What’s the best way to deal with cancellations and late payers?

a man pointing at his watch angrily

We’ve all been there, we love the dog, the owner is great and everything is going well except one small thing… they keep forgetting to pay you! Let’s take a look at how we can make it as easy for your client to pay you and what to do when it all goes wrong.

Options for dealing with late paying clients

There are several ways to deal with late payers on a sliding scale of severity BUT prevention is better than cure so start as you mean to go on and get those payments upfront 🙂

Take payment in advance

Pop it in your T&Cs that payment is required in advance and mention it at the meet and greet in a matter-of-fact way, like working this way is perfectly normal for a dog walking service (which it is).

Do not feel the need to apologise. Use phrases like; ‘So the way we work is that we take the weeks booking and payment on a weekly basis’ or ‘If you have walks each week then we can set up a monthly payment schedule and just set up a standing order on your payday, we’re happy to work around your pay dates’

It’s much easier to start out this way than trying to get a late payer to start pre paying for their walks but if you do find yourself in this situation try the following suggestions.

Make it easy to pay

Do you normally take cash? This means the clients need to remember, then remember again near a cashpoint, then remember again to leave it out for you.

Make it as easy as possible with either a link to click in an email or on an emailed invoice, or ask them to set up a standing order to pay weekly for you.

Remember, most late payers are just forgetful and not trying to avoid paying you. If this doesn’t work try the following.

You‘re late 1

Add late payment fee

Add a section to your terms and conditions outlining the timescales and fees for late payments. Personally, I’ve never had a late fee clause in my contracts as I’m very keen to avoid any type of stress or difficult customers (if we wanted those we’d have a proper job, right?) So I normally skip ahead to withdrawing my services and cancelling their contracts.

Withdraw services

My contract (available here) states;

The walker may cancel this contract immediately in the following circumstances;

1. Unexpected aggressive behaviour from the dog

2. Payment arrears of more than 28 days


Payments must be made Weekly/Monthly in advance by Paypal/Bank Transfer/Cash prior to the first walk booked.

28 days is my limit to what I find an acceptable loss but you may want to adjust that to your own circumstances.

I feel that 28 days would mean that if they were just waiting for payday to settle up then this gives them a chance to do so. But if it goes past the 28 days then they’ve clearly had a payday and chosen not to (or are unable) pay us, in which case, do we really want them as a client?

Sack client

Once you’ve given than all the chances to pay, it’s time to sack your client. (click the link to see how to end the contract the correct way and some email templates for you to use too)

Sacking a client is hard, especially at the beginning when you’re trying to build your business, but a non paying client is worse than no client because they’re taking a space that a paying dog could fill.

You‘re late 2

Options for dealing with last minute cancellations

Cat owners are worse for this. There…I’ve said it.

‘Oh we got the neighbour to do it instead’

‘Oh we got my brother in laws, sister’s friends brother’s girlfriend to feed her instead’

‘Oh the cat died’ Ok this one is both genuine and understandable but a lot of the time people see popping in to feed a cat as a low ability, hard to f*ck up job and will literally have anyone in to do it rather than pay you. Until, of course, something goes wrong.

But, dog owners can be just as inconsistent, especially the ones who work from home or no longer work.

I’ve turned up at a house to walk a dog only to be told he was already out with the owner’s daughter.

So, let’s look at our options when it comes to cancellations.

Do nothing

Perhaps they’re a great dog, fabulous owner and they pay on time and have 5 walks a week. A short notice cancellation, once or twice a month, could be overlooked especially as they’ll be providing a large chunk or your weekly income, even if they do cancel a walk.

If, however, they have one walk a week and cancel 3 out of 4 weeks then perhaps it’s time to move to stage two…


Add short notice cancellation fee

Add a clause into your T&Cs that sates something like;

‘A cancellation of less than 24 hours notice for services will result in a 50% late cancellation fee for the entire service period cancelled’

Using the word services, and the phrase ‘entire service period’ means that those cat owners that cancel a 2 week, 2 pop ins a day cat feed are also covered as well as dog walks.

You could also add a clause to cover a sliding scale if you wanted to. So less than 48 hours notice = 25% Less than a weeks notice = 10%

Sack client

Cat clients are easy to hand off by just saying you’re unavailable for those dates next time they ask to book. If you’re feeling charitable you could suggest an alternative pet sitter who may be able to help (but be kind and give them the heads up first!)

Dog walking clients are a little harder.

I found that one of the best ways was to explain to the customer that you now have a waiting list for clients and that unfortunately each available space you have for walking will need to be filled by a regular client. Then, you can give them the option of booking regular slots (and paying in advance to secure them!) or you can recommend another local walker who could do the ad hoc walks for them. (Many new start ups would be thrilled for the work).


So there we have it, lots of options and solutions for awkward, forgetful and frustrating clients. Sometimes being a little bit braver and more assertive in our businesses pays off long term.

Enjoy your day!



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