: And that's something you mentioned, a couple of skills that you've developed throughout your life so your marketing skills, the Reiki, and they've all sort of informed the way that you're running the business.

So is that something that you would sort of advise people to look at? What skills they've acquired over their lifetime and apply that to the business?

Genna: Yes. Absolutely, and just how you can bring it to the business and I'm not saying you need to go to university and get any kind of business degree because I honestly, honestly believe with a little tiny bit of inspiration and an academy of some sort, or even just a Business For Dummies book, you can get yourself one of those, have a read through it, and as long as you understand the fundamentals, you can do it.

I truly believe if you've got the willpower, and you've got the motivation, and you've got to get up and go to do this things will happen for you. Definitely.

Liam: We've actually got the Book Your Pet Membership as a new resource hub. So you can take those skills that you've acquired through life and, even if it's going back to childhood, like yourself and learning how to handle big dogs and having grown up with them, we've got the resources there so you can take those skills that you've learned and fill in the bits that you're missing.

Whether that's, how to do business, the bits on legal, the financing, or setting yourself up as a business entity, Book Your Pet is there to help fill in those gaps, while transferring those life skills you've acquired and turning them into the passions that you believe to them.

Genna: Absolutely having something like that is so important because it's giving you that confidence, it's that reassurance in the background that, I've got these to kind of help me out here if I need it.

Everybody at Book Your Pet is so friendly and approachable, and they've really changed a lot of my role in this and how I'm working. It's helped me massively and, knowing you've got that resource in the background if you ever need it is absolutely perfect.

It just does amazing things for your confidence and just gives you that bit more 'Go on, you can do this'.

You've got a team of so many people behind you along with all the other dog walkers and groomers and trainers and everybody else that's part of that business, it's great.

Liam: Going back to when you first started out - Is there anything that you know now that wish you'd have known at the beginning of starting your business?

Genna: Yes, get a really good pair of waterproof walking boots!

It's probably the only thing Liam, I've been through five pairs of walking boots. All of them said they were waterproof. When you're walking dogs all day, you just need to be comfortable in what you wear, and it's nice to have something on that's designer, and it's nice to have something on that says your brand name on it, but just be comfortable.

The dogs don't judge you on it, they don't judge you on what boots you've got on or what coat you've got on. So just be really, really comfortable and absolutely enjoy it.

I obviously live in Cheshire, we're at the bottom of the Peak District, it's beautiful. It's a beautiful destination and every single time I'm out with dogs and walk and just so lucky to live here and have this as my job.

People used to say, to me all the time, if you get a job that you love, you don't work a day in your life and I used to be like... there are so many times when you're in a press office in the corporate environment, you're like, 'How could I ever love this? It's awful. I'm so stressed'. But now I completely understand what that means.

I get up really early on my dog walking days and I am looking forward to walk the next dog. It's such a rewarding job.

Liam: You've mentioned the plans to get premises for the grooming and the holistic side of the business. Where do you see your business going over the next five years? What's the plan for Puplins Dog Walking?

Genna: Okay, the plan first of all is to get the premises and I'm hoping to do that at the beginning of next year to start off with. Setting up grooming in the background. I'd like to get almost like a pack behind me that would help me with my walking.

So there would be dog walking carrying on in the background with a group of like-minded, good energy people that have got experience with challenging dogs and special circumstance dogs.

It almost feels like I've got a three-year plan of three little businesses Liam. I'd like to keep the Puplins Dog Walking with a team working. I'd like to set up the grooming and salon by obviously employing groomers - putting jobs out there for groomers

I'd like to look at an academy for grooming where I can train people, then do the grooming side of the business and then that's it, that's what I'm working on.

So far there are so many doors that have been opened when it comes to animals. I mean, I'm at the moment working on just little things, like I'm arranging pack walks over weekends. I'm just gonna pop out on my social media "There's a big pack walk this weekend. It's completely free of charge." It's me with my dog and other people who are friends with their dogs and we just go on a big hike for an hour around the bottom of the Peak District.

It's a beautiful place but people who are trying to build confidence with the dogs or socialize their dogs can just join me on my walk at a weekend and we just do a little walk around completely free of charge. It doesn't cost anything. So there are little things like that, that I'm going to be adding to those businesses along the way just to try and make everything inclusive.

