At last! You have an opportunity to travel, go on vacation, or attend a fabulous “destination wedding.” But what about your best friend? Who will take care of your dog while you’re away from home?
In addition to friends, family, dog day care facilities, and boarding kennels, consider hiring a professional pet sitter. Pet sitters are substitute caregivers. They help dogs live their usual lives with as little disruption as possible. There are pet sitters who double as house sitters, staying in your home while you’re away; sitters who visit your home during the day to feed, water, and walk your dog; and sitters who care for your dog in their home.
Look for pet sitters with the help of recommendations from friends, veterinarians, or dog trainers; through newspaper or online ads or social media; or through the websites of professional organizations like the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (petsitters.org) or Professional United Pet Sitters (petsits.com).
CREDENTIALS TO LOOK FOR IN A DOG SITTER
A professional pet sitter should:
- Have a business license.
- Be insured and bonded.
- Provide references you can check such as from previous clients.
- Offer a contract that clearly defines payment arrangements, cancellation policies, and daily responsibilities.
Discuss your pets’ needs in detail so that your pet sitter understands:
- Your dog’s personality, normal appetite, activity level, interests, and daily routines.
- All of the pets involved (dogs, cats, etc.)
- When and what to feed your pets.
- What exercises or play time to provide.
- How and when to clean up pet messes or change litter boxes, if applicable.
- How and when to administer pet medications, if needed.
Don’t assume that your pet sitter will do things the way you do them.
Questions to ask a dog sitter:
- What experience does he or she have with dogs? This can include dog training or dog walking, work as a veterinary technician, or years of dog-sitting experience.
- What experience does he or she have with your type of dog? This can include your dog’s age, breed, size, or background (recently adopted from a shelter, for example, or recovering from an illness or surgery). If the sitter has little experience with the needs of your type of dog but is willing to try, make sure you observe the sitter work with your dog before you sign a contract. If, for example, the sitter has trouble getting a harness and leash on your bouncy adolescent dog, or managing your dog-reactive dog on a walk, this probably isn’t the best dog/sitter match.
- How does the pet sitter reward dogs? You’ll want to hire a sitter whose training methods match yours.
- What is the sitter’s availability (days of the week, times of day, etc.)?
HOW MUCH TO PAY A DOG SITTER
Cost estimates may be posted at a pet sitter’s website. Fees vary, with pet sitters in large cities charging more than those in suburbs or rural areas. Most professional pet sitters nationwide charge an average of $25 for a 30-minute visit or more depending on your location, the number and type of pets you have, the length of each visit, and any additional services needed. Someone hired as a house sitter (rather than pet sitter) while you’re away may be able to care for your pets for an added fee.
Typical pet-sitting rates for one dog average:
- $25 per half-hour visit
- $20 to $40 per day
- $40 to $85 per night
- $250 to $375 per week
Expect additional fees for multiple pets, holidays, bathing, or special requirements, such as for puppies or dogs who need extra care, taking the dog to veterinary or grooming appointments, or dealing with behavioral issues that require extra effort or experience. Add $5 per visit for holidays or for dogs who need extra attention, such as young puppies.
Dog sitters trained in pet CPR and first aid may charge more. Tips of 15% to 20% of the total bill are appropriate and appreciated.
Overnight or 24/7 stays can be expensive, but there are benefits to having a responsible person in your home while you’re away. Your home remains occupied, your pets have company throughout the night, and someone is on hand in case of emergency or illness. A pet sitter who doubles as a house sitter can bring in the mail, water the lawn and houseplants, check windows and doors for security, and maintain a visible presence in your home, which helps deter break-ins.
Search online for “dog sitter disaster” and you can find plenty: runaway and lost dogs, preventable injuries, property damage, unaddressed illnesses, or sitters who simply didn’t show up.
Nightmares go the other way, too. Pet sitters have been prevented from entering a house because a duplicate key didn’t work (no one tested it before giving it to the dog walker), or a security code was changed, or a lock box was hidden too well or frozen shut. A neighbor with a key might let the dog out without telling the dog sitter, or the neighbor may not know a dog sitter is coming and assume that someone is breaking into the house. If you know your neighbors, be sure to inform them that a pet sitter will be visiting.
To avoid misunderstandings and prevent disasters:
- Make a checklist of daily activities and responsibilities. This includes information about food (where it is, how much and when to feed, and what foods or treats to avoid).
- Write detailed instructions based on your checklist, but focus on the most important points. Multiple pages of instructions may be skipped over or ignored. Ask a friend to read your list for clarity.
- Leave emergency phone numbers for your veterinarian, a friend, or family member who lives close by, and secondary contact information for you (such as the number of the place where you will be staying).
- Include in your checklist any information that your pet sitter should know, such as how and when to administer prescription medicine. Explain any challenging behaviors your dog has to be sure the sitter can deal with them, such as reactive or aggressive behavior; extreme shyness; or a fear of men, children, or other dogs.
- Explain where the dog’s leash, collar, harness, other equipment, or favorite toys are, how your dog behaves on walks, and how you motivate and reward your dog.
- Add anything that will help your dog feel comfortable and relaxed while you’re away.
- Review the checklist with your dog sitter to be sure your instructions are understood. At the same time, review the dog sitter’s contract to be sure you understand the sitter’s fee structure, payment methods, cancellation policy, and other details. Make an appointment and be willing to pay for this clarifying time; don’t try to do this right before you leave, with an Uber driver waiting outside. That’s how important instructions get missed!
HELP YOUR DOG ADJUST TO YOUR ABSENCE
To help your dog feel comfortable while you’re away, leave her alone for short periods and invite your pet sitter to stop by for meet-and-greet sessions. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety or other challenges, study the recommendations of leading dog trainers and address these issues with appropriate training methods long before you leave.
The more you plan before you go, the more you and your dog will enjoy your time apart.
Pet Sitters International (www.PetSit.com) is another great place to look for professional pet sitters. All members must agree to a certain set of standards and ethics when they join, and when they renew membership each year.
Not all places require a business license for pet sitters. Check your local rules.
If the pet sitting business has employees, be prepared to pay SIGNIFICANTLY more than what is listed in this article. Employment law says that employers MUST pay their employees AT LEAST minimum wage for every hour they are at a client’s home…even if they are sleeping. Then, the employer also needs to be able to cover their payroll taxes, worker’s compensation, liability insurance, and other overhead costs. In Colorado minimum wage is currently $12.56 per hour. So, if the staff pet sitter is there 9:00pm to 7:00am (10 hours) the cost to the client will need to be MORE than $125.60 per night.