If you love pets, becoming a dog sitter can seem like a total dream. If a neighbor or friend asks you to care for their pooch for a few days, you might even do it as a favor and not charge them. But don’t underestimate the responsibility of boarding a pet.
Before you decide to become a dog sitter – casually or professionally – check out these pet sitting tips so you know what to expect.
What Are the Responsibilities of a Pet or Dog Sitter?
At first glance, pet sitting might seem like a simple task. You just hang out and keep the food bowl filled, right? In reality, it’s rarely that simple.
All pets, and especially dogs, need a lot more than just food to stay happy. If you’ve never owned a dog before, it might be surprising to learn all the daily tasks necessary for keeping an animal in good shape. While each pet sitting gig will be different, the responsibilities of a dog sitter often include:
- Providing much-needed TLC for the pet while their best friend is away
- Keeping the pet’s diet on track
- Providing exercise and mental engagement
- Cleaning up messes, litter boxes, or poop
- Administering medication
- Dealing with emergencies
Providing Attention and Company
Of course, the first and foremost responsibility for pet sitters is to give the pet love and attention. Many dogs become sad when their owners leave, and even cats sometimes don’t do well with changes in their routine. Pets will often miss their owners, and being alone can be hard for these social creatures. As a dog sitter, one of your primary responsibilities will be providing distraction and company through play and snuggles. This is also considered by many to be the best part of boarding a pet!
Ensuring Access to Food and Water
You will absolutely need to ensure that the animal you are pet sitting has constant access to clean water, both indoors and outdoors. Additionally, you’ll need to know the animal’s meal routine to keep them happily fed.
Almost every pet will have a slightly different meal routine. Some animals are free-fed – meaning you simply keep the bowl full throughout the day and let them graze – while others have very strict dietary restrictions, portion sizes, and mealtimes. You’ll also be responsible for administering treats if that’s part of the pet’s lifestyle.
Play Time and Exercise
All pets need some form of physical exercise and mental engagement daily. Animals are not meant to be sedentary or alone all day. That’s why this smart family is hiring you as a dog sitter!
As a pet sitter, you’ll be responsible for taking the dog on walks and playing laser-chase with the cat (or whatever game that feline likes best). All animals need different levels of daily exercise. Some dogs will need to be walked or even run for several miles, while others are content with a short trip around the neighborhood or even, on some days, just a short game of fetch in the yard. It’s important to clarify with the owners what kind of expectations they have for exercise.
Messes are one of your less romantic duties as a pet sitter. You’ll be responsible, obviously, for keeping the litter box clean and picking up after the dog on walks and in the backyard. But you’ll also be in charge of less anticipated messes, such as accidents in the house or when a cat throws up a hairball. Make sure you know where the pet-safe cleaners are, and keep an eye out for continued issues.
Giving Medications if Necessary
Some animals take daily medications, and if you’re pet sitting you’ll be responsible for administering them. This can be a little intimidating even for seasoned pet sitters, so if you’re new to the job, you’ll need to get clear instructions on what kind of medications the animal takes and how to administer them. Everyone has a slightly different routine for giving medication to their dog or cat. It might entail wrapping a pill in a piece of cheese or peanut butter, or it might be more complex, such as administering fluids or drops.
Staying Calm and Collected During Emergencies
When you decide to become a dog sitter, you need to remember that you are ultimately 100 percent responsible for the pet while the parents are away. This means that any emergencies are in your hands to deal with. While it’s likely everything will be just fine, there is always a possibility of accidents. The pet might get lost, or hurt, or maybe cause injury to a fellow pet or human. You need to be ready to keep a cool head and deal with emergencies if necessary. Make sure you have the pet’s regular veterinarian information, as well as the location of an emergency or after-hours clinic in the area.
Important Questions to Ask Before Watching a Pet
Clarifying your responsibilities as a dog sitter is the best way to ensure a successful experience for both you and your furry charge. Don’t be afraid to ask too many questions. Most people will be impressed that you are so prepared to take care of their beloved animals. Here are a few questions you need to ask before agreeing to pet sit for someone.
My House or Yours?
The best place to start when considering a pet sitting job is whether you will care for the animal in your home or the animal’s home. The environment for a pet sitting gig will dictate a lot of other factors. Most people prefer to have their pets (especially cats) taken care of in their homes and will pay extra for that service. If you have a suitable home (i.e., a yard and a pet-friendly house), you might also be able to host the pet at your home.
