The essential guide for the first time pet sitter

The essential guide for the first time pet sitter

Here are a few essential pointers to be aware of before you start off with accepting your first pet sitting job.

Love being around dogs and cats and would like to make a little extra money doing what you love? Pet parents all over the world are desperate for help with their pets when they can't spend as much time with them as they would like or when they are off on a pet-free vacation. In 2015 in the United States alone, pet parents spent USD 5.41 billion on pet services like pet sitting and grooming(1).

However, if you have never had a dog or cat of your own, or even if you do, but have never taken care of another person's pet, it can be a daunting experience. Here are a few essential pointers to be aware of before you start off with accepting your first pet sitting job.

First up if you are a clean freak do know that dogs may mark your home when they arrive. Dogs mark by urinating small amounts on vertical surfaces, usually while raising a leg. Some dogs never mark in their own homes but will mark when they visit others’ homes. Cat's are a little less difficult to handle in this sense and would be happy with a cat litter box.

A dog is likely to urine mark when visiting a home if another dog has previously marked in that home. Males are more likely than females to urine mark, and reproductively intact males are more likely to mark than neutered males, especially in the presence of females or rival males. If you are particular about this, keep an eye on the dog when they are roaming around in your home and identify the spots it has marked so you can wash it after they are gone.

No matter how clean the dog it will leave a lingering "dog smell" to your home. These smells originate from their glands, fur, and the scent marks they leave behind. So if you are particular to smells you might want to think twice. These smells will go away when you clean up after them so rest assured it isn't forever.

If the dog stays indoor, stray fur would be another concern. Dogs that have short coats or are well-groomed will shed less hair, but nonetheless, there will be fur all over to some degree. Keep a vacuum cleaner close at hand for regular clean-ups.

essential guide indoor dog

Here are a few things you should ask the dog parent:

  • What is the dog's or cat's behavior, what it likes, and dislikes? Does it have a tendency to bite or get mood swings? Does it get anxious when left alone?
  • What are its feeding habits? Does it finish its food immediately or takes a long time to do so? What kind of foods does it eat, or if the owner can provide the food?
  • Does it have its own favorite bed or basket or toys? If they do, it would be good for the pet parent to bring it along to reduce separation anxiety and give it some sense of familiarity in an otherwise foreign location.
  • Has it been properly vaccinated, especially if you have your own pets around and if it is susceptible to any disease or infections, for example, sensitive skin that needs to be cleaned after pooping. You may ask for documentation proving that the vaccination was made via the app or on arrival. 
  • Is it friendly to other dogs or cats, strangers, or children? In particular, if hosting pets of different types like dogs and cats together, or large animals and small animals such as dogs and rabbits, take extra precaution even if your pet or the pet owners pet is said to be friendly to other animals. Keep them separate when you are not around to keep an eye on them. 
  • What commands the dog understands and if the owner can demonstrate it. It's always good to be able to communicate with the dog.

These answers would help reduce a lot of guesswork and assist in managing the dog in the next few days.

Be prepared to spend time with the pet, dogs need walks at least once a day to exercise or pee and poo. These are dependent on dog breed. There are some breeds that have a small bladder, and this can affect frequency. An easy way to know is to simply ask the dog parent how frequently their dog needs to be walked. Remember to pick up after the dog poos, just to be polite. Most pet shops stock a variety of paper poo bags.

Do understand that for the first day or two, the dog may appear anxious and bark or long for the company when left alone as it adjusts to its new surroundings.

Dogs may not be friendly towards other dogs or small animals so it's always advisable to have a meet and greet between your dog and the other person's if you have one. Dogs might play rough and cause injuries while playing with each other. Let them play together only when you are absolutely sure they will not hurt each other, else keep an eye on them while they are playing so you can break them up when things get too rough.

This is especially if you are taking care of more than one dog in your home. A separate area is advisable if the dogs you are hosting are not playing well with each other. Pay even more attention if you are hosting pets of different types like dogs and cats or dogs and rabbits. Always keep them separate and secure if you are not able to keep an eye on them.  

Always be careful no matter how friendly the dog is, they may bite, and it won't be pleasant, especially since you are a stranger to it after all. Don't take for granted. An important note, some dogs get aggressive if you touch them or go near them while they are feeding, its best to avoid them while they are feeding.

Do also be careful when leashing or unleashing them as they may feel that you are a threat when doing that. If you have a small baby in your home, keep the pets you are hosting away as there is a chance that pets may be hostile towards the baby and cause injury and in the worst case even death.

We highly advise pet sitters to invest in animal handling gloves and use it for at least the first night or two as the pets may not be friendly and bite or scratch when their owners are not around. They may need time to get used to you. It is also useful in case the pet becomes aggressive and it is necessary to leash it.

Do not take their toys away unnecessarily especially if they start getting aggressive. They may feel threatened that you are trying to take something familiar away from them, considering they are in a strange new area with a stranger and do not understand what you are doing.

Invest in a pair of animal handling gloves. No matter how much you love pets, it always pays to be careful when handling another person's pet. Especially for the first day or two. Gloves will save you a lot of unnecessary pain and usually cost only $20 to $30 for a good pair.

Check if the dog has fleas. Check the dog thoroughly before accepting it to your home. Always keep anti-flea shampoos or sprays around just in case. You may also inform the pet parent that these would be chargeable should you find fleas on their dog.

Check the dog for skin infections or injuries. If you find any skin infections or injuries when accepting the dog, do inform the pet parent immediately, or take a photo of it to inform that these were present prior to you hosting their dog.

