Dog Care

A Pet Sitting Guide For First-Time Dog Sitters

A Pet Sitting Guide For First-Time Dog Sitters

Written By Meredith Kavanagh

Jan 17, 2017

I have babysat, nannied, and taken care of children since I was nine years old. I can change an infant and lull a toddler to sleep, and I have caught more sneezes in the face than I’d like to admit. So why did I was a panicked mess during my first time dog sitting?

My friend asked me to watch her ridiculously cute pup while she went on vacation, and I practically squealed with excitement as I said, “YES PLEASE!” I’ve never had a dog of my own, but I thought I was ready for anything after a lifetime of being responsible for tiny humans. (Spoiler alert: I was wrong.)

While a dog doesn’t need as much attention as a human child, they also can’t tell you what they’re thinking and feeling. Unless you’ve spent a lot of time with the pup you’re taking care of, you won’t know the difference between an I’m-scared-bark and a take-me-out-before-I-pee-on-your-bed-bark. Luckily, that’s what we’re talking about today!

Being responsible for another creature is stressful, but there are a few tips that can help your first pet sitting experience go as smoothly as possible. Even though my first time as a dog sitter started out stressful for both me and Duke (pictured below), we made it through for the better! Since then, my boyfriend and I have watched him several times, and it’s nothing but treats, snuggles, and puppy kisses.

Check out these pointers for first-time dog sitters, and remember to stay calm — doggos can sense when you’re stressed out!

Related: Anxious Dogs And New Year’s Go Hand In Paw, But These Tips Can Help

duke dog sitting guide

The Ultimate Pet Sitting Guide

1. Dog Sitter Location: Your Place Or Mine?

Since my friend was going to be gone for a little over two weeks, Duke was staying at my house, but many people want a pet sitter who is also willing to keep an eye on their home while they’re away. 

Before you commit to watching someone’s pet, decide if you would be comfortable staying in someone else’s home — or if you’d rather the dog come to you. If the dog is staying at your house, the first thing you should do is schedule a few play dates at your home. This allows the dog to get familiar with the smells and sounds of your place while their human is there to reassure them that it’s safe.

While they’re over, take the doggo for a walk around your neighborhood to see if there are any aggressive dogs in nearby yards, so you can avoid them in the future. This is also a great opportunity for the owner to demonstrate commands and point out any of their body language cues.

Next, make sure to puppy-proof before they come over. Find out if they have a habit of chewing so you can stash your shoes away, learn how much they shed so you can designate doggy-safe spots to cuddle, and make sure that any medication or food is locked away. In fact, make sure that all areas where the dog will be are free of clutter and clothing. Even if a dog doesn’t have a history of chewing, they could turn to the destructive habit when feeling stressed out. Dogs have been known to eat electric cords, socks, you name it — if it exists, it’s probably been eaten by a pooch! 

Follow these preparatory dogsitting steps so that when the pup arrives, you are focused on them and not protecting your couch from claw marks. 

Related: Did You Know That These Common Indoor Plants Are Poisonous For Pets?

2. Dog Sitter Personality: Must Love Dogs

I was beyond thrilled when my friend gave me the honor of being Duke’s dog sitter while she was in Italy. He is a sweet, adorable fluffer bug that I couldn’t wait to have around! Of course, this excitement is an ideal reaction for the dog owner to see — they are going to be worried about their fur baby while they’re away, and having someone they can count on caring for their pup is a huge stress reliever.

Whether you’re doing a friend a favor or working for a pet sitting company, in order to be a caring, responsible dog sitter, you have to love dogs. That sounds obvious, but to some people, being a dog sitter just sounds like an easy way to make some cash!

You aren’t simply walking and feeding a dog — this furry lovebug is going to be at your side every day. They’re going to be confused and stressed and missing their hooman. You need to be prepared to wake up at 2 a.m. when they bark at a slammed door or have to go out because they have an upset stomach. While this isn’t the best part about pup sitting, it’s a definite possibility. If you just tolerate dogs, you’ll be irritated and end up taking it out on them. To be a good dog sitter, you must. love. dogs.