Of course, boarding a pet at your place offers a whole slew of other challenges. You’ll need to transport all of the pet’s belongings to your home, create a safe and comfortable space for them, and help them adjust to the new environment. Furthermore, if you have pets of your own, you’ll need to ensure the animals play well together before agreeing to board a guest. The responsibilities and duties of a dog sitting in your home are different, so it’s important to clarify this expectation from the outset so everyone is on the same page.
Does the Pet Have Any Allergies, Medications, or Conditions?
A pet sitter needs to understand an animal’s health and medical history to provide proper care. While it’s not vital that you know the date and time of Sparky’s neutering procedure six years ago, you definitely need to know if the pet has seizures, diabetes, or another health condition that requires medication and special care. Likewise, you need to know if the animal is allergic to anything that could put them at risk.
You might find that a particular dog or cat requires too much intensive care for you to feel comfortable with pet sitting, and that’s okay. Know your boundaries and don’t be afraid to say no – even to a friend – if you think the pet requires more care than you can effectively give. That’s why it’s good to clarify any medical needs early on in the process before agreeing to be a cat or dog sitter.
Any Behavior Issues?
Similar to medical issues, some pets might have behavior issues that you need to know about. A dog might be leash-aggressive, meaning they tend to behave poorly while being walked on a leash. They might have problems with other breeds of dogs or feel stressed and uncomfortable in certain situations. You need to know what triggers the pet you are sitting for so you can keep everyone safe and happy.
Always ask this question directly and encourage the owners to be honest. Sometimes it can be hard to admit their pet’s quirks and bad habits, but you must know this information to care for the pet properly.
What Kind of Daily Activity Does the Pet Need?
All pets have different needs. You might be used to a chill dog that only needs a short walk every day, but then find yourself pet sitting for a Jack Russell Terrier who needs miles of walking or running and multiple games of fetch. Some dogs are high-maintenance when it comes to exercise.
Clarify with the owners exactly what is expected of you in regards to exercise and play. Some will prefer their pet to be taken on two shorter walks, while others will want their dogs taken on a single long walk each day. This question will help you understand the animal better, plan out your schedule, and be sure you can commit to the pet sitting duties.
What Are the Typical Meal Routines for the Pet?
The key to a successful pet sitting job is keeping the pet’s routine as consistent as possible. Many pets and pet owners have little rituals around mealtimes. Some send their dog to sit on the dog bed while dinner is being made, then call “break” to let their dog eat. Do they prefer to free-feed the cat, or have strict mealtimes? You must know the details of a pet’s meal routines so they don’t feel confused or disoriented while you’re taking care of them. You’ll also need to know the basics, like how much food they’re given at each meal and how many times they are fed daily.
Does the Dog Know Any Commands?
Dog commands can be a wonderful way to maintain a sense of normalcy for a dog and stay in control of an animal you’re unfamiliar with. Always ask the owners if the pet knows any commands and learn exactly how to communicate with that pet. For example, some pet owners use the command “come” while others say “here.” Knowing the right word to use and which commands a dog knows will help you enjoy your time together and avoid frustration.
What Kind of Treats or Snacks Are Allowed (or Not)?
Snack routines are just as important as meal routines! You might find Bella barking her head off after dinner and not understand why she’s so worked up, only to learn that she’s accustomed to a delicious dog treat after her evening meal. Better to know that ahead of time, before you start your pet sitting gig.
Some pet owners are very strict about the amount or type of snacks their pet gets, while others are a little more relaxed. You’ll also want to clarify if “human food” is ever allowed because some pet parents prefer to avoid giving that to their pets. (If table scraps are allowed, you should also know exactly which vegetables and fruits are safe for dogs to eat .)
Who Is the Pet’s Veterinarian and Where Is the Nearest Emergency Clinic?
Being a prepared pet sitter means knowing the name, address, and phone number of the animal’s veterinarian. While you should always be prepared to take the dog to the nearest clinic in an emergency, a pet’s veterinarian can be an invaluable source of information about that pet’s medical history. You must have their contact information in case you need details during an emergency.
