Planning a Vacation? Here’s How to Hire a Good Dog Sitter

If you want to avoid kennels, consider a sitter -- here's how I found one.


If you’re an anxious dog mom like me, the thought of going away and leaving your fur baby can sometimes be too much to bear. I need to feel confident about the person I hire to care for our dog Sasha, an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix.

The first time we left Sasha, we boarded her at our vet’s kennel. Our other dog, Buster, an Australian Shepherd/Labrador Retriever mix, stayed there often and appeared to enjoy himself. He even got into a little bit of mischief by stealing food from the refrigerator when the veterinary technician opened the door. But with Sasha it was different. One look in her eyes when we came to pick her up and we knew that we’d need to find alternative arrangements the next time we left town.

We decided that having a pet sitter come to our house would be best with Sasha, because she would be able to stay in familiar surroundings and not have her routine disrupted.

I found our pet sitter based on a recommendation from my neighbor. She had hired this pet sitter several times and was pleased with her services. In fact, the best way to find a pet sitter is by a referral from a friend, neighbor, veterinarian, or dog trainer. Alternatively, you can search the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters or Pet Sitters International websites for pet sitters in your area.

The Humane Society has some pointers on what qualifications to look for in a pet sitter:

  • Does the pet sitter have commercial liability insurance, and is she bonded?
  • What training has the pet sitter completed?
  • Does the pet sitter have a written contract that details services and fees?
  • Will the pet sitter keep notes about your pet, such as his likes, dislikes, fears, habits, medical conditions, medications, and routines?
  • What will happen if the pet sitter experiences car trouble or becomes ill? Is there a backup person?
  • How does your pet sitter make sure that you have returned home?
  • Will the pet sitter provide you with references from other clients?

If the pet sitter checks out over the phone, you’ll want to have him come to your home to meet your dog. Chemistry is important. How does your dog interact with the pet sitter? The highest endorsement my pet sitter gets is Sasha’s tail when she sees her. By the enthusiasm of her wag, I know she’s been under good care. A good pet sitter will also take notes about your dog’s habits, care, and special needs.

The NAPP suggests you tell your pet sitter as much detail as possible about your dog, including:

  • Your dog’s routine and schedules.
  • Any minor or major health issues, and whether your dog requires medication.
  • Your dog’s favorite hiding places (to prevent a panic if your dog decides to hide out).
  • An emergency plan (including your vet’s phone number and the contact information of a trusted neighbor).
  • Any unusual quirks or habits.

For example, my dog eats paper, so I remind our pet sitter to keep the mail and newspapers away from her reach. I write out clear instructions of how much and how often to feed our dog and leave information where we can be contacted. Fortunately, our pet sitter provides email updates on how our dog is doing, which helps to ease my mind during the first few days of vacation.

I also dog proof the house before we leave, making sure the garbage is not accessible, no food is left out, and medications or cleaning agents are out of reach. We tell our next-door neighbors when we’ll be gone and give them a spare key as part of our emergency plan.

Most pet sitters require two weeks notice to schedule their services, and may charge extra for shorter notice. You might want to start out with just a weekend away initially and see how things go before embarking on a trip overseas.

Have you ever hired a pet sitter? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

Read more by Cathy Weselby:

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