DOGWALKERS & PETSITTERS:
What To Look For, And What To Look Out For
A good "pet care person"* is reliable, trustworthy and cares about your dog's welfare. He or she can be a valuable asset in many ways. [*The term "pet care person" refers to dogwalkers, petsitters, and those that board dogs in their home or facility.] If you work long hours outside the home, or have to travel without your dog, a good pet care person will make sure your puppy or dog is receiving the care he or she needs when you can't be there. This includes:
1) companionship and affection
Get referrals from reliable sources (your veterinarian, local animal shelter, your breeder, and neighborhood friends who use dogwalkers and petsitters). Research the pet care person/service's reputation as thoroughly as possible.
When you've located a reputable pet care professional, set up an interview in your home, as meeting with the pet care person can tell you a lot.
Unless this person comes highly recommended by a few
reputable sources, get several references. If s/he works for someone else or is employed by a pet care service, speak to the owner of the service, and find out about their screening and hiring policies.
Find out how many dogs will be walked (and/or boarded) with your dog.
If you are hiring a pet care person through a service, ask whether that service is bonded and insured. While there are many wonderful services and pet care persons which are not bonded or insured, it's still a nice plus if they are.
[NOTE: While insurance and bonding benefits the dog owner by reimbursing him or her if any property is ever damaged or stolen, it does NOT ensure that the pet care person is reliable, caring, conscienscious or trustworthy. That's why a pet care person/service's reputation is so important.]
How does the pet care person relate to (greet and interact with) your dog (or cat)? Is she friendly and gentle with your dog? Does she roughhouse or tease your dog innapropriately? What is his or her attitude, manner and demeanor? Does she show interest in your dog? [If s/he doesn't express any interest in (and about) your dog at this first meeting, why would s/he be expected to do so later on when your dog is alone in his or her care?]
What are your general impressions and gut feelings about this person?
Does this person have a reliable and experienced back-up pet care person in case s/he becomes ill?
Does the pet care person ask a lot of questions about your dog, and about any special care requirements (such as feeding, administering medicine, general walking routine, problem areas, etc.)? A responsible dogwalker or sitter will also want to know about:
1) your dog's temperament and behavior towards strangers, children, other dogs, etc.
2) any training your dog has received, and what commands your dog responds to.
3) your dog's quirks, fears, phobias, aggressive tendencies, physical conditions, and any other problem areas.
4) how to handle an emergency (ie: should they call you, take your dog to the vet...?). They should discuss with you what to do (or who to contact) if any problems should occur in your absence).
5) what your rules are pertaining to your dog's: behavior, diet, sleeping places, acceptable games, playing with other dogs, visiting local dog runs, etc.
Write down any instructions you have, and make sure they're very specific and clear. This will help prevent any problems or misunderstandings later on. If you are hiring a petsitter who will staying in your home while you're away, agree on specific times that the person will be with your dog, and when she/he will be reachable by phone. (i.e.: You might agree to call him any/every evening at 10PM to see how everything is going.) Make sure you communicate any safety concerns you may have. One suggestion is to leave a reminder to the pet care person to make sure:
1) the front door is locked
2) the backyard gate is kept shut
3) that your dog is always kept on a leash when taken for a walk on public property.
4) that any training collars (ie: slip ("choke") or prong collars) are always removed before confining your dog to his crate or any time your dog is left unsupervised.
5) that your dog is never tied up unattended anywhere (ie: in front of a store, restaurant or supermarket, etc.)
Settle any financial arrangements with your pet care person or service in advance, and whenever possible, put it in writing.
Many petsitters request partial payment (usually half of the total fee) up front, then are paid the balance at the end of the job. Some petsitters request to be paid in full prior to the job. If the petsitter has an excellent reputation in your community or you know him or her very well, this may be an acceptable arrangement. Use your judgement, but if you find yourself feeling uneasy about paying everything in advance, don't allow yourself to be pressured into it. When it comes to dogwalkers, many are paid in advance each month, while others prefer to get paid weekly. Before you agree on paying someone for an entire month, consider a a short (two-weeks) trial period.
Have your keys stamped "DO NOT DUPLICATE", and do NOT attach your name or address to your keys. [TIP: Many dogwalkers color-code keys to help keep track of which is which, without jeopardizing the homeowner's security should the keys ever become lost or stolen.] Some urban residents prefer that their pet care person pick up and drop off their set of keys with the doorman until they get to know the person better.
If you make plans with your petsitter more than 2 weeks prior to your date of departure, confirm your pet care arrangements again about 2 days before leaving for your trip. Make sure your petsitter has your travel itinerary, and expected return date, as well as any necessary information and emergency numbers (including the phone number where you can be reached while you're away), *in writing*.
Make arrangements in advance to speak with eachother by telephone the first evening of your trip (and however often you agree to contact eachother), to be sure all is going well. If you think this sounds a little
over-cautious, just read Ozzie Foreman's article "Summer Nightmare" (Dog Owner's Guide). Because I have heard of several similar horror stories, I know Ozzie Foreman's article represents more than an isolated case.
1) general supplies (brush, shampoo, etc.)
2) toys and "chewies"
3) Baggies, paper towels, dog towel, etc.
This will make it easier for your dogwalker or petsitter to find (and put away) your dog's things.
In addition to your providing plenty of dog food while you're away, leave:
1) a letter of permission:
a) to enter your home,
2) two copies of emergency telephone numbers (ie: neighbor, building superintendent, veterinarian , poison helpline, where you can be reached, etc.). Post one copy on your referigerator or front door, and give the other copy to the pet care person to keep with them at all times.
3) any relevant instructions.
4) a note pad, pen, a clock, a and calendar by the phone.
Observe how your petsitter handles your dog when out for a walk together. Give constructive feedback and offer suggestions if necessary.
If you are unhappy with any aspect pertaining to the dogwalker or petsitter, say so.
Robin Kovary is the American Dog Trainers Network helpline director