My nephews are two of the best things to happen to my dogs and me in the past couple years. These responsible, compassionate, dog-loving 20-somethings settled in Seattle after college and have so far proven willing and eager to house- and dog-sit pretty much every time we ask. A cloud of worry and stress has lifted. Anyone who has more than one dog or a dog with special needs—such as separation anxiety—will understand the challenge of finding a sitter you and the pups trust and adore. And that’s the goal, right?
If not for Tyson and JB, I’d be starting to get a pit in my stomach about now—with holiday travel plans cranking up. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I’d get a jump on the problem; I generally exacerbate my troubles by procrastinating. So this is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-normally-do tips list for selecting a dog sitter.
1. Get a move on. Land the sitter of your dreams by booking early. (You are not the only person who needs a sitter during the holidays.)
2. Interview several sitters to find the best fit for your needs. Ask your veterinarian, dog trainer, agility coach, friends at the dog park, even the pros at your pet supply shop for recommendations. The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPSS) provides a nationwide referral network searchable by zip code.
3. Ask for each sitter’s references—and call them. Slick websites and display ads in phone directories can be deceiving. The only way you can gauge a sitter is past performance. Not only will you cull the bad seeds but talking to happy clients will increase your confidence when you’re away from home.
4. Be clear about your expectations. Don’t be afraid to say you want the sitter around for a certain number of hours a day or expect your dog to be walked for two hours or brushed before bed, read to … whatever. It’s your dime.
5. Walk together with the dogs. How is your perspective sitter interacting well with your dog or dogs? Are they enjoying their time with the sitter? This is a good time to talk over your dog’s special needs or challenges.
6. Tour the house together. Remember, these pros will be living in your home. Let them know what’s off limits and what you expect in terms of the house responsibilities, such as collecting mail, putting out garbage, shoveling snow, etc., and emergency procedures, such as turning off the water and gas or disarming the burglar alarm.
7. Leave clear instructions for the house and animals (feeding, medication, etc.), including your vet’s contact information, the closest 24-hour ER vet and back-up assistance. (Be sure your backups know they will be on call.)
8. Request proof of bonding or liability insurance coverage. This is also a good indicator of how professional your sitter really is.
9. Establish all the fees in advance. Another advantage of interviewing several sitters is that it provides a good sense of the going rate in your area for pet-sitting.
10. Stay in touch. Ask if your sitter has any routines for providing status reports via email, text or online. iPhone-toting dog walkers or sitters can manually file reports of your dog’s business via the DogiDuty application. Or you can verify your pup’s daily routine with a SNIF digital dog tag, which will automatically upload a log of your dog’s activities—from napping to sprinting—to an online profile.