Editorial October 2018 Issue

Don’t Hire Pet Care Blindly

Itís easier than ever to find a pet sitter or dog walker, but that doesnít mean you should hire just anyone.

whole dog journal editor nancy kerns

Have you heard the term “gig economy”? It refers to the fact that more than a third of workers today (36 percent) are employed in part-time, short-term, and/or freelance jobs. Believe it or not, the rise of workers in this gig economy has had a mostly positive effect on our dogs (and has presented them with one specific hazard – more about that in a moment).

How is the gig economy good for our dogs? Well, one reason is that more of us than ever are working from home, where we can be more responsive to our dogs’ needs for walks and outdoor breaks. Another is that there are more people than ever making at least some of their income by offering their services as respite workers for dog owners – you know, dog walkers and pet sitters. It has never been easier to find someone who can come to your home and feed a midday meal to your dog, take him outside to potty, administer medicine, or even transport him to an off-leash trail for a hike! There are even a number of tech companies (such as Rover.com, Care.com, and PetSitters.org) dedicated to helping dog owners connect with people who provide these services.

How might this be a bad thing? With more people than ever providing these valuable services, there are more unqualified people than ever doing these jobs. Some of the people who market themselves as experienced dog handlers may have experience only with small dogs or well-behaved dogs and may be completely unprepared for managing your dog-reactive Giant Schnauzer or for the quick, cat-killing move that an athletic hunting breed can make, even on leash! Some of these people are completely inexperienced, dangerously untrained, and ignorant of effective, dog-friendly handling techniques.

In the San Francisco Bay area, part-time pet sitters and dog walkers are now so numerous that they can be seen on literally every block. It’s there that I have witnessed dog walkers doing things that horrified me – such as talking on their cell phones while walking half a dozen shut-down-looking dogs, each equipped with a shock collar. I recently saw a “professional” dog walker park 100 feet from the gate to a dog park, open the back of her truck, allowing 10 or more dogs to jump out of the truck and run, loose, to the dog park gate (where they were greeted by a wound-up mob of other dogs; the ensuing fracas was broken up with yells and squirt bottles by several dog walkers). A dog trainer friend told me about a dog walker she ran into recently who, over her protests, picked up and threw a Chihuahua-mix who had initiated an (inappropriate but ultimately harmless) scuffle with her dog. “He has to learn!” the dog walker said angrily. I’d say that it’s the dog’s owner who needs to learn – how to screen his dog-care providers. My point? Please be discerning when hiring, ask for references, and pay attention to how your dog feels about the people you hire.

Comments (12)

We don't do vacations either, because we really don't have someone we totally trust with our dog.
We do things locally where our dog can be with us. Mostly it's camping. I've not seen dog walkers that walk their client's dogs the way I want my dog walked. Mostly they are in too much of a hurry and our dog likes to check everything. In my mind, walks are for the dog, not for me.
As for a dog sitter that would be with her over a span of time, not even a consideration.

Posted by: 3grrrs | September 26, 2018 1:24 PM    Report this comment

I am a Petsitter in a small coastal town and stay with the dogs when their owners are away. This works wonderfully well as they're in their own space and the owners know someone is looking after their property.

Most of my clients came from referrals and are now repeat clients.

Another important thing, have the person come to your home, see how she/he interacts with the dogs. If it's a Petsitter, first hire the person to stay with the dogs for one day. And observe your dog's reaction afterwards, and towards the person.

My advice is to ask around about dog walkers/sitters that are responsible and above all, love and care about dogs!