Also, do check if the dog is neutered/spayed or if it is currently in heat: This is a very important safety precaution to take. Unspayed female dogs who are going through heat tend to get a lot more aggressive than usual. This aggression will obviously cause her to inadvertently harm the people around her- including you. In that case, you must always check/enquire first and take the necessary precautions in order to prevent any incidents.

Precautions most pet sitters take when it comes to aggressive, unspayed/unneutered dogs include but are not limited to: Separation from the rest of your client's pets, extra attention, special treatment, or in extreme cases, even to reject the job itself! 

Speaking about aggression, do take caution of pregnant dogs as well. As a mother, they would do anything in their care to ensure the well-being of their children- just like any normal mother would. Thus, aggression and overprotectiveness will likely kick in during pregnancy. The same thing applies, take your usual precautions, and be gentle with the dog in question. 

Be conscious of what you are feeding the pet, even if the food came from the pet owner. Where possible you should always request the pet owner to provide the pet's daily food. There are various benefits to the pet owner providing the pet's own food, most of which is that it would be food that is familiar to the pet, especially since they are in a home they are not familiar with. It also avoids the headache of a pet that refuses to eat food that you feed.

If the pet is a cat or dog be careful that the foods do not contain amongst others:

  • chocolate
  • raisins
  • walnuts and macadamia
  • yeast dough
  • avocado skin
  • xylitol including gums and candy
  • caffeine
  • onions
  • garlic
  • alcohol
  • bones whether big or small

If its a small dog or cat, you won't want it running away or get lost. Make sure your home has been enclosed with metal netting to prevent it from running or squeezing out. This may include gaps in between your gate and fence or drainage. It might even dig its way out of your home so do keep an eye on its behavior in your home.

Check for loose handles or easy to open doors and windows as the persistent pet can claw (or paw) its way out. Take care when opening your gate or home door when the pets are around, in case they run out suddenly. For cats, you may need to prepare a cage to put them in while you sleep as cats do tend to stray, but do ask the pet owner if they are alright with it beforehand.

If you live in a high rise unit, do not place the pet in your balcony as they might slip through the bars or jump out of the balcony. Do note that although cats usually know now to jump from a height that is too high, occasionally they misjudge the height and can seriously hurt themselves or even result in death.

Always keep the pet on a leash when outdoors like when taking it out for a walk or at an area that is not securely enclosed as it may run away, get in fights with other pets, get bitten, or get hit by moving vehicles. Ensure that the leash or harness that you are using, whether it is from the pet owner or yours is secure. If the one provided by the pet owner is not secure, opt to use your own instead. It is not advisable to use a leash or harness that a pet owner has provided if you are not confident it is secure.

If the pet is in your car, always ensure to leash the pet before letting up your car. This avoids pets from running away when you open your car door to leash the pet. Pets have a tendency to rush out with the slightest opening and you may not be able to catch them in time.

Insurance usually will not cover accidents of these nature as they consider it as negligence on your part.

Be particularly careful of leaving the dog out of your home unwatched, if your area is prone to dog theft. A handsome purebred dog is an easy and attractive target and worth a good amount of money.

Keep a watchful eye if there is a female dog or cat in heat with males in the same area. When a female cat or dog is in the same area do be extra careful as the males may fight quite aggressively. Keep males separated or on leash away from each other at all times when the female is present or you might end up with two bloodied males.

Avoid keeping the pets in your car unattended. Not all pets are comfortable being left in a car unattended. They may get stressed or even cause damage to your vehicle interior if there is no one to watch over them. Never ever leave pets in the car without the air-conditioning on, especially if you live in a hot country.

Ensure your other half or housemates approve. Just because they are friendly with the occasional pet does not mean that they approve of long term pet sleepovers. Everything you are going to experience, they too will experience from the crying to barking and the mess they make (of course the mess they make is probably on you to clean up), so do ask if they are ok with it before you start. Returning a pet after you have accepted it to your home before the job is done won't be a nice thing to do to a pet owner who may not even be in the country at that moment.

Be aware of other pets in your neighbourhood. Although typically domestic pets are friendly towards each other, do still take precautions if your neighbours also have pet dogs or cats. When a new pet is introduced to the neighbourhood, existing pets may be aggresive towards the newcomer entering their territory. Take care that the pet you are hosting or your neighbour's pets are not able to cross boundaries by erecting fences or ensuring neither are unleashed when in open areas. You could introduce the pet you are hosting to your neighbour's pets as well to ensure they are friendly towards each other, or give them a new friend!

Pet-proof your home. Pets can be destructive, no matter how trained they are. They mean no harm and may simply consider your furniture or household items as a toy, or damage your home in an attempt to go out. For example, doors are quite vulnerable to cats or dogs trying to claw themselves out. Get a door protector to prevent scratches.

pet door protector

Prepare a boarding checklist. Inform parents to provide these items to make life easier for you and the pet. Familiarity helps a pet adjust to new surroundings.

  • Sufficient food (pls inform you of allergies)
  • Leash/harness
  • Pee pads (for indoor boarding)
  • Favorite toys/bed (if applicable) 
  • Favorite snacks
  • Dog bowl (for meals)

Keep numbers of local vets in your area... Just in case in an emergency or for general advice.

Well, now that you are equipped with these pointers... You are ready for your first dog sitting job. Taking care of a dog, or any pet for that matter, is a learning experience that is both fun and sometimes frustrating but you will get better after every assignment. As always if you are unsure about anything about the dog while it's in your care, refer to your local vet for help or assistance. Have fun!

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