Do you have a dog sitter? Have you considered hiring a sitter or walker, but have no idea where to start? Maybe you’re nervous about hiring a stranger to come into your home to take care of your precious pup. Or having your dog stay in someone else’s home. Or even having that person walk your dog.
There are plenty of horror stories about dog walkers, sitters, etc. I would like to remind you, though, that there are horror stories in every profession. I’m not saying to ignore them, but don’t let them scare you off. I guarantee you that there are far more great sitters than bad – again, just like in pretty much every profession.
I’m here to help you figure out how to find the right sitter, or walker, for you and your dog. It’s important you have a good fit. Even a top-rated doctor isn’t a fit for everyone.
As someone who has professionally taken care of dogs for years, I’ll offer a variety of things to consider, from your dog’s energy to whether you should tip, and everything in between. Whether you are super anxious about hiring someone, or just need a few tips on what to ask, this blog post will cover it all.
I learned that I am somewhere in the middle the first time I left my own Jackson at daycare. My family was on vacation with our dogs (a total of 3) and wanted to be able to leave the campground to do other things. I was super nervous about leaving him with a stranger, but also knew the sitter had good reviews, and I knew what to look for.
So where to start?
How Long Can Your Dog Be Left Alone?
Does your dog have an active bladder, or can they seem to hold it for days? Are they used to going out often and whenever they want? Is your dog high energy, or more chill, perhaps even a bit lazy? Does she need medication at a certain time each day?
Your sitter’s availability is one of the most important things to be clear about.
If your dog requires potty or exercise breaks every couple of hours, she might require daycare. At the very least, you need a sitter who can come walk her several times a day while you are at work.
What is your work schedule? Is it a traditional Monday-Friday, or do you work weekends? Do your days and hours vary?
These are all things you need to discuss with your sitter. I’ve had a few clients who needed a flexible schedule. In fact, one had a job in which they wouldn’t know they needed someone to check on their dog until partly through their workday. But we discussed it. We were both very up front and clear about our needs on both ends. If I knew I was not going to be available on a certain day or was maybe going to be away, I made sure they knew as soon as I knew, so they could find a back-up in case anything arose during that time.
Which brings me to my next topic.
Do I Really Need More Than One Sitter?
In one word, yes.
Your sitters are human. Things happen. They get sick or their car breaks down. They might have a family emergency. Or, God forbid, they go on vacation.
I always tell my clients they should have one or two backup sitters besides me – especially when I was boarding. I could only take 3-5 dogs in my home at once, and I would get booked pretty fast during certain months.
I equated it to having backup sitters for your kids. You might have a regular sitter. Your very favorite one who you never want to be without, but sometimes that person won’t be available, so you have at least two other backup sitters who you like and feel comfortable with. Maybe they aren’t your favorite, but you like them, and most importantly, you know your kids will be safe in their care.
Treat your pet sitter the same way. Or dog walker.
Should you tell your backups that that is what they are — backups? You don’t have to, but it IS the courteous thing to do, and will be appreciated.
I’m currently the backup walker for a dog while his regular walker heals from surgery. His caregiver let me know this right away — that he assured his regular sitter her job would be there once she’s able to return. I could tell he felt sort of guilty letting me know this wasn’t a permanent gig for me. I thanked him for being up front, and let him know that I understood and would never try to take another sitter’s job from them. I was happy he chose me as a backup and now knows me well enough in case he ever needs me again once she’s back.
What About Experience?
This is sort of a tough one for me to answer, and you will have to decide what you are comfortable with. We all have to start somewhere, so maybe it depends on what you need.
If you need someone to give your dog her daily walk, but you’ll be home after work, you might be willing to try someone who is just starting out, and maybe doesn’t have a lot of reviews/testimonials yet. It’s a good way for that sitter to earn your trust and gain experience.
If you are in need of a doggie daycare, or overnight boarding, that might be a little more difficult to choose someone new. But again, just because they don’t have the reviews yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t terrific. I have lots of excellent reviews now, but when I started, I had only a couple of testimonials from friends and family to vouch for me. I couldn’t believe people gave me a chance without knowing me first, but I’m sure glad they did! (And so were they, by the way! 😊)
I always insist on what I call a Meet and Greet before taking on a new client, which is how I think I earned that trust from the very beginning.
Meet Your Prospective Sitters Before Booking With Them
I belong to a couple of pet sitter groups, and I am amazed when some sitters complain that prospective clients want to meet them first. I’m also shocked when clients don’t want to meet, but that, I have found, is rare.
You need to have a chance to ask your sitter questions, and vice versa. You need to feel comfortable, at least as much as you can if this is new for you, and the only way to do that is to meet each other ahead of time. Give your sitter a chance to answer any and all questions. If they are unwilling to meet first, give you clipped answers, or act as if they don’t have time for you, then they probably aren’t a fit.
