It seems sometimes that everyone is a dog walker or sitter when you start talking about it. Popular pet apps have made it seem that walking or sitting is just a side gig, that anybody can do it and everyone, pet, and parent, will be happy.
If you google search, you can find countless stories of dogs getting lost, hurt or even dying while in the care of pet sitters from those apps. The issues aren’t even just related to the apps, you can have issues if you hire a professional-looking company who then sends someone out who isn’t a trained dog walker or sitter.
So, what makes a good dog walker or sitter? That is a question you should ask, just like you would ask about anyone performing a service for you, whether it’s an electrician, plumber or carpenter for example. For those services, you would look for certifications, are they part of the union, are they insured and bonded, do they have experience? What can you look for in a pet professional? It’s not as easy of an answer honestly, there are no regulations for pet care.
There are some organizations like the International Boarding and Pet Services Association (IBPSA) and National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) who have online libraries for pet professionals who join to learn and study, they host webinars about pet-related things, a pet professional can even take tests through these organizations to get a certificate in a certain area of pet care.
I own a pet sitting company, I am a member of IBPSA and NAPPS. I also am a Pet Tech Certified Instructor in Pet CPR, First Aid and Care. I also am studying dog training through Catch Canine Trainers Academy, and I volunteer with a local shelter. Most pet professionals will not have all of these qualifications and that is okay. I am in the process of opening up a dog daycare facility, so I have gone through all these steps to be ready for that.
What should pet professionals have then? Every pet professional should be Pet CPR and First Aid certified from some organization. Pet Tech is the premier company when it comes to this, but they aren’t the only ones.
A pet professional should be part of NAPPS or one of the other pet sitting organizations to show that they care about learning and keeping up to date with the best care for your dog.
Insurance is another big thing, it is important, you wouldn’t let a plumber in if they weren’t insured, right? So why would you do that with the care of your pet? Things happen, but that is what insurance is for to help cover any losses, in case something terrible happens, whether to your pet or your home. Having insurance also shows that whoever you hire is serious about it, they took the time to find insurance specific to the pet industry.
Your pet professional should also have some experience handling dogs, whether through volunteering, handling dogs with a rescue or working with a trainer. A true pet professional should understand how dogs think and know how to handle difficult situations.
Finally, don’t ever hire anyone to work with your dog if they don’t ask to do a meet and greet first. Not every dog is friendly to everyone, you don’t want the first time your dog meets a stranger to be while you are not there. Sometimes bad things happen in that situation like a bite, you can’t believe your dog would do that, but now your dog has a bite record possibly and could potentially be put down. Granted, that is an extreme case, but it happens more often than you think.
One of my clients is a reactive dog, she can’t stand people coming to the door and will literally rip your head off if you make it past the door. So, you might be thinking, how do you even enter a house like that. This is what I did. Since the door opened into the house, I knew I had that barrier of protection because this dog could only push the door closed.
With the owner’s permission, I opened the door a crack, threw in some treats and closed the door and walked away. Then I waited to let this dog calm down. I went back to the door, opened it a crack and threw some more treats in and closed the door and walked away. I repeated this for a half-hour till this dog let me in. It took time, but I understand working with dogs is not always a quick process.
The key to this was letting this dog have the choice of when to let me in when this dog was ready to. There was a real chance I would not have been successful, and that was okay because my belief is letting the dog choose. This dog had to come to the conclusion on its own that I wasn’t a threat, we are best buds now, this dog always greets me at the door with a waggy tail and ready to go on another adventure with me.
Whoever you choose to watch your dog, make sure they are qualified, the risks are too great to take a chance, sometimes only to save a few bucks. The horror stories are out there, I don’t want any dog to be the next one.