Posted by: JLdogs | September 26, 2018 2:05 AM    Report this comment

This is a wonderful article, a topic which isn't discussed very much. I lived in SF, which is a very dog over-populated space. They treat an urban space, as if it's country! In fact they should limit the number of dogs (outside) per professional dog walker. But now I live 2 hours north in a community which is so dog friendly, it's heaven. My house and property accommodates dogs, other than mine. I've got all the equipment. It's extremely safe, in terms of controlling areas of it. So I thought dog sitting would be enjoyable. My availability was only by word-of-mouth. Friend helping friends. While owners should be aware of sitters & walkers credentials, the opposite is also true. All these points, were learned by experience. Ill mannered dogs are an issue. A housebroken dog, doesn't mean "housebroken" in the sitter's house. A fearful, cowardly dog, must be separated (for safety) from mine. A possessive dog (of feed & toys) must be separated. If the dog has a preexisting medical condition, needs to be declared with appropriate diet, and Vet name. A very small dog, who is also a picky (anorexic) eater, under stress when separated from owner, is also a great worry, as they can dehydrate. A dog who is a compulsive runner, or objectionable on a lead, can't be walked in public. Have seen them slip from collars & harnesses! And, if walking 2 dogs in public, and the sitter gets charged by an off-leash dog, call a friend for help. Get those dogs up and on top of the hood of a parked car. Ideally, have those dogs wear a harness (for lifting) even if you walk them with a collar.

It was hard, but I learned to say no to dogs which aren't a pleasure for my dog or myself to be around. Luckily, he has 2 best dog-friends, which are always welcomed in our home!

Posted by: Pacificsun | September 25, 2018 8:18 PM    Report this comment

The very first comment asked for some useful tips on how to find a good dog helper. I board dogs in my northern Illinois home and have been doing so for almost 20 years. My business is small, personal, and I'm very dedicated to providing the best possible experience I can for the dogs who stay with me -- "As close as it gets to living at home." I do not advertise at all. I maintain good relationships with the 3 animal hospitals in my area and they routinely send me their clients needing this kind of service. I am very particular about the kind of dogs who stay here and insist on an evaluation meeting here (no charge) to determine whether the dog will fit in with this kind of environment. Dogs who stay here get to run loose in my home so they must be social and enjoy the company of other dogs. I turn down about 40% or more of the dogs who want to stay here because, in my opinion, the dog is not suited to this kind of environment. Being really picky about the dogs I accept here is the only way to make it work safely and enjoyable for everyone.

I am not a fan of finding a caretaker for your dog online. You have no idea who you're actually dealing with and what kind of experience they have working with dogs. Dogs can sometimes make very poor choices in a social setting and it's essential to have someone on hand who knows how to read dog language (both vocal and body) and has a great deal of experience in how to manage multiple dogs. Since I only board dogs under 30 pounds, I urge people who are looking for boarding services for bigger dogs, or those looking for pet sitters & dog walkers to check with their local animal hospital and ask for recommendations. Dedicated, knowledgeable people who work with dogs will have a relationship with their local animal hospital -- it's a mutually beneficial relationship. If your animal hospital is reluctant to recommend someone locally, that says something about the people they are aware of in their area. It's my experience that your vet is not willing to put his good name on the line and recommend someone he's not sure about, especially concerning the care for your dog.

I would also recommend asking for references when you evaluate a recommended dog-care person. If your referral comes word-of-mouth from a friend, I would still ask for references. I am always amazed that no one ever asks me for references. I think you're better off talking to a few other dog owners who entrust their fur-kids to someone else's care.

If your potential dog-care person does have a website, look at it closely. You want to see a LOT of photos of different dogs being cared for, photos which also show you a LOT of the home or facility that they will be kept in. If it's a pet-sitter or dog-walker, I'd still want to see a LOT of photos of them doing their job with a lot of different dogs. I DO have a website, but it is only there for people to get a feel for what I do here and my prices before they call me. That weeds out people looking for care at bargain basement prices. I charge $55 a night and it's worth every penny of it. Dogs who stay here sit in my lap at night or lounge around on the furniture while we watch TV. They get to roam around a house that is dog-friendly, dog-safe and spotlessly clean. My grounds are well-tended and I work hard to keep the vibes here calm and peaceful. I don't take dogs who are problem-barkers because they upset the group. The dogs I care for also get the benefit of my 50 years of experience working with dogs on many different levels. The people who leave their dogs with me care as much about them as they do their human children. I make sure their trust is well-placed.

Dog care has suddenly become big business. It is definitely not a job for amateurs. Too much can go wrong in one inattentive heartbeat. You can't trust fancy marketing to insure truly qualified caregivers. There is no substitute for doing some research. There is also no substitute for experience. You can't learn this stuff in a book or in a quick class.

