Some dogs can’t handle the stress and noise of a busy kennel, and some aren’t welcome because of aggression. Friends and family members probably don’t want to deal with your animals while you’re away either.
Trusting your dogs with a professional pet sitter is often the best option.
I worked at a kennel for seven years, and owned a dog walking and pet sitting business for eight. If you choose to hire a professional pet sitter, don’t hire just anyone. Ask the right questions first and consider more than one option. Remember, anyone can become a pet sitter. You don’t need a degree or a license in most areas.
Questions to ask a professional pet sitter:
1. What do your rates include?
You can find most of the pricing information on the pet sitter’s web site, but you want to know what those prices cover. If the rates are based on time, find out what each visit includes.
How much time will the pet sitter actually spend with your dog? Are walks included? Playtime? Grooming? Giving medication? Will she pick up the poop in your yard? How about scoop the litter box?
2. What is not included?
Figure out what services cost extra.
Maybe it’s worth it to pay more and have the pet sitter stay longer during each visit. Maybe you want your lab mix to go for a run instead of a walk. Maybe your fish need to be fed once over the weekend. Maybe your rottweiler needs his ears cleaned. You could potentially be charged extra for all of these.
3. Will you provide references?
I’m surprised how few people ask me for references. It’s a totally reasonable request to expect a pet sitter to provide references when you will be giving her a key to your home.
When you call a reference, ask him if he’s ever had any issues with the sitter and how his dog likes her. Ask him if she’s ever gone out of her way to do something special for his dog.
4. What happens if my pet gets sick?
Any experienced pet sitter has dealt with at least some kind of minor emergency such as a sick pet. You should both be on the same page for what will happen if your dog requires medical attention, especially if you have a senior pet, a puppy that eats everything in sight or a dog with an illness. You want to know which vet your dog will be taken to and if you will be notified first. You could also ask if the pet sitter has taken an animal first-aid class.
5. Do you care for cats and other animals?
If you have other animals besides your dog, make sure the pet sitter is comfortable dealing with those animals. Some pet sitters will not care for hamsters, birds, horses and other animals. Most will care for cats.
6. Are you the only person who will interact with my dog?
Some pet-sitting businesses have several employees. If that’s the case, you still want the same person to check on your dog every time so there is consistency. And you should absolutely meet the person who will be taking care of your pets.
7. What is the price for a second or third dog?
Don’t assume that pet sitting for your second or third dog is free or discounted. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. Three labs are a lot more work than one.
8. Who is responsible if a dog bites someone?
I have my clients sign a form saying they are responsible for any damage their dog causes on or off their property while in my care. Obviously if a dog is very aggressive, I’m not going to take care of it anyway. But many dogs need a pet sitter because they are dog aggressive and can’t be left at a kennel. As long as your dog is friendly around people, most pet sitters will agree to take care of your dog.
A good pet sitter will have a plan of action for what happens if a dog bites and someone requires medical attention because of it. You could ask if the pet sitter has insurance or not, and that will give you an idea of how seriously she takes her business.
9. Can I call to see how my dog is doing?
The answer should always be yes. The pet sitter may not be able to answer her phone at all times because she has other animals to take care of. But she should provide a cell phone number and email address.
10. Will my dog be around any other clients’ dogs?
Don’t assume your dog will be walked alone. Maybe you are OK with this, and maybe you aren’t. But do ask.
11. Will the dog be taken off my property?
You probably want your dog to go for a walk and get all the attention he can get. But maybe you are worried he will get away, and you’d rather have the pet sitter play with him in your fenced yard. Either way, you want to know what the pet sitter will be doing with your dog so you can give proper instructions and explain how your dog typically acts on a walk or in the yard.
12. When are you available?
Some pet sitters do not work weekends. Some do not work holidays. Others do house visits between certain hours like 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Some are available at all times every day of the year. Make sure your pet sitter’s hours will work with you and your dog’s schedule. If not, ask if she can make exceptions for you, but don’t expect it.