Other Crucial Pet Sitting Tips
Once you’ve run through our detailed list of questions and agreed to become a dog sitter, here are some other tips to ensure your pet sitting gig goes as smoothly as possible:
- Do a pre-departure interview
- Gather all the supplies
- Write everything down
- Get reliable contact information
- Examine the new environment
- Be patient with the pet
- Take and send pictures
Confirm You Have Everything You Need
There’s nothing worse than getting ready to go on a walk as a dog sitter and realizing you can’t find the pet’s leash. Make sure you have all the necessary supplies before the family leaves home, so you don’t have to call them with questions every day. Here are some items the family should provide:
- Poop bags
- Fresh cat litter
- Water and food bowls
- Leash and/or harness
- A collar with identification on it
No matter what kind of animal you are taking care of, it’s important they have a collar with some identification on it while you are sitting for them. While some pet owners let their pets roam the house freely without any identification, you don’t want to be held liable if their pet bolts out the door and gets lost. One way to ensure the animal’s safety with the change in routine is to keep identification on them at all times. And always ask if the pet is microchipped and if the information is up to date.
Get Written Instructions
You’re going to have a lot of information swimming around in your head, especially if you’re pet sitting in the animal’s home and not your own. Things will be much easier if you have all the details are written down, such as the location of extra dog food and cat litter, or the details of the pet’s meal routine. Don’t rely on your memory. Make things easier for yourself with detailed written instructions. You might even ask the pet owner to provide the written instructions so you don’t have to worry about copying something down wrong.
It’s also valuable to write down other details that might become important, such as the pet’s name, age, breed, pet insurance information, and veterinarian’s name.
Do an Interview with Both Dog and Dog Owner
Never agree to be a dog sitter for a pet you haven’t met. While most people will be as honest as possible about their dog or cat, it’s possible you two simply won’t get along. You need to meet the animal and the owner before agreeing to a pet sitting gig. In fact, it’s ideal to meet the pet with their owner, then set up a time for you to hang out with the pet alone for a little while (preferably in the space where you will be pet sitting – their home or yours).
Always Have Reliable Contact Information
You need to be able to reach the pet’s owners during an emergency and just for general check-ins and updates. This means having phone numbers (preferably more than one where you can reach them) and knowing where they will be staying while they are away. If the owners are going to be out of cell and internet service, you need to have backup contact information for someone in case of an emergency – maybe a doggie grandma or kitty grandpa.
Remember, this applies to emergencies for both the pet and you as the sitter. You might have a family emergency that requires you to hop on a plane, and you need to be prepared to contact someone to take the pet as a backup. While these scenarios are all very unlikely, being prepared is responsible and will give everyone peace of mind.
Visit the Area Where the Pet Will Be
Many owners will simply assume that everything is in order before they depart, but you need to be sure. Check out the yard and make sure the fence is secure. It’s also worth asking if the pet has ever escaped from a fenced-in yard or tends to bolt out the door when it’s open. You should do the same once-over at your home if that’s where you’ll be pet sitting. Check the house for items that might pose danger to the pet, such as toxic house plants, tempting cords, or easily breakable items.
Be Kind and Patient with the Animal – This Is Different for Them!
All animals will respond differently to having a new pet sitter. Some dogs will be thrilled to have someone new to play with, while others will be depressed when their owners leave. Be patient as they adjust to you and the new arrangement. Try to keep things as consistent as possible for them and provide tons of love and gentle affection, if that’s what they want. Some pets will simply need some time alone to warm up to the idea of a pet sitter. Either way, let the pet dictate boundaries as much as possible.
Send Pictures to the Parents While They’re Gone!
Any pet owner who has taken the time to find a good pet sitter for their animal will likely be missing their dog or cat while they’re away. When you’re boarding a pet, take pictures of them daily and send them to the parents if you can. Even if they are out of service, they’ll be thrilled to see the pictures when they return. This is a simple pet sitting tip that goes a long way in making people feel confident and comfortable leaving their pets with you.
Use These Tips to Be the Best Pet Sitter
Whether you’re caring for a friend’s pooch while they’re on vacation or starting a full-on pet sitting business, these tips will ensure you get off on the right foot with any dog or cat you care for. Boarding a pet is a huge responsibility and dog sitters need to be prepared, but it can also be incredibly fun and even lucrative. Ask the right questions, ensure you have everything you need, and you and Fido or Fluffy will have a blast!