The American Dog Trainers Network


A woman holding a bag with a puppy peeking out!

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

2) food and fresh clean water

3) regular outdoor walks to eliminate (or visits to the newspaper if your puppy isn't fully immunized)

4) sufficient exercise, playtime and socialization

How To Find A Good Pet Care Person

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.

Initial Steps

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.

Ask Questions

Find out how many dogs will be walked (and/or boarded) with your dog.
For most dogs, solo walks or walks with one other compatible dog is best. Generally speaking "pack walks" are far more risky than one- or two-dog walks, so the American Dog Trainers Network does not recommend dogwalkers who walk more than three dogs simultaneously. The only exception to this is when there are more than three dogs from the same household, and then only if the dogs are well trained, and if the dogwalker has ample experience walking, handling and training dogs.

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.]

At The Interview: Things To Look For

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?
Do you get a good feeling about him or her? Do you trust this person enough to leave your dog in his or her care? Do you feel comfortable
about having this person visit/stay in your home when you're away? How long has s/he been doing this professionally? How much experience does he or she have with your type/breed of dog? Does s/he seem reasonably knowledgable and competent as a pet care person?

Is the person familiar with any of the area veterinarians? Which animal hospital would they take your dog to if it was injured or became very ill, if you didn't specify one?

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.

A Trial Period Is Recommended

If you're hiring a dogwalker, set up a trial period (two weeks is usually sufficient) to get to know the person better. This may help you to determine the quality of care being provided and to learn how reliable
the dogwalker is. [TIP: If possible, enlist the help of a doorman or
neighbor who can give you feedback about your dogwalker or petsitter regarding how he handles your dogs when you're not there.]

Make Your Terms and Expectations Clear

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.)

Make sure you both agree on how many walks your dog will recieve each day, and how much time the person will spend with him. Three walks a day is usually a minimum for an adult housebroken dog. Puppies (and usually elderly dogs) will require more. Some owners may prefer to have their dogs eliminate, exercise, and play in their fully enclosed yard. Be sure to insist that your pet care person closely supervise your dog at all times should your dog be allowed to run off-leash in your yard, on your private property, or at the local dog run. At no time should your petsitter allow your dog to run off-leash on public property except within safe, legal, confined and supervised play areas or dog runs. And then only if you approve, and your dog is friendly, healthy and controllable.

Financial Arrangements

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.

Confirm and Re-Confirm Travel Plans With Your Petsitter

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.

Create A Pet Supplies Drawer

Keep your pet supplies (other than food) easily accessable by organizing a drawer for your dog's things. Use this drawer to store your dog's:

1) general supplies (brush, shampoo, etc.)

2) toys and "chewies"

3) Baggies, paper towels, dog towel, etc.

4) medicines

This will make it easier for your dogwalker or petsitter to find (and put away) your dog's things.

Things You Should Leave For The Pet Care Person

In addition to your providing plenty of dog food while you're away, leave:

1) a letter of permission:

    a) to enter your home,
    b) care for your dog, and
    c) to take your dog to the vet of your choice if an emergency arises where your dog may need veterinary treatment.

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.

Take A Walk Together To Watch How The Person Handles Your Dog Outside

Observe how your petsitter handles your dog when out for a walk together. Give constructive feedback and offer suggestions if necessary.

What To Do When You Return From A Trip

Make sure to contact your petsitter when you return home from a trip.
Let the person know before you leave for your trip that you must get in contact with eachother to establish that you have returned at the end of a trip. If the dog owner doesn't speak to the petsitter on the day/evening he or she is due to arrive back home, the petsitter should continue to care for the dog until contact is made confirming the owner's return home.

If You Are Disatisfied...

If you are unhappy with any aspect pertaining to the dogwalker or petsitter, say so.
If the situation can not be resolved to your satisfaction, look elsewhere.



Summer Nightmare-- A pet sitter horror story
(Ozzie Foreman, Dog Owners Guide)

Copyright 1995 - 2000,  Robin Kovary

Photo Credits











Robin Kovary is the American Dog Trainers Network helpline director
 and canine behavioral consultant.