Having said that, most Meet and Greets should last about 15 minutes or so. MAYBE a half hour. Respect their time. It’s common for these to be free of charge. Sometimes a sitter will ask for a fee, but then will deduct it from the first booking. Personally, I would be wary of sitters who ask you to pay for a Meet and Greet without deducting it from your first booking.
Two exceptions – first, are you asking for more than 30 minutes of their time? Then yes, you should be prepared to pay them for that. Second, have you already met, and you’re asking for a second or even third Meet before actually booking? Then once again, yes, you should expect to be charged for a regular booking. Most things can be answered over texts or emails after the first meeting.
As a sitter, I require that I meet both the human and the dog before agreeing to any new booking. If I will be going into their home to pick their dog up for her daily walks, I OF COURSE need to come into that home with the human there for the first time we meet. Their dog needs to know I am “approved.” I am not a threat. We also need to meet and review where leashes, water dishes, etc. are, plus how to get in. Will I be given a key? A code?
And if the dog is staying in my home, she needs to come for a Meet and Greet there so I can see how she interacts with my own dog. They don’t have to be best friends, but I do need to feel confident that I can keep everyone safe. I also need to feel comfortable with her caregiver, and vice versa. Again, I don’t have to be best friends with all the humans, but I do need to see that they take care of their dog. She’s clean, healthy, up to date on vaccinations, etc.
Speaking of vaccinations…
Does Your Sitter Require Proof of Shots?
All dogs should be given and remain up to date on all their basic vaccinations — Rabies and DHLP (Distemper, Influenza, Parvo) at the very least.
If they are going to be around other dogs, they should also have their Bordatella vaccine (aka Kennel Cough).
And what about Flea and Tick prevention? Not all sitters require this, and it also depends on where you live.
I live in Connecticut, where we have a lot of fleas and ticks. So on top of their basic vaccinations, I require both flea and tick prevention along with Bordatella – even for dog walks and daily drop in visits, where the dogs aren’t coming into my home, but they ARE coming in contact with me, likely other dogs, and often my car.
I require proof of this, and, in my opinion, all responsible sitters do the same.
Do your dogs require medication? Most sitters are perfectly comfortable doling out pills or even drops, but if the person you’re considering is reluctant, don’t force the relationship. It will just make things stressful for your dog. It doesn’t mean that sitter isn’t good at what they do, but not everyone is a fit for every situation.
Make sure you leave specific instructions for any medications: how much, how often, where it is kept, and any tips if your dog needs some coaxing to take it. Also be sure to leave pill pockets, cheese, peanut butter, or whatever treat you put medication in for your dog.
If your dog requires injections, then only hire a sitter who has experience with this. Please don’t try to teach them how to do it. If they want to go to a vet’s office and learn, then fine, but otherwise, only use someone who knows what they are doing already.
I do NOT give injections. I have zero experience with that, and so I let people know that I won’t be a fit if that is required for their dog.
What About Insurance?
I highly recommend that you ask your potential sitter or walker if they are insured. This is particularly important if you are sending your dog to their home for daycare or boarding. Or if that person will be staying in your home.
Things happen. Even the calmest dogs, or the most cautious sitters, can have a less than desirable situation occur.
What does insurance cover? Like any insurance, it depends on the plan. But it should at least cover vet bills if something were to happen to your dog while in the sitter’s care. This could be a common injury from running and playing, it could be from ingesting something the dog shouldn’t have, or there could have been a fight with another dog.
It’s not always something the sitter is truly at fault for, but because the dog was in their care, you want to be sure they can cover expenses.
I have two examples to share.
Just recently I was walking my sweet, senior, patient boy Jackson. Our apartment complex has a small dog park area, and as we were moseying by it, a dog inside was barking at my boy. This is common, and usually just means that the dog wants to play. But not always.
As my boy continued to take his time strolling and sniffing around, all of a sudden that other dog pushed her way out of the gate and came barreling at my dog, then started to attack him. Luckily my boy didn’t actively engage — he fell, though, because he is older and has weak back legs — and luckily I’m comfortable with most of these situations and was able to pull that other dog away before it became a really terrible situation. And it all happened super FAST.
Her owner came out immediately — mortified — and was shocked at the behavior of his dog, and had no idea that the door wasn’t properly latched. He was very apologetic, and wanted to be sure my own dog was fine (he was).
But things happen. And sometimes quickly. If your dog walker had been in that same situation, and your dog was bitten, it wouldn’t have been your walker’s fault, yet they would be responsible for making sure your dog got the care she needed, and you wouldn’t want to be stuck with that bill.
Another time, a wonderfully sweet girl staying with me when I was boarding. She was also very good at getting into things. One day she got into a bag of chocolate candy that was kept up high and (I thought) out of reach.
I immediately brought her to the vet, because almost the entire contents were gone. Luckily this girl ended up fine. In fact, the vet laughed, because Miss Gracie ate everything so fast that most of the candy was still fully in their wrappers when they induced vomiting.
