Tips for Choosing the Right Pet Sitter

Having dogs with special routines and needs can often warrant stays outside of the typical kennel environment. With resources like Rover and Facebook’s community bulletin boards, pet sitters are able to offer individualized care for your animals in environments that may be less stressful than otherwise! 

Plenty of dogs with anxiety, reactivity, and medical concerns receive dismissals from boarding facilities or recommendations to look into a pet sitter instead. But navigating the hundreds of options can be overwhelming! Here are some tips to navigate finding a pet sitter to fit you and your dog.  


Pet Sitting Experience

  • How long have they been a pet sitter? 
  • Do they have referrals? 
  • Do they specialize in certain types of behavior? Nervous, reactive, separation anxiety, etc?
  • If they advertise as being experienced, what does their experience look like? Is it primarily family or friends’ pets, or client pets? Do they have certifications or training?  

Some certifications I look for can include… 

In many cases, ‘green’ pet sitters are coming in with very little experience outside of their own family dogs. If you have a dog with behavioral needs, it is not fair to expect them to know how to handle or respond to high stress situations. Quick thinking and experience could be the difference between a vet visit or a safe walk around the block. 

Referrals and community recommendations are a good way to get started in finding your pet sitter. Ask your veterinary clinic or your trainer/ behavior consultant if they have recommendations. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your research or follow up with the pet sitter yourself, but this can be a more reliable way to find someone rather than sifting through all the flowery statements online. 


Emergencies & Vet Visits

  • Does your pet sitter have insurance?
  • Do they have a plan in case of an emergency? 
  • Have you signed a release that allows them to make decisions at the vet if you are unable to be reached? 

Experience is so important when we’re looking for a pet sitter! Especially if there are behavioral concerns. 

If there are any incidents while you are gone, insurance and signed releases are an important procedure. Veterinarians are not allowed to perform life saving procedures if your sitter does not have a signed release from you, and if you are not able to be reached this can cause major complications in getting your dog help. 


Know Where Your Dog is Staying

  • Schedule a visit to their home prior to boarding! Or, if they are staying in your home, schedule a visit for them to meet with you, your dog, and get a walk through.
  • Any living area or area your dog would be spending time in should be shown to you. 

A common work-around phrase is, “I won’t show this space because it is a little messy.” If your dog will be spending time in that space, they should still show you! 

Messy can mean a lot of different things. The floor needing to be swept should not be in the same category as feces or urine being on the floor, but both could be described as ‘messy’. 

Sometimes you can look at their socials for more detailed shots of the home or area. Pictures of their space posted on socials should demonstrate a variety of locations, not a single repeated corner of the home. 


Set Your Expectations for the Pet Sitter

  • Make sure your expectations are included as a written agreement. 
  • In the case of any concerning incident, you should be notified within 12 hours of the incident. 
  • Setting expectations is a two way street! That means your pet sitter should also have a full picture of your dog. If your dog has had behavior issues or incidents that could compromise the safety of your sitter or neighbors, let them know. 

Incidents can be as simple as an irregular poop or behavior, or an altercation with another dog or person. It should not be brought to your attention when you get home, but within 12 hours of the incident (if not sooner!). There is nothing worse than coming home and finding out a number of things went wrong. I had a client who came home after two weeks of good reports, and was then told that their dog was aggressive and should be rehomed (spoiler: they did not rehome their dog, and they don’t use that pet sitter anymore). 

As mentioned above, expectations are a two way street. There are plenty of experienced dog sitters out there who have handled reactivity, resource guarding, etc. But even the most experienced sitter can’t be a mind reader. If there are concerns that could affect their safety, your neighbors’ safety, or your dogs’ safety, let them know. Worst case scenario, you don’t have your dog staying with someone that couldn’t handle the situation, and aren’t finding out while you are out of town.

Be aware of what helps you keep your peace of mind personally as well. When I leave town without my dogs, I have a horrible feeling I can only describe as “I left the oven on”. Because of this, I learned that I like getting updates every two-three days to make sure everything is going smoothly. Others might want only once a week, or as much as daily. Request your personal preference with your sitter! 


Now What?

Make a list of what you are looking for in your pet sitter. This list can adjust as you research, but it’s a good place to start. Having questions lined up before talking to potential sitters helps make sure all your bases are covered. 

Ask around for neighborhood referrals. Common places to ask around can include… 

  • Neighborhood/community facebook groups 
  • Veterinary clinics 
  • Local pet shop
  • Training facilities

There are also organizations for pet sitters such as the National Association of Pet Sitters that you can look on for sitters near you, like

Plan a short weekend away for a trial test. Take a vacation in your hometown or city. Maybe you’ve got some weekend trips coming up anyways. Trial running for a short time away from home before your big trips away can help reduce your anxiety when leaving your pets at home.


Happy training,


2 thoughts on “Tips for Choosing the Right Pet Sitter

  1. I used to pet sit for a bunch of my friends. My mom needed a pet at one point and I wasn’t available and the experience was horrendous. Advertised that they were experienced and comfortable giving medication. My mom‘s dog needed a couple of eardrops every day. When she came home, she discovered that the eardrops were all over the outside of the dogs ears and not in his ears. And his ear infection had gotten worse. After this experience, I decided to start pet sitting for my friends so they would have somebody reliable and familiar.

    I adopted My own dog. I already had cats, but they were easy to take care of while I was petting.

    My mom has a new pet sitter now and she’s really good with her dog. The only problem is the pet sitter has a regular 9 to 5 job.(grooming!) so she is out of the house a lot more and my mom‘s dog is not used to being left alone at home as much. He does like the pet sitter though, and she often brushes him when she comes to visit. But his day to day routine gets mixed up and that makes him upset.
    I thought About asking my mom‘s pet sitter to pet it for me, but my dog has a lot of quirks. Pretty sure the pet sitter would be comfortable because she does have some dog training experience, has groomed my dog in the past, and help take care of him at the Rescue where I got him.
    My cats are really easy to take care of. But they’re 18 and they have some health conditions. I have this constant night mare that I am on an airplane and forgot to hire a pet.
    I know that’s irrational, but it feels so real. One of my friends went to Germany last year, and got Covid and had to stay there an extra two weeks to quarantine. Luckily her pet sitter was available for an additional two weeks, but that’s the kind of thing that makes me nervous.
    I was taking care of my friend’s cat one time and he had a medical emergency. Thankfully, I had a friend that was available to help out.
    I just get nervous thinking about all the things that could happen.
    Ultimately, I am happier, staying home and will travel after my pets pass away. I really don’t think I would be able to relax and enjoy myself otherwise.

    1. It can be so challenging to navigate when people oversell themselves in the name of ‘getting the gig’! Especially to the detriment of the animal in their care, and the human that will likely hang on to the anxiety of that experience for a long time.

      It’s wonderful that you’re aiming to provide a safe and reliable option for your friends, and that you know yourself well enough to know your limits when it comes to traveling away from your pets.

      Thanks so much for you comment and sharing your experience with pet sitting/sitters!

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