How to Avoid a Dog Sitting Nightmare
Finding the person who’s going to stand in for you with your dog is daunting. In matters of vacation planning, you’ve probably put just as much thought into who is going to feed, walk, and play with your pal, as you have about what hotel you’ll be staying in — if not more. Or, you could be on the fence about a career change because you know it’ll mean your pup has less time with you.
Your friends have jobs and your family lives far away, so you do some digging on the Internet. But just like when you’ve got a stomach ache and you come to the conclusion two hours later that it’s time to write your will, you can get wrapped up in the horror stories of what can go wrong by hiring pet sitters.
You’re unnerved. Definitely derailed. You’re not even sure where to begin, now.
The path to the perfect dog sitter is less harrowing when you know what sources to pull from, what questions to ask, and what additional steps can be taken to make this a smooth process for both you and your dog — even if they’re anxious, aggressive, or pose health challenges.
Don’t be scared. Let’s go down that path together.
Create Your Pool: Conducting Research
First, ask your veterinarian if they know of any dependable dog walkers or sitters, since many pet sitting agencies work in tandem with local vets. You can cross-check these suggestions through Facebook or Google reviews, too. If you’ve got friends with dogs … because, let’s face it, you only hang out with cool people … they may have used some pet sitters in the past they can tell you about.
From there, you can run a quick search on the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) site to see what other sitters and agencies are in your area. Did you find one of the agencies that came up in conversations with your friends or vet? Great! That means they’re on an authentic, trustworthy radar.
This also means you don’t have to fall back on places like Craigslist or Wag, where you’re not really sure what you’re getting into, or who could show up on your doorstep. Instead, you’ll be connected with legitimate agencies and sitters you can feel confident about, since they’ll be willing to do the following, happily and without complaint:
- Provide a resume, references, & credentials
- Talk face to face
- Meet your dog prior to any agreement or contract signing
- Work with the schedule you’ve got in mind, such as live-in for a weekend, or 8-hour days per week, etc.
Some pet sitters will offer additional services, like bathing your dog, bringing in mail/packages, or even yard poop scooping! This will all depend on the sitter or agency you wind up choosing.
But first, you’ve got to choose someone!
Narrowing the Field: Interview Questions & Process
You’ve got your contenders. Now, it’s time to ask the kind of questions that will guide the interview in a direction that will quickly tell you if this person is the right fit or not. Here are some you can start with that’ll do exactly that:
- What is a normal dog sitting visit for them, and what do they enjoy the most about it?
- Is there anything about their job they don’t like?
- What is their experience with animals/dogs outside of the job (formal training, certifications, etc.)? For how long?
- Do they work with, or have connections with, any local veterinarians?
- Do they have backup plans if they’re sick or unavailable, such as trusted coworkers from their agency?
- Have they ever handled an emergency while dog sitting? If so, how did that go?
Are they taking notes during the interview? Do they make eye contact, or repeat things back to you and offer insight? These small, poignant signs show they’re trying to understand you, your situation, and the needs of your furry friend, and will help narrow down your options.
Zipping Up Details: Insurance & Costs
Proof of insurance and bonding might not be on your radar, but don’t worry — we’ll shine the light on it now!
Larger agencies like Rover carry a certain level of coverage on their employees, but that doesn’t mean they’re your only option. Many local companies across the country, like Pompton Pet Sitters in New Jersey, have fully insured and bonded all their employees. Most likely, your potential candidates will be working through a similar agency.
While you can’t foresee accidents, you can still prepare for them. Let’s break it down so you can see why this is a prime point to bring to the interview table:
- General liability will cover both you and the dog sitter in the event of accidents that cause damage to your property, or loss of items — be it misplaced house keys or outright theft.
- If any items are proven to be broken or stolen by a pet sitter, bonding is what repays you the value lost.
- Animal bailee coverage, which is included in many pet insurance policies, covers a certain amount for vet bills (per occurrence) regardless of who’s at fault if your dog should ever get sick or injured. The amount will depend on who your potential sitter works for, and what kind of coverage they have.
In an article for Pet Care Insurance, Rocky had this to say about animal bailee coverage:
“It could save you a fortune when it comes to any injuries I get while caring for me … Trust me, I don’t like going to the vet any more than you like taking me. Unfortunately, the vet doesn’t take my dog bones as payment.”
He’s not wrong! While this is mostly to the benefit of the dog sitter you hire, it will give you peace of mind when you leave your best friend in the hands of another.
Once you’ve found the person you feel will be the right fit — which as mentioned in the first section, should also include them meeting your furry pal a time or two — it’s time to discuss rates and sign a contract.
According to HomeGuide, the average cost for pet sitting in 2019 ranges from $20 to $150 per hour. This varies depending on locale or any extra services you might choose. As an example, Lakeshore Pet Sitters in West Michigan charges $21 per 30-minute home visit, and just $18 per 30-minutes of dog walking.
But, My Dog is Different …
Sure, your dog might be a little different than others — but that’s okay. He might be extremely anxious when he’s not with you. She might get aggressive around strangers or when faced with new situations. Maybe your furry friend has medication requirements you fear no one else will want to deal with. None of this means you won’t be able to find a pet sitter — let alone one you can trust.
With the right agency and sitter, these concerns are only hurdles at best. However, it does mean being ready and willing to spend extra time working with your dog and your new pet sitter. Sometimes, it will take multiple visits before there’s a breakthrough. This has been the experience of pet sitter Kelly Domerstad, who has worked with the afore-mentioned Pompton Pet Sitters for the last five years.
Kelly has worked with animals all her life in one way or another, and she’s gotten a lot of requests for dogs with skittish or reactive natures. She maintains regular clients in New Jersey, from Butler and Riverdale down to Wayne.
“I take on a lot of the abused, aggressive, or anxious pups because I’ve got a lot of experience with them, and I’ve developed a touch for these types of dogs,” Kelly said.
She went on to confirm that it can take a few visits before there’s a solid bridge of trust between herself and the dog she’s getting to know. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of sitting and patiently feeding your dog treats until he comes closer, with the final goal of being worthy of clipping on his leash and heading out for a walk.
Kelly said it’s rare her workplace has to turn anyone down, and this should be the case with any pet sitting agency touting NAPPS and/or Pet Sitters International accreditations. Remember, you can run a search through either site to find trustworthy pet sitters to interview in your city!
Be it your preflight to-do list or tasks to tackle for the upcoming work week, make sure you’re consistently stocked on food, snacks, medications, and any other supplies your dog requires — and that your pet sitter knows where to find them.
If her tags are looking worn out or are hard to read, this is the time to get them replaced. And of course, make sure that leashes, harnesses, toys, and any additional instructions are always at the ready!
The trust you place in the person who’s caring for your dog extends to your home, too. When you give them the key and access codes (if any), this will be a good time to show them:
- Where your smoke alarms are
- Where your fire extinguisher is kept
- Any alarm systems they need to be aware of
- Any quirks your house has, like a funky door knob, wonky floorboard, etc.
Now that you’ve successfully narrowed that vast and uncertain field, you shouldn’t have any trouble choosing the perfect sitter for your dog to avoid the nightmares you’ve read about — no matter if he’s reactive and nervous, or she’s struck with separation anxiety, or lives with a life-long health condition.
The right person is out there, and together you can help your dog work through the barriers it takes to make a new friend. You can plan your next vacation with confidence, or feel more at ease during your 9-to-5 hustle!