You might not be able to afford a dog walk but you can afford to come along to the pack walk and we can help you out with advice, tips and tricks, and especially with socializing your animals.

So, yeah, it's the obviously carried-on building up of a business where there's going to be workers walking with me for that. Build up the grooming side where we can offer opportunities for people to have grooming careers, and an academy where I can train people and then I'm still working with the animals, but obviously, giving other people the ability to work with animals as well and training them in what they need to do that.

Liam: I love that you're so focused on enriching other people's lives and enriching animals' lives while giving back from what you've learned and experienced yourself.

With that in mind, obviously, with your extensive marketing background, I do have to ask, what would you suggest to new or early years petpreneurs as the best form of marketing when it comes to a pet services business?

Genna: I would suggest online and I believe that's because you can ramp that up or turn that down. If you feel you're getting too busy, you can turn it down. If you feel you're not busy enough, you can ramp that up and that incorporates being on Google and making sure you've got your business registered on Google because that's the place where everybody goes to find your business.

Having a social media presence, your Instagram and your Facebook and posting on a regular basis will help too. You've got a dream job, you're walking around with your dog or you're grooming the dog or your training a dog and people love that kind of thing. I'm actually really sad. I sit there on an evening watching trainers and how they trained.

It's all about the content and you can put as little content on there as you want, or as much content on there as you want and it's as easy as the more content you put on the more people get to see it, the more people will come to you and say 'Can I use your service?' 

I started off with it, literally an Instagram page and then once I was able to build up my confidence, I was like right, I'm ready to go on to Google now and I set up a Google Business Page and I added to that on a regular basis and I encourage my customers to put reviews on there as well, because Google always rewards for that.

I'm getting the majority of my customers from that source now. Then obviously, just keeping all of that in sync with adding to social media. I've got a website - I've got to be honest only from my background of marketing. I can create a website, not everybody's got the ability to do that. I honestly don't believe you massively need it. If you've got a social presence and a Google presence, you're on your way

Liam: With those things, as you say, not everybody has the ability to build a website themselves. I've been in that position where I've tried to market my services and I've sat down and gone 'Right, I'm going to build myself a website' and it's just never happened because I don't have that skill and I don't have the time to learn that skill. 

But not having a website isn't the end of the world. There are platforms, like Book Your Pet, that can act as a website, as a directory for you, to market you to an audience who are seeking your services directly.

As well with things like content creation, I think sometimes it can become overwhelming as well. When people look at how much content other people produce and feel they have to keep up with that. But as you say, as long as there's a regular schedule and it's a consistent schedule then that's going to have a great impact.

And if people are struggling as well, going back to the Book Your Pet Membership that we mentioned earlier, there are social media templates in there that you can download and adjust to fit your business, to make that process easier, to make sure that you are able to plan because the flow of consistent content to promote this.

Genna: Yeah, and one thing as well just to add is booking. The booking part of the Book Your Pet app. If you're not organized - or I mean, to be honest, you could be the most organized person in the world - but if you're out walking dog after dog after dog and you're not always checking stuff, people might be trying to get in touch to book your time.

If you've got that booking ability from Book Your Pet, that's just all happening for you. It's almost like your little administration assistant in the background, just keeping your business ticking over, whilst you're enjoying your walks with dogs.

Liam: We're here to make a petpreneur's life easier and to make it easier for them to deliver those quality services, like you do, to the dogs as well.

So yeah, if anybody out there is watching, do check out the Book Your Pet app because as Genna says, we're here to help make your life easier and building that business a lot easier as a petprenuer.

And just before I let you go, Genna, this has been a really great chat. Just tell us where people can find and follow you. You mentioned Google there but give us the specifics of how people can follow and book with you.

Genna: Okay, so I'm on Instagram @puplinsdogwalking, I'm on Facebook @puplinsdogwalking, and obviously, Google like you've mentioned.

Once I get to the position where I can open more days and do a 7-week day, that will be happening, but watch this space for the additional pack walks that I'll be arranging and obviously the energy therapy sessions for dogs.

Liam: I'm excited about that. I'm going to bring my dog Patch.

Thank you so much for joining us today Genna and thank you for sharing about your business. We will be spotlighting you over the next two weeks on all Book Your Pet platforms, so everybody keep your eyes out for more from Genna and Puplins.

Do you want to be featured in future editions of our Business Pawspectives series? If you're a pet business owner, get in touch today!