Also luckily, I had insurance, so I didn’t have to pay for that bill out of pocket, and in no way was her owner stuck with it. And doubly lucky that her owner wasn’t upset with me. She knew her dog very well, and how stealthy and quick she is. In fact, she still boarded with me after that.
Point is – make sure your sitter is insured.
Exercise, Yards, and Crates
A few more things to consider.
How much exercise will your sitter give your dog? Are daily walks included if she is staying in your sitter’s home? In my opinion, a daily walk should be included, but not all sitters offer that, so make sure to ask.
If you have a high energy dog, a walk is a must.
You can’t expect them to behave well in a different environment if she has a ton of pent-up energy to boot. (Check out my blog post about the importance of walks!)
If you are hiring a daily walker while you’re at work, does your dog just need a stroll or a long hike, or even a run? Make sure to be clear with your walker what your dog requires, and ask if that is what they offer. I don’t jog, so I would not be a fit for a dog who needs to run.
Also, does your dog need to be the only one, or can they walk with a pack? Many walkers do pack walks with well-behaved dogs. I’ve begun doing this. Be sure to ask. And be honest with your prospective sitter on whether your dog would be a fit for this. If she is a big puller, or doesn’t focus at all on her walks, she probably wouldn’t be a fit with a dog walker who walks with a pack. But again, that’s not set in stone. Your walker might be comfortable training as well. They will charge more, or at least should, if they have this expertise, but it will be well worth it to have a happy, tired, and trained dog return home each day.
As for a daycare or overnight sitter. Do they have a yard? Fenced in? This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it might be if you have an escape artist. Or if the sitter doesn’t have a good, long tie-out for your dog with no obstructions. Your dog should never be off leash in an unfenced yard, especially in an unfamiliar home.
Related to this, is your dog crate trained? Many, but not all, sitters require dogs to be crate trained, especially for overnight visits. This is to ensure the safety of your dog and any others in the home. Your dog will have her own comfy, safe space to stay in overnight, or if the sitter has to leave the home for a bit. Dogs are naturally den animals, so once trained, most dogs actually enjoy a crate, and will go lay down in it on their own during the day.
What should you expect to pay your sitter or walker? This varies greatly depending on where you live and what services are offered. I wish I could tell you that a 30-minute walk should cost ‘x,’ and an overnight should cost ‘y,’ but there is quite a range.
Look at several sitters in your area — at least 5, but more like 10-15 — to get a good idea of the going rate. Ask people you know, and compare facilities like kennels to those of private homes. Remember, in a private home your dog will most likely get more one-on-one attention, so they might actually cost more than a kennel. Go on apps like Nextdoor to inquire about sitters and rates in your area. Sites like Rover are also an easy way to find sitters and compare their prices. That’s where I got started as a sitter, and though word of mouth has helped me acquire more clients, most still book through the site rather than privately.
Let’s touch on tipping while we’re here. Is it expected? How much should it be?
My view on this is a bit unpopular in the pet sitting community. In general, I don’t think tipping should be expected. This isn’t a job like waiting tables where tips are considered part of your actual pay.
Having said that, if you hire someone who isn’t the business owner, then I would recommend a tip if you are especially happy with their service, or if you use the same person often and it’s a special time of year. That person isn’t setting the rates and is relying on their employer to contract them out.
As a sitter who has no employees or subcontractors, I set my rates to be competitive in my local area, but also what I need to cover expenses. If someone tips me, I’m thrilled, but it’s never expected since I am an independent contractor and set my own rates and hours.
Finally, Let’s Talk About Those Horror Stories
Speaking of sites like Rover, Wag, and others, man have I heard the stories.
What I need you to understand is that those sites aren’t hiring people — pet sitters are independent contractors who use those apps as a marketing tool, and depending on the app, it might also handle calendars and payments. But again, as independent contractors, pet sitters pay a percentage from every booking in return for a company handling advertising, payment, and calendars so we don’t have to create our own websites.
Additionally, keep in mind that these sites are also not responsible for training any of these independent contractors. Because of this, there is a very wide range of expertise when searching through sitters.
While I can only speak from my Rover experience, I can say they offer tips and suggestions, some training articles, occasional videos, and have a support community for sitters to ask questions and learn from one another. I assume Wag does something similar, but I don’t have any experience with them.
Think of these sites as a directory, or like doing a Google search, but then you have to do a bit of due diligence to be sure the person you hire is a good fit. This is why the information I have offered throughout this blog post is important, and will help you feel confident in your choice of pet sitters once you do begin looking for one.
Now Go Find Your Sitter and Take a Vacation – or at Least Work Without Guilt
Nobody will be you. But if you take the time to look into and meet any sitters you’re considering, you’ll find a great one, maybe even a few great ones, who will be the perfect fit. It’ll be like leaving your dog with a fun aunt or uncle who you know is going to take excellent care of your fur baby, even if your dog might get a bit spoiled and receive a few more treats than you might normally allow. (I’ve had a couple clients refer to my place as DisneyLand for their dogs, and they loved it!)