Posted by: Ginny with the dogs | September 25, 2018 4:54 PM    Report this comment

Finding a pet sitter to look after your furry family member can be a nerve-racking experience. The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) continuously seeks to help pet parents find an experienced and certified professional pet sitter they can be comfortable with.

NAPPS members live and breathe pet care, and have access to the most up-to-date information, online courses and business credentials to maximize their skills. Their training through NAPPS has taught them how to tailor their services to your petís unique personality and can respond quickly to any situation.

Pet parents wonít regret doing some research to find an experienced professional for their best friend by visiting the NAPPS website and checking out our Pet Sitter Locator or our tips on Hiring a Professional Pet Sitter. petsitters.org/pet_parents

Posted by: NAPPS | September 25, 2018 2:54 PM    Report this comment

I too have not taken a vacation in many years and prefer to be better safe than sorry. I walk my 3 guys at 4:30am so we can have a peaceful hour together. I have had many instances where we have been charged at by dogs who have either gotten away from their owners or have gotten out of their yards, so I prefer the wee hours of the morning. I canít imagine giving the responsibility of caring for them to anyone else! The sacrifice is worth it.

Posted by: Midgey | September 25, 2018 2:22 PM    Report this comment

Pet owners must definitely be discerning when selecting pet-care providers. These stories you've described are horrible, and situations that no pet (or pet owner) should have to experience. While these are certainly horror stories, it's important for pet owners to understand that professional, reliable options are available. Professional pet-sitting businesses are available to provide quality care. There are professional pet sitters who have been trained in pet-care best practices, certified and can provide proof of a history of reliable, loving pet care. We encourage pet owners to visit petsit.com/locate to access a free pet-sitter interview checklist.

Posted by: Beth@PSI | September 25, 2018 12:13 PM    Report this comment

While I'm sure there are good ones out there, I will never trust my pets to a sitter or a walker - and no dog parks either. We don't take vacations because I trust no one to take care of my dogs. No pet sitter, no boarding facility. No one. I give up a lot to keep them happy, and keeping them safe is part of that.

Posted by: PNWDogMom4 | September 25, 2018 11:23 AM    Report this comment

Pet sitters should be amongst your pet's 2nd best friends (veterinarian, groomer, trainer) and you should always be their first. I'm outraged by the situations described in this article - throwing a dog?! I would never leave my furry child in the care of anyone who isn't competently trained and who I trust to be kind, patient and good on their feet. More than someone who just loves pets! A professional pet sitter must be trained in animal-life saving skills (pet first aid/cpr), be bonded & insured, treat their company like a business and constantly be learning about proper handling and care, signs of illness and injury, know how to read body language and what to do in an emergency. Look for someone who has gone through extensive training and continues to do so, a Certified Professional Pet Sitter! www.GetARealPetSitter.com or www.PetSit.com

Posted by: PetSafetCrusader | September 25, 2018 11:01 AM    Report this comment

They do have certifications.

Posted by: stageangel | September 25, 2018 10:48 AM    Report this comment

I completely agree. As a part-time dog-walker, I am very aware of my own limitations and will not take on a job with a dog I don't think I can handle. I walk 4 dogs three days a week (3 Whippets and an Aussie), and until I learned the "trick" of walking them all together, I was constantly in danger of being knocked over whenever they saw a squirrel. Today, I walk and sit for friends and neighbors. Luckily, I have a friend who is a dog behaviorist who sometimes helps me out with advice if I'm having an issue. I don't advertise myself as a dog-walker, but instead rely on recommendations from friends and people I've already walked or sat for. (The "trick," by the way is this: The dogs have to walk in front of me or beside me. I can't let them get behind me, or the leashes get all wrapped around my legs. Since I learned this little trick, I've had no more problems.)

Posted by: Phoenix | September 25, 2018 10:45 AM    Report this comment

This post would be much more helpful if it included actual tips for screening potential dog helpers, and how to be a good "boss" if you do hire someone. Heartbreaking and infuriating examples certainly underscore the importance of screening, but no concrete suggestions, etc. are offered.

Posted by: Ms. JLC | September 20, 2018 7:36 PM    Report this comment

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