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Choosing the Right Pet Sitter When You Travel

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

dog sitting

Story at-a-glance -

  • Pet sitters can be a good option when you need someone to care for your dog while you’re away
  • It’s important, when starting your search for a pet sitter, to first decide what type of service you need
  • Ask people you trust for pet sitter referrals, including your veterinarian
  • Be sure to interview all potential sitters in your home with your dog present
  • After selecting a pet sitter, do your part to ensure things go smoothly while you’re away

If you’re planning a vacation or an out-of-town on business trip, figuring out who will care for your canine BFF in your absence can be a daunting task. In fact, I have many clients who haven’t left home in years because they couldn’t find a person or facility they trusted to care for their dog.

The first step is deciding what type of pet care you’re after. There are boarding facilities, but these are often stressful environments for dogs. Many pet parents instead leave their dogs with family or friends, but for a number of reasons, this can be a less than ideal situation.

Another option can be a professional pet sitter — someone you hire to come to your home to care for your furry family member. Your dog gets to stay in his own home, and you can relax while you’re away knowing he’s healthy, happy and safe. This is assuming, of course, that you’ve chosen a reputable and trustworthy sitter.

Pet sitters run the gamut from professionals who offer pet-sitting services as their primary business to hobbyists, who simply pick up a job here and there when they can. Both can be good options, but it’s important to do your research before trusting a stranger to come into your home and care for your dog. Here’s what to look for.

Five Tips for Choosing the Right Pet Sitter

1. Identify what type of service you need — Pet sitting services can take many forms. Some sitters stop by your home a set number of times each day to feed and walk your dog. Others will stay overnight in your home or take your dog to stay in their home. Some pet sitters only care for dogs, or cats; others are willing to care for birds, reptiles and chickens.

A few pet sitting services even offer grooming and training sessions for your dog; others do house sitting as well (e.g., bringing in your mail, opening window coverings, turning lights on and off, taking out the garbage and generally making your home look “lived in” while you’re away).

While most people hire pet sitters when they’ll be out of town, some also use these services to take their dogs for daily walks or administer a medication while they’re at work or in emergency situations when they can’t make it home in time.

2. Start your search as soon as possible — Pet sitters with lots of clients are often booked up well in advance, especially during holidays. According to a membership survey conducted by Pet Sitters International (PSI), an educational association for professional pet sitters:

“… more than 60% of its members are completely booked for holiday pet-sitting visits two to three weeks prior to the holiday — and nearly 13% are usually fully booked at least two months in advance.”1

You don’t want to be rushed into a decision or forced to use a sitter you’re not sure about because she’s the only one available. As soon as you begin planning your trip, start searching for a pet sitter (and, once you have once you trust, book her services as soon as you know the dates of your trip).

3. Ask people you trust for referrals — One of the best ways to find a pet sitter is to get a referral from someone you trust, including friends, family or your veterinarian. You can also check PSI or the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters for recommendations.

These organizations advise pet owners to ensure potential pet sitters are bonded and insured. Commercial liability insurance is important in case of accidents, while bonding protects against theft.

4. Interview potential pet sitters — It’s extremely important to meet and interview any pet sitters you’re considering prior to hiring them. Ideally, you’ll want to have them meet you at home to ensure you’re comfortable with their interactions with your dog.

During the interview, ask about the sitter’s past experience, what types of pets she’s cared for and whether she’s completed any special training. Ask what her procedure is in case of emergency, and what the plan is to take care of your dog if she becomes ill or cannot make it to your home. And be sure to discuss communication; will she text you written updates or photos daily?

You’ll also want to ask for references of past clients and be sure she’s experienced in caring for dogs like yours (e.g., age, special needs, health concerns, behavior issues and any other unique circumstances that may require special care). Also, if you're delayed, can the sitter care for your pet until you're able to get home?

5. Do your part to ensure things go smoothly — You also play a role in how well your dog is cared for while you’re away by clearly communicating to your pet sitter your dog’s needs and routine.

Provide detailed instructions regarding feeding, medications, emergency contact information (including your veterinarian's contact information and the closest 24-hour emergency animal hospital) and other important information. Also leave a schedule of your dog’s routine (e.g., times of meals, playtime, walking and bedtime).

Supplies should be left in one easy-to-access location and be sure to purchase more than enough to last for the duration of your trip (in addition to food and treats, other supplies you should leave handy include a brush or comb, toys, a leash and a carrier). You may want to leave cleaning supplies handy in case of accidents, as well.

Also, be sure to also show your pet sitter how to use your home's security system, circuit breaker and any other important features.

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Click here to find out Dr. Becker's 20 Pet Tips for a Healthy 2020Click here to find out Dr. Becker's 20 Pet Tips for a Healthy 2020

Additional Suggestions for a Successful Trip

Even with a trustworthy pet sitter, leaving your dog can be difficult — for him and for you. You can help to make your canine companion feel more at home while you’re away by:

  • Asking your pet sitter to turn on lights in the evening and turn on the TV or radio occasionally
  • Leaving a worn t-shirt near your pet’s bed to remind him of you
  • Properly pet proofing your home; remember that bored and lonely dogs may get into more trouble than usual, so put anything dangerous (electrical cords, breakables, food, medications and more) safely out of your dog’s reach

+ Sources and References