Where do I start?

Wellington Boots - Homes & Hounds are happy to walk your dogs whatever the weather

Start looking for home boarding or pet sitter long before you need them.  Trying to find somewhere to put your beloved dog a week before you go on holiday is never going to go well.

Ideally, introduce your dog or cat to their carer from an early age – that way you can go on holiday safe in the knowledge that they are in the best possible hands with someone who knows them almost as well as you do

Choosing someone who is affiliated to a national pet sitting organisation is tempting but remember, anyone can pay to join a register of pet sitters.

Many of these ‘approved registers’ do not know their members individually or their reputation.  Your local veterinary surgery is a good place to start looking as they do not recommend pet sitting companies lightly.

Personal referrals are one of the best ways of finding a pet sitter – ask trusted friends or family members if they can recommend a dog walker or pet sitter they have used. Word-of-mouth is often the best reference. When you’re out walking your dog, ask other dog owners who they use.

Excellent home boarders and pet sitters get booked up early and boarding spaces are at a premium.  It is not unusual for clients to return from holiday and immediately rebook for the next year

Pet sitting is not a regulated industry – this means that a pet sitter isn’t required to be insured, trained or have a licence. Unfortunately, accidents can happen and you want to make sure you are using a trained and insured provider.

Eliminate the stress of answering these questions by hiring someone who is prepared to handle the good and the bad of pet sitting.

Once you are face to face with your person of choice, ask them to show you written proof of their public liability insurance – make sure it’s current and covers what you’re asking them to do.

If they’re staying in your home for example, then they need specific home sitting insurance, if they are taking your dog out in public then they MUST have public liability insurance.

Ask to see their Criminal Records check, but bear in mind that this is only valid on the date of issue.

Have they taken a pet first aid & CPR course? If so, ask to see their current certificate and qualifications.  Have they taken other courses in pet behaviour or management?

An NVQ or degree from college is no guarantee that they have actually worked with pets so ask about actual hands on experience.

If your dog is going to be home boarded, ask to see their boarding licence (supplied by the local authority) and their boarding insurance certificates.

Any reputable provider will be more than happy for you to ask to see their paperwork (they should be keen to show you!).

The kind and volume of questions pet sitters ask will show their actual experience in caring for your particular breed of dog. A professional sitter will take notes; you should too. If they don’t ask questions, cross them off your list!

If your dog is going to be walked in a group, do they group dogs by size, age and temperament? No-one likes to see an elderly dog who just wants to sniff being dragged along to keep up with a bouncy youngster or vice versa.

Again for dog walkers ask how many dogs do they take out at once? Yes they might be able to control 6 dogs but at an average of 10 minutes to collect from each house, 6 dogs equals 60 minutes in the van – not ideal at anytime but especially not in hot weather.

Ask where will they take your dog? Dogs are like us and readily become bored with the same old sniffs and scenery.  A decent dog walker will keep things fresh and your dog stimulated.

How long are the actual dog walks?  If the walk is an hour then that should not include collection and delivery time.

Ask how your dog will be transported.  The back seat or boot of a car is just not good enough for a professional service.

Do they carry a pet first aid kit on board their van? Do they carry water, bowls and towels?

Ask them if they have a plan in the event that your pet goes missing or has a medical emergency.  You can never be over prepared with veterinary details, emergency family member contacts and back-up key holders.  But your pet sitter should also have a few emergency steps of his or her own.  Discuss potential emergencies and how they should be handled. Make sure any list of contact numbers is up to date.

If you are happy that all their paperwork is in order you might want to ask about a trial walk or sleepover.  This also gives the pet sitter a chance to see if they can appropriately handle your dog (particularly if your dog is a large-breed, strong or very energetic).

A trial walk is especially important if your dog is anxious or snappy around other dogs – that way you can show them the things which upset your dog and how to deal with tricky situations.

Any decent dog walker or pet sitter will give you regular feedback on how your pet is doing, including text messages and photos.  And even if you’re out of the country, most hotels or cruise ships have wi-fi so you can catch up with your pet’s progress via e-mail.  Ask them how they will keep you informed.

And finally...

Listen to your gut instinct! If it doesn’t feel right, keep looking (just remember though, some of us are more comfortable with animals than people)

If you decide that they would suit your pet, references off a website are fine but ask for contact details of regular clients. And don’t be afraid to ask the referee questions; is their dog walker trustworthy, reliable, flexible, punctual. How long have they been working for them? Do they feel they really know and care for their dog?

If you have the internet, Google them!! There’s nothing odd in checking that your pet sitter is the sort of person you want spending time with your pet. Facebook can also be very revealing.

Investing your time in advance and following these steps will ensure the best possible pet sitting or dog walking experience.

So the next time you’re choosing a dog walker or making a holiday booking, remember to put your pet and their pet sitter first on your list so you can have the peace of mind you deserve.