Making sure you’re the right fit for a certain dog is just as important as being a dog lover. A high-energy Sheepdog won’t be happy if you leave them in the hands of a couch potato — and vice versa. The ideal pet sitter will be flexible and able to adapt to the needs of your dog.

pet sitter

3. Dog Sitter Responsibility: You’re On Their Schedule

Whether it’s a relative’s pup or you’re working for a pet sitting company, you are entrusted with taking care of someone’s furry family member. You need to take that responsibility seriously and dedicate your time as a pet sitter to making sure the dog is as happy and healthy as can be. 

Ask the pet owner how often their pup likes to go on walks, if they take naps, when they eat, and how often to check their water bowl so that you can do your best to keep them on the same schedule. This will lower the doggo’s stress and make them comfortable in your care.

Another important step is making sure that the dog’s owner knows your work schedule and how much of a given day the pooch would be home alone. Dogs don’t understand where their owner went, or if they’re coming back, so leaving them home alone in a strange place will amplify their stress — or even cause a bout of doggy depression.

During the first few days of dog sitting, take them on extra long walks and have plenty of play time. All that extra mental and physical stimulation will help keep them calm and distracted from the fact that their hooman is gone. It also helps them associate fun with you, which will make the duration of their stay more enjoyable.

Extra tip: When you’re planning your time as a temporary pup parent, say no to all-day excursions or events that leave the pup home alone. Your priority is the dog you’re caring for — if there’s an event you can’t miss, discuss a backup plan with the pet owner.

Related: Here’s Why You Should Invest In A Dog Backpack For Fido

4. Dog Sitter Requests: Lists And Lists And Lists

Ask the dog owner to compile several lists for you. It’s better to be over-prepared than to run into an unknown problem. The more information you have, the better you’ll feel! These lists are a great way to feel prepared for anything that comes your way.

Health And Emergency Information

  • Vet’s name and contact information
  • The contact information of the pet owner’s hotel or travel companion in case they aren’t available
  • Allergies and the symptoms of an allergic reaction
  • Medication and the easiest way to administer it  
  • The nearest emergency veterinary hospital
  • Current and past health issues or concerns

Behavioral Notes

Ask the pet owner to provide any noteworthy behavioral or body language cues that could be useful, along with what to do if they occur. Example: “Duke occasionally gets hairballs, especially when his fur is longer and he does a lot of self-grooming. Don’t freak out. He isn’t choking! If he is repeatedly coughing or gagging, stay calm and put him on a surface that can be easily cleaned for when he’s ready to cough it up!”

(Yes, this happened, and yes I was terrified. PetMD is almost as alarming as WebMD.)

Also ask the pup’s parent if their dog has has had separation anxiety in the past or if they have any emotional triggers. Then, find out how to calm the pupper down in a stressful situation, whether it’s with a belly rub or alone time. 

Definite No-Nos

You might be tempted to give your temporary doggo a few extra treats during their stay. “A little bite of pizza won’t hurt,” you say. Right? WRONG! Maybe they get a mean case of the poops if they even smell dairy, or maybe they simply never eat human food. Either way, feeding a dog anything other than owner-provided food is a dangerous game. Best case scenario: you lose your security deposit and spend your morning cleaning up a stinky mess!

Even if a dog owner tells you their pooch has an iron stomach, there are certain foods that are bad for all dogs. See below for a few human foods that should never come close to a puppy’s snout!

Can Dogs Eat Avocados? Or Are They Toxic?

Aw Nuts! Can Dogs Eat Pistachios?  

Can Dogs Eat Almonds? These Nuts Are A Definite No-No

dog sitter guide

We Lived Hap-pawly Ever After

Yes, Duke and I got off to a rocky start while I was dog sitting. But once we both got used to our situation, we had a great time together! I sent his mom daily updates and pictures so that she knew he was safe and could enjoy her vacation. Chances are, any pup parent would appreciate a few updates, so add a photo shoot to your daily routine!

One final reminder before you begin your first dog sitting experience: you are the alpha dog. Make sure that your furry house guest knows this. Be confident, be calm, and be the best pup parent ever!

Do you have any dog sitter tips? Share them with us in the comments!