TIPS FOR HIRING A PET WALKER or PET SITTER
Keep in mind that professional dog walking and pet sitting has grown rapidly over the last 10 years and in most jurisdictions there is currently no regulating body over these professions so anyone can do it-experienced or not.
Anyone can call herself or himself a dog walker or dog sitter so it’s up to you to determine whether this person is truly qualified. Once you’ve found an individual, a dog walking or pet sitting service, interview the person that will be the one who will actually take care of your dog. Your dog should be present so you can see how the walker/sitter interacts with your dog(s) and how your pet(s) feel about this person.
Here are some things to think about and questions to ask:
- Who will actually walk my dog?
- Some companies are one-person shops so the person you interview is the person that will be walking your dog(s). Others may have several or dozens of walkers. Do they employ these people or are the independent contractors? How are they screened?
- What is the background of the person (or people) who will take care of your dog?
- How much and what kind of training have they had in dog walking? Have they any education in canine learning theory, body language and pack management? They should use humane training methods and to be able to interpret canine body language should any issues arise-for example if a stray dog approaches your dog during a walk. Any time one of the walkers in a multi-walker company that you have approved is not available you should be advised beforehand. You don’t want a pet walker replaced without your knowledge and approval.
- Where will your dog be walked?
- Will the person walk your dog in your neighborhood or transport your dog elsewhere?
- How much time to do they guarantee on a walk?
- Does the dog walker want any special equipment on your dog?
- Some dog walkers prefer to use their own equipment for a variety of reasons. If you want your own equipment used-special harness etc. then make sure it is always available for your pet care provider.
- What kind of incidents has the dog walker encountered?
- Have any dogs in their care been lost or injured? How did they handle these situations?
- Safety should be a primary concern. Optimally a walker has been trained in pet first aid and emergency protocols. He/she should carry a cell phone and have your telephone numbers programmed into it. Your pet walker should know the location of the emergency clinics in your area as well as your dog’s vet. Keep a signed release form on hand in case your dog needs medical attention and you’re not available.
- What if your dog walker can’t make it at the scheduled time? Is there a back-up walker? If you are counting on the walker to provide a potty break for your dog due to your time away from home the reliability of the walker or the back up needs to be impeccable.
- What if you hire a pet sitter for a 10 day vacation and the pet sitter becomes ill, who is the pet sitter’s back up/do they have back up plans in place?
- Will inclement weather be a cause for cancellation of a scheduled walk?
- Will they provide you with a report of the walk or if pet sitting, will he/she provide you with a report with the frequency that you would like: daily, every other day, etc.?
- Do they have references? If so, call the references.
- Is the walker/sitter licensed, insured and/or bonded?
- Licensing usually refers to having a standard business license it DOES NOT imply experience etc.
- Does the walker/sitter have a written service contract explaining services and payment policies?
- How many times a day can the pet sitter come to take care of your dog(s)? What is the latest they will come at night and what is the earliest they will come in the morning? The timing is important If you are considering leaving your pet at home alone overnight. We recommend that you find someone that will stay overnight with your pets.
- If you want your dog fed a meal and/or medications during a pet walk, can the pet walker provide this service and will it be an extra charge?
Other things to consider/remember
Dog walks are not training sessions however if you have any training protocols in place or if your dog has specific needs or requirements on how and where to be walked, your dog walker should be able and willing to follow them.
Know your dog and communicate what you know about your dog to your dog walker. Let your walker know if something out of the ordinary has occurred. In turn, listen to your walker/sitter if he/she expresses any concerns about your dog’s behavior or health.
Don’t forget to listen to your dog. If you notice that your dog is not happy to see the walker/sitter and excited to go with him/her (if you are at home at the time of the walk) it may be time to find another pet care provider.
Be aware of your dog walker’s cancellation policy and follow it. Many walkers only take a small number of clients and cancelling can significantly impact their income. Also, dog walkers are not on call 24/7 so respect their hours.
Dog walkers and sitters make a valuable contribution to the happiness and well being of our cherished pets.
Always have your contact numbers in a visible place in the house-kitchen counter for example; leave any specific instructions, make sure your veterinarian knows the name and contact information for your pet walker and/or pet sitter for emergency purposes.
Provide clear instructions for the pet sitter for feeding your dog(s) and provide information for any medications that need to be given; Likewise provide instructions for feeding and medications for your pet walker if this will be part of your pet walker’s visit.
If you are go away on vacation have a local friend as back up for the pet sitter to contact should you be unreachable.