For our family, hiring a pet sitter and making sure they're a good and reputable one is just as important as hiring a babysitter. We make sure they have experience, love animals (obviously), get along well with our furbabies, are experienced in understanding animal behavior, and also know of the right questions to ask before dog sitting.
For us so far, the only person we trust enough to dog sit our two crazy beagles is my dad (their grandpa). He knows they like to try to escape the fence when they catch wind of a squirrel or another dog on a walk, he knows that our older beagle, Hank, needs a butt boost onto the couch sometimes, and he doesn't even mind that they love to cuddle in the human bed, even when he's staying at our house for a week when we go and visit my husband's family in Colorado. And he definitely asked the right questions before sitting for us.
If you're one of the many moms looking to bring in some extra income who happens to love animals, then dog sitting could be the perfect gig for you. And these 11 questions will definitely help make sure you're a good fit for any prospective family, as well as ensure that you're not confused or left in the dark about important things that go along with sitting — like where the puppy treats are, among other things.
1. What is the feeding routine?
Obviously an important part of the job. Also make sure you know where to locate all of the additional items you need to feed the dog, e.g., a scoop, dog bowls, water bowls, etc.
2. How many times a day do the dogs need to go out?
This should be a no-brainer since that's what they're paying you to do (if you're not spending the night with the dog). Stick to the pet owner's schedule as closely as possible, because this will be the deciding factor of if you'll be cleaning up dog poop or pee in the house later.
3. What are some favorite toys and games the dog likes to play?
Not only this, but it's important to spend some time with the dog first to get to know their body language and way they communicate. "Otherwise, they can not help, understand or communicate what is happening with your dog and how to keep them fulfilled, enriched and safe," says Russell Hartstein, Los Angeles-based certified dog and cat behaviorist and trainer. "A dog’s primary way of communicating is through body language and nonverbal communication. We have a hard enough time reading our partner’s or child’s body language, nevertheless a dog’s!"
4. Is there any medication the dog needs? If so, what is the dosage schedule?
This is so, so important. You definitely don't want to miss a dose of medication or do it wrong. The dog's health — and potentially their life — is dependent on you knowing how and when to administer their medication.
5. Is your dog up to date on vaccinations?
This is especially important if you're bringing your own dog to the house. However, if the dog you're sitting is brand new, like less than 8 weeks old, you need to know so you don't put them on the pavement or let them go for a walk until they have their vaccines. That's how puppies get Parvo, which could be deadly.
6. Should you be expecting anyone else coming into the home while you're dog sitting?
If not just for your own peace of mind so you won't freak out at an unexpected guest, but so you can prepare the dog as well — whether that means holding onto it so it doesn't escape when someone comes over or so they don't jump on the guest.
7. How do you work the alarm system/lights/fans?
The alarm stressed me out so much at the last house where I was dog sitting and housesitting. It was super complicated and I didn't want to mess up (because then the police would have come to the house, and who knows what else). Plus, it was so loud when you messed up the code, the poor old dog I was watching would freak out and cry and potentially pee the floor.
Also, there's nothing worse than stumbling around in the dark trying to find the light switch in a house you're not super familiar with. And who can sleep without a ceiling fan on? I sure can't.
8. Where are the paper towels and cleaning products in case of an accident?
Let's face it. It's kind of a given the dog may have an accident or two when their owners are away, especially if they're gone for an extended period of time and you're staying at their house. Whether they have an "accident" to get back at the owners for leaving (my dog will pee in the house on purpose to get back at us), or because their schedule is not quite the same, it's important to know where the cleaning supplies are to clean up mess.
9. How do you adjust the heating and air conditioning?
When you go to visit the dog it's important to make sure the temperature in the house is comfortable for them, especially since they can't do anything about it themselves if they get uncomfortable. If you're staying at the house yourself, you obviously want to be comfortable, too.
10. What are the dog's quirks, if any?
This reminds me of the Gilmore Girls episodes when Lorelai adopts Paul Anka (the dog) and he has a million quirks, like being scared of peas, CD's, popcorn, lint, and paperback books. He also doesn't like when you watch him eat. Sometimes asking about these quirks will not only help you get along with the dog better, but will also reassure your client that you have the dog's best interest at heart.
11. Where is/are the toilet paper/plates/pots/pans/general household items, etc.?
If you're a dog sitter who is also spending the night, ask where all the things are that you would need during your stay. If you plan on cooking while you're there, it would also be helpful to know how to use the stove and dishwasher, too.
As a pet owner, you do need to be careful, because Hartstein says that unfortunately, dog sitting is an unregulated industry. "So all pet parents will have to do adequate due diligence to research their pet sitter thoroughly. I would make sure your dog sitter has full bonding and insurance and preferably to the highest amount. It doesn’t cost much extra and shows they are serious about their profession and more trustworthy."
That means as a dog sitter, it's a good idea to educate yourself on canine behavior and health as much as possible. You might not be certified in animal behavior or a certified force-free trainer (Hartstein's recommendation for the ideal dog sitter), but the more you know, the more you'll be showing clients how much you care.