Choosing a Dog Walker

Dog Walkers do much more than provide your pet with food and water while you're away from home. A good dog walker or pet sitter also spends quality time with your pet, gives him exercise, and knows how to tell if your pet needs veterinary attention. What's more, dogwalkers and pet sitters typically offer additional services, such as bringing in mail and newspapers, watering plants, turning lights on and off, and providing homes with a lived-in look to deter crime.

But just because someone calls herself a dog walker or pet sitter doesn't mean he or she is qualified to do the job. This information will help you find the best dog walker and pet sitter for you and your pet.

Why hire a dog walker or pet sitter?

When you must be away from home-say for travel or an emergency-and don't want to leave your pet in a boarding kennel, who takes care of your pet? If you're like many pet owners, you ask a friend or neighbor to stop in and pour some kibble and water in your pet's bowls. But is this what's best for your dog, cat or other pet? There is a good chance that your friends and neighbors lack proper pet-care experience and have even forgotten to show up. They may also resent frequent requests to look after your pet while you're gone. So what is the solution? Consider hiring a "pet sitter" - a professional, qualified individual paid to care for your pet.

A pet sitter offers both you and your pet many benefits.

Your pet gets:

  • the environment he knows best.
  • his same diet and routine.
  • relief from traveling to and staying in an unfamiliar place with other animals (such as a boarding kennel).
  • attention while you're away.

You get:

  • happier friends and neighbors, who aren't burdened with caring for your pet.
  • the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your pet is being cared for by a professional.
  • someone to bring in your newspaper and mail so potential burglars don't know you're away.
  • someone who will come to your home so you don't have to drive your pet to a boarding kennel.
  • other services provided by most pet sitters, such as plant watering and pet grooming.

Where do I find a dog walker or pet sitter?

Start with a recommendation from a friend, neighbor, veterinarian, humane society, animal rescue organization, or dog trainer. You want someone who is recognized by the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. This organization offers pet-sitter accreditation to those who demonstrate professional experience, complete pet-care-related home study courses, attend professional conferences, and abide by a code of ethics set by the organizations.

What should I look for?

It's important to learn all you can about prospective pet sitters' qualifications and services. Before selecting a pet sitter, interview the candidates over the phone or at your home. Find out the following:

  • Can the dog walker / pet sitter provide written proof that she has commercial liability insurance (to cover accidents and negligence) and is bonded (to protect against theft by a pet sitter or her employees)?
  • What training has the dogwalker/petsitter received?
  • Will the dogwalker or petsitter record notes about your pet, such as his likes, dislikes, fears, habits, medical conditions, medications, and routines?
  • Is the dogwalker or petsitter associated with a veterinarian who can provide emergency services?
  • What will happen if the dog walker or pet sitter experiences car trouble or becomes ill? Does she have a backup?
  • Will the dogwalker or petsitter provide related services such as in-home grooming, dog walking, dog training, and play time?
  • Will the dogwalker or petsitter provide a written service contract spelling out services and fees?
  • If the dogwalker/petsitter provides live-in services, what are the specific times she agrees to be with your pet? Is this detailed in the contract?
  • How does your dog walker and pet sitter make sure that you have returned home?
  • Will the dogwalker/petsitter provide you with the phone numbers of other clients who have agreed to serve as references?

Even if you like what you hear from the dogwalker/petsitter and from his or her references, it's important to have the prospective pet sitter come to your home to meet your pet before actually hiring her for a pet-sitting job. Watch how she interacts with your pet. Does your pet seem comfortable with the person? If this visit goes well, start by hiring the dog walker or pet sitter to care for your pet during a short trip, such as a weekend excursion. That way, you can work out any problems before leaving your beloved pet in the dogwalker or petsitter's care for longer periods.

How can I help the dogwalker/petsitter and my pet?

Of course, even the most trustworthy, experienced pet sitter will have trouble if you haven't also kept your end of the bargain. Here are your responsibilities:

  • Make reservations with your dogwalker and petsitter early, especially during holidays.
  • Ensure your pet is well socialized and allows strangers to handle him.
  • Affix current identification tags to your pet's collar.
  • Maintain current vaccinations for your pet.
  • Leave clear instructions detailing specific pet-care responsibilities and emergency contact information, including how to reach you and your veterinarian.
  • Leave pet food and supplies in one place.
  • Buy extra pet supplies in case you're away longer than planned.
  • Leave a key with a trustworthy neighbor as a backup, and give him and your pet sitter each other's phone numbers. Be sure those extra keys work before giving them out.
  • Show the dogwalker and petsitter your home's important safety features such as the circuit breaker and security system.

Finally, have a safe and fun trip. And remember to bring your pet sitter's phone number in case your plans change-or you just want to find out how Fluffy and Fido are doing.

- Courtesy of The Humane Society of the United States

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