Interviewing a Pet Sitter or Dog Walker

Happy National Professional Pet Sitter Week!!! Well it was actually last week, I completely dropped the ball on that one. I’d like to make up for it with a little post to help new clients considering hiring a pet sitter or dog walker. Plus, it’s getting into the busy season now with the warmer weather, so all the new client meetings make this a timely topic.

IMG_5191The standard procedure for scheduling a pet sitter includes an interview with the sitter (if it’s a one person business), or the business owner or senior sitter (if it is a larger business) to meet you and your pet, and to answer any of your questions. If your potential sitter does not do an initial interview, I do not recommend using them. This step is essential to providing your pet with the best care. At this meeting, or prior to this meeting, you want to get to know your sitter and ask any questions you may have. While it is always okay to ask questions at any time, this meeting is a great time to do so since it is often the case that we pet sitters rarely see our human clients after this meeting.

Here is a great list of questions put together by Pet Sitters International. Many sitters may not do everything suggested on this list and admittedly, I do not, for various reasons. For example, I don’t keep specific office hours (I wish I could, but I don’t want to turn down a client’s sitting request so I can sit by my phone). But it is a good start to think about what you may want to ask a sitter and what is important to you.

Here are some of my recommended questions:

Are you bonded and/or insured? A sole pet sitter does not need bonding (bonding protects you against such things as theft by a sitter’s employee and does not cover the sitter herself), but insurance is essential, in my opinion. There is nothing wrong with having your neighbors son come over to let your dog out if he isn’t insured, but if you are going to spend the money on a professional sitter, be sure they are covered.

What is the best way to contact you? As mentioned before, most pet sitters will not have the time to sit by the phone or the money to hire a full-time receptionist. Text messaging, e-mail, and cell phones make it easier nowadays to get in touch. Personally I don’t answer phone calls while I’m with your dog, unless I have a reason to think it’s an emergency. So texting and e-mail are great ways to get me at the last minute to schedule an appointment, request a specific service at your upcoming visit, or anything else you may need. This may not be the case for all sitters, as not everyone checks e-mail and texts immediately, so it is important to ask up front.

What are your fees and options for visits? This is a no-brainer, but you want to be sure fees are in your budget. Sitters often offer several options depending on your budget and needs, go through them with your sitter to figure out the best fit.

How long to you spend with my pet? I am amazed at how many sitter websites do not put this info out there. You should know exactly what you are paying for and the sitter should know what you expect of her.

What time will your visits occur and how close do you get to the scheduled time? I don’t know how other sitters operate, but I usually ask you for a range that is acceptable. I can rarely guarantee someone will be at your home at exactly 12:45pm, but I can generally come pretty darn close most days. Again, some days are busier or less predictable than others, so it is really helpful to know that any time between 12 and 2 is best.

How much notice do you need? How long in advance should I book my non-regular visits (such as a vacation)? I love to know when you are going away as soon as possible. Your sitter should be able to schedule your visits long in advance. Sitters should use a method of scheduling that allows them to book your visits several months ahead of time, so that when you schedule your vacation, you can schedule your sitter. On the other hand, your sitter should explain their policy about last-minute scheduling or cancellations. Personally, I try to accommodate last minute requests, although I explain that it may be hard to get the exact time you request if it is only a few hours away. I also do not charge for cancellations, but many sitters do. There is nothing wrong with a sitter who has a cancellation fee, but if you know you may have to cancel or reschedule often, it may be worth your time to seek our a sitter who is accommodating.

What happens if the sitter can’t make it? This should be an extremely rare occurrence, if it happens at all. Professional sitters should work through minor issues and most weather conditions. Of course, emergencies happen. Be sure your sitter has employees, a partner, another sitter that they work with, or a back-up that can cover for them in case of an emergency.

How much experience does the sitter and their employees have? It is not 100% necessary that a sitter has been in business for several decades. Brand new sitter business might be great because they will be willing to give you lots of attention, availability, and will always be grateful to you for being one of their first clients. Trust me, I am forever grateful to my first handful of clients! Experience can come in many forms, such as working for another sitter, volunteering at a vet or shelter, or just having had pets for years. Established sitters do have benefits, such as it being less likely they will not stay in business long, they may have employees or backups, and therefore have more availability, and they can provide references if requested. Whichever way you go, it is important to know that this person has experience with animals in one way or another.

Does your sitter have a contract? Contracts may seem formal for a pet sitting business, but they are a good way to lay out expectations. A standard sitting contract will tell you exactly what you might be responsible for and what your sitter will be expected to do. For example, a contract may state that you agree to have enough dog food on hand when you go on vacation, and that the sitter might charge you if there not enough and they have to go buy some. This shows your sitter has thought this through. A contract should spell out the answers to a lot of the questions in this article, such as back-up care, fees, time spent with you pet, etc.

What if your pet needs medical attention? Your sitter should have a plan. If practical, your sitter should attempt contact you immediately. Your sitter should also get your preferred veterinarians information up front, so that if they cannot contact you, they know where to try and go first. Other measures might be to have you sign a release allowing the sitter to consent to veterinary treatment, and just being aware of local animal hospitals and veterinary offices and their hours.

What other services do you provide? Most sitters do more than just walk or play with your pet. We often take in your mail, water plants, rotate lights, or perform any other reasonable task while you are on vacation. For dog walking clients, you may not need these services, but sitters will be willing to give your pet any special care you ask for. For example, if you are training your puppy and working on “sit” this week, let your sitter know. She should be happy to practice during her visit.

I hope this list is useful to you! Remember, just because a sitter does not answer the way one of these lists tells you they should, don’t immediately count them out. Think about what is important to you in a sitter and ask them why they have the policy that they have. Overall, you want someone who is going to be good to your pet, who is responsible and reliable, and who you can feel comfortable letting into your home.