Much as we’d like to, most of us can’t lounge around with our dogs all day, every day. After all, someone has to work to pay for the kibble, and once in a while we all have to go someplace where dogs simply aren’t welcome (funerals and business trips come to mind). What do you do with Spot?
It all depends on your situation. If you work long hours or have such a long commute that you don’t have time to properly exercise him during the work week, either doggie day care or a dog walker can be a terrific solution. If you travel frequently, a pet sitter is an excellent alternative to a kennel, because your dog avoids the stress of a disrupted routine.
How do I choose a dog walker or sitter?
A dog walker is responsible not just for exercising your dog but for keeping him safe while out cruising on foot. The sitter is responsible for that and more. This is not a job for the eight-year-old kid down the street: the walker needs to be up to the job or you could risk a lost dog or one who’s been hit by a car.
Interview the candidates. Take the time to interview several people to see what they offer and how your personalities fit together. Does your dog respond well to any of them? Do you trust them? Here are some other questions to consider:
- Is the person bonded and insured?
- How long has she been in business?
- How many times a day does the sitter come?
- How long a walk will your dog get?
- How will you know that he’s really being walked for that amount of time?
- How many dogs does the walker take out at the same time?
- Will the dogs go to an off-leash fenced area, or will the dogs be on a leash the whole time?
- What will the person do with the dog waste?
- Will she water, feed, or medicate your dog, if needed?
- Will she offer special assistance to your older or special-needs dog?
- Can your blind, deaf, or lame dog go with a group of dogs being walked?
- Does the walker have a group of older dogs, or will you have to pay extra for a solo trip?
- If you have a puppy, will your pup be walked with other youngsters?
- Does the walker have a first aid kit in her car, and does she provide water and treats when appropriate?
- What is her discipline style? Does it differ from your methods?
- Is there a backup in place should the walker get sick or have car trouble?
- What is the fee and how does the person bill?
- What is the procedure if you need to cancel a walk?
Get references. If you know of people who are satisfied with a walker’s or sitter’s services, there’s a good chance you’ll be satisfied too.
Go on a walk. Get a feel for the pack dynamics, including how the walker manages and interacts with her charges. If she’s not particularly keen on the idea of you tagging along, that may be a red flag.
Take a look at the physical makeup of the group–this is a case where size matters. Toy Poodles should not have to keep pace with German Shepherds and Great Danes. And of course there’s a safety issue: big dogs may trample, play too rough with, or simply trip over the little ones.
Why walkers and sitters should be bonded and insured
These folks have to be trustworthy not only because they’re caring for your dog–they also have access to all the stuff in your home, and we’re not just talking about dog beds. That’s quite a bit of trust needed for a stranger.
Ask for written proof of commercial liability insurance and/or bonding. Take no excuses such as, “I’ve filed for it but it’s not here yet” or “It’s not necessary,” because it is, and a professional knows that. Any walker or sitter you consider should be insured for liability including care, custody, and control of the involved dogs.
A dishonesty or fidelity bond claim protects you if the pet sitter is convicted in criminal court of stealing your dog or things from your home. You won’t get anything without a conviction–which can take years–but it’s better than nothing.
Some sitters get insurance coverage for theft instead of a bond, because theft insurance doesn’t require a criminal conviction and it usually covers accidental breakage or damage to items in your home, as well as stolen items. This is all to your benefit whether your sitter or walker is dishonest or merely klutzy.
Bottom line: A dog walker or pet sitter is a great way to keep your dog happy and well-cared for if you can’t be with him during the day. Interview potential candidates thoroughly and consider only those who take your dog’s physical and emotional well-being as seriously as you do.