Experienced pet sitters Jacqueline and Glenn have cared for dogs all over the world by pet sitting. They started travelling with a single holiday dog sit. Now, they travel year-round enjoying pet care while they enjoy their extended holiday.
Holiday dog sit – Top Tips for Managing the Dogs
By Jacqueline Lamb
Glenn and I have been house and pet sitting around the world since 2015. We have completed more than 100 sits, many of which included caring for one or more dogs. You could call each one of our assignments a holiday dog sit because we don’t take money. We exchange our services for free accommodation.
To better understand the dog, we ask the dog owner a lot of questions during the pre-sit interview about the dog’s history and routine.
It doesn’t matter if the pet sit is for a few days or for a longer period — our approach is the same. We don’t charge for our pet sitting, so pet sitting holiday rates don’t apply to us. It makes the travel simpler and we are not taking jobs from anyone.
Check-List: Questions to Ask
- What times do the dogs wake up and go to bed? It’s a holiday dog sit but we need to keep their routine.
- Where do they sleep? Do they sleep through the night?
- What are the dogs’ exercise requirements — how long and how often are their walks?
- What is the feeding routine — what they eat, when they eat? Can they be fed people food?
- Are they on medication? How are medications administered?
- If the dogs are inside pets, are they house-trained?
- Are the dogs spayed and neutered? If not, will the females be coming into heat during the house sit?
- Are there any triggers when walking the dogs (e.g., birds or squirrels, children on bikes, certain other dog breeds)?
- What are your dogs’ bad habits — and how do you deal with them?
- Finally, how long can the dogs be left alone?
(For us, this last question is a ‘deal breaker’. If the dogs cannot be left at home unattended for at least 4 hours (so we can do some local exploring during our holiday), we decline the sit because it would no longer be a holiday dog sit for us.
These might sound like a lot of questions, but it’s really important to understand the dog’s routine in order to make a house sit an enjoyable experience.
Our Experience on a Holiday Dog Sit
For example, we cared for a beautiful Labradoodle called Molly who came into heat during our sit. She wore ‘special’ pants/diapers for the bleeding, which just needed changing a couple of times during the day. I was concerned that whilst walking Molly we would attract unwanted attention from other male dogs, but it was a non-issue.
It was helpful and important that we had discussed all this with the homeowner before we agreed to the holiday dog sit assignment.
Additionally, we follow normal exercise routines to keep the dog from becoming bored. Bored dogs often release their pent-up energy by excessively barking or engaging in destructive behaviour (e.g., chewing furniture).
A side note about medication: We have administered medicine to many dogs and haven’t met one yet that hasn’t eagerly taken their medication. They see it as more food (LOL!).
Another tip is to schedule a video chat with the owners and dogs before you accept the assignment. This will help you clarify these questions and see the owners’ interactions with their dogs.
Written Pet Care Check-List
By now, we already have an understanding of the dogs’ routines and requirements. But to make everything easier, we send the home owners our Pet Care Check-List. We ask them to complete this prior to our arrival. It includes many questions on the following categories:
- Day-to-Day Care
- Diet & Feeding Instructions
- Exercise & Play
- Pet’s Health & Vet Details
It’s much easier to refer back to written or printed instructions — especially in an emergency or if the internet goes down!
Meeting the Dogs
Whenever possible, we arrive at our dog sit assignment before the homeowners leave, often the day before so we can have time with them all. Usually the owners want ‘ overnight pet sitting in my home ‘ so the ideal is to experience what that means in their home, but a few hours will also suffice.
This helps us bond better with the dogs and understand how the pet parents interact with their dog and vice versa. We will feed the dogs and take them for a walk with the owner present.
Walking the dogs with the owners is extremely informative. We see how well trained (or not!) the dogs are, whether they pull on their leads and — most importantly — how they react when walking past other dogs and people. We ask many questions when walking with the owners to fully understand the dog’s behaviour patterns.
When the homeowners leave, the dogs are already comfortable with us.
Building a Successful Relationship with the Dogs
When meeting dogs for the first time, we always allow the dogs to come to us. Most dogs love people and we are often greeted with kisses and waggy tails as soon as we enter the front door.
However, a few dogs have reacted differently. If the dogs jump, we turn our backs to them. This body language tells the dog jumping is not acceptable. We give timid or nervous dogs time and space to come to us. Doing the opposite could make the situation worse.
We look for these behaviours to gauge nervousness or fearfulness:
- Eyes that appear rounder than normal or show more white around the outside
- Lowering of head or body
- Lips curling or wrinkle on the brow and a growling sound. This is a clear warning not to approach them!
- Tail tucked between their rear legs
These can exhibit traits of a fearful, but not aggressive, dog.
To help manage these behaviours and gain trust from the dog, we:
- Sit down on the floor close to the dog, but pay no attention to it.
- Avoid eye contact and keep our body language quiet and calm.
- Scatter treats on the floor near us, so that the dog can self-reward without any pressure from us.
- Allow the dog to approach us at their own speed.
During our 6 years of dog sitting, we’ve only had a few timid or anxious dogs. The vast majority have been easy to care for and this is why we love being pet sitters and our pet sitting lifestyle!
How to become a dog sitter
Being a dog sitter is a great way to earn some extra money. If you are an animal lover, then what better way to spend your time! There are lots of people who work a lot or have other commitments and need someone to walk, feed and watch their dogs. You may also need to groom the dog, depending on the size of the dog or how sharp their nails are – you may want to wear protective clothing for this.
It may require you to travel around the country and stay at various people’s houses while they are away. This can also be good fun. Walking dogs could allow you to see lots of different places. You can research to find good walking spots or just walk around and see what you can find.
What qualities do you need to become a dogsitter?
As a dog sitter, you need to have strong communication and interpersonal skills. The dogs’ owner will need to be able to trust you and you need to build up a good relationship with them. You will need to be patient; a client base comes with time.
Pet sitting friend
As well as having a good understanding of dogs and their needs, you will also need to be prepared to go out in all weathers and have good physical fitness so that you can take them on lots of walks. You need to be ready to be a pet sitting friend on a holiday dog sit.
Dog sitter responsibilities
You will be responsible for the welfare of the dogs, so you need to be reliable, on time and passionate. And above all you must love dogs to become a dogsitter.
Do you have qualifications and experience?
No specific qualifications or experience is needed for a holiday dog sit. However, clients will want to see that you have experience with dogs, perhaps you have had your own. Another way to gain experience could be to volunteer at your local animal shelter.
Furthermore, you can do specific courses in things such as first aid for dogs or dog grooming, which will show your commitment and make you stand out from the crowd. Ask at your local vet’s surgery if they offer a course. This will give you additional and useful experience on your holiday dog sit.
As you gain some experience you could also learn to train dogs – this could be one way for you to progress.
You may also need to be able to drive and have your own car, but that depends entirely on the sit.
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FURTHER READING ON PETS AND PET SITTER SERVICES