1. Pet professionals must know how to communicate with their clients. As we all know, communication is key to a happy and successful life in any field, especially when providing care for someone’s precious furbaby. It is expected that pet sitters and dog walkers will update their clients with photos and brief description of the pet’s day at every pet sitting visit. How sitters communicate with their clients will depend on their personality and style and will develop as the sitter gains more experience and builds a relationship with their client. It is said that photos say a thousand words, so it’s no surprise that good quality photos of happy pets is one of the easiest ways to communicate with clients. Posting your best client photos to social media is also a great way to communicate your passion for pet care to potential clients and is a great way for your current clients to see how much you genuinely care. Personally, I am not a texter and have a general disdain for social media, so I have designed systems for Bad to the Bone Pet Care that allow my team and I to communicate with our clients with that in mind. My team of pet sitters and dog walkers in Jacksonville, Lakeland, and Plant City use a system that automatically notifies clients when they arrive to the visit, and allows the client to see the sitters GPS tracker and timer. This means that without ever saying a word, the client knows exactly when we came and left and exactly where their dog was walked. Our system also acts as our scheduling and payment software, which makes everything very easy to use for our clients and our team. Always remember, if you do not communicate how great you and your services are, no one will know and therefore all your extra effort will be for nothing.
2. Pet sitters need to be able to recognize and understand normal pet behaviors, generally and client-specific. Obviously, if you are not familiar with animals, you cannot provide the best care for them. It is vital that pet sitters know common dog body language and how to address certain behaviors. Chances are, if you are a pet sitter or trying to become one, you are already well versed in the language of our pets. When interviewing pet sitters and dog walkers, I always do one working interview at a local dog park so I can evaluate their ability to pick up on these things and their ability to respectively lead the situation and environment. I highly recommend contacting a local dog trainer to go over the basics of animal behavior and body language with you if you are unsure of anything. There are also thousands of YouTube videos and blogs on the subject. There is no excuse for being under-informed. On a more client-specific basis, pet sitters should be familiar enough with the pets they are caring for to know what is normal and what is not. Like people, all pets are unique and have different needs. Over time, you will learn the most important things to ask in your meet & greet to ensure you are as knowledgeable as possible. Do not assume the client will tell you everything you need to know, as they may be assuming their pets needs are the same as others, which is often not the case.
3. Pet sitters have to know exactly what their client is expecting. Every family and every pet will have different requirements; therefore, it is impossible to ensure the highest quality care if you do not know exactly what they are needing. When it comes to what your clients need, there is no such thing as too much information. At the bare minimum, when you leave your meet & greet, you should know what time they are expecting you to arrive and leave, if they are expecting you to walk their dog (and how far), what times the pets eat (and how much), and you should know all the basic house rules. Again, this is something you will become adept in as you perform more meet & greets.
4. Pet sitters need to know how to contact their client and the client’s emergency contact in case of emergency. If your client is going out of the country or on a cruise, you may have to communicate via WhatsApp, email, or some other way. You should never assume that communicating via text is sufficient; I have seen many pet sitters put themselves and their clients in a bad position because they forgot to confirm these details beforehand. Beyond that, it is vital that you have an emergency contact on file for every client should you not be able to reach them when a difficult decision must be made. Pet sitters should also ensure their contract authorizes them to make those difficult decisions just in case no one can be reached when time is of the essence.
5. Pet sitters and dog walkers should know their back-up plan should they not be able to fulfill their pet sitting duties. These clients, and their pets, are relying on you and your services, therefore it is vital that their babies are cared for should something happen to you. For example, I totaled my car driving between pet sitting visits in early 2018 and had I not had a comprehensive plan ahead of time, my clients would have been stranded.
6. Dog walkers need to know how to properly hold a leash, and how to properly walk multiple dogs at once. As you walk more dogs professionally, you will come to realize there are basic guidelines for a safe and happy walk. If you do not hold the leash properly or manage the dog’s attention and energy properly, you are only putting yourself and beautiful Fido in danger. Safety, as always, is of utmost importance. We always do “training walks” with new walkers before allowing them to go solo to ensure they understand how to properly walk a dog.
7. Pet sitters and dog walker should know how to use most common pet products. There are hundreds of different types of harnesses, leashes, and accessories for pets, and the longer you pet sit, the more you will encounter. As a professional pet sitter, your clients should not have to teach you how to put a harness on their dog or how to use a Gentle Leader, for example. Spend a couple hours on YouTube making sure you are comfortable with how to use all the most common products and accessories. If you were to use the wrong product, or use the correct product in the wrong way, you could be putting your paw-pals in danger. Not only that, but once you are familiar with all the major pet products, it becomes much easier to say “yes” or “no” to client’s requests. When I started pet sitting and dog walking five years ago, I would use a prong collar when a client asked me to because I did not know better. Now, because I am familiar with animal behavior and the most popular pet products, I do not allow my team to use any negative reinforcer, even when the client requests it.
8. Animal caretakers must know how to calmly and quickly handle emergencies. If working with animals the past five years has taught me one thing, it’s that shit happens. At some point in your pet sitting career, you will have things happen that are just out of your control, and you will have to move quickly and react calmly to rectify the situation. The three most common emergencies I have seen pet sitters deal with are dogs eating things they shouldn’t (cat poop on a walk, for example), dogs escaping, and dogs fighting with each other. You may not consider your buddy grabbing a kitty turd out of the grass as an emergency, but consider all of the diseases they could contract because you allowed this to happen. When the health or safety of the furbaby you are caring for is at risk, it is easy to lose your cool, but remember that pets are incredibly intuitive and will pick up on your emotions and the energy you emit. Personally, I do yoga every morning before my pet sitting visits to ensure I am in the right headspace to remain calm and move quickly throughout the day. I also monitor my caffeine intake as well as many other things to ensure I am providing the best pet care possible.
9. Pet sitters should know how to administer medications. It is not uncommon for dogs to not want to take their pill, but there are tons of tricks to make sure the dog in your care gets their medicine. Every pet will be different, so you may need to try a few different things before finding what works. (Hint: peanut butter works wonders and makes for a good laugh) It’s also highly recommend you be comfortable giving insulin shots. If you are not comfortable giving injections, you need to make sure your clients know that upfront.
10. Pet sitters should know how to properly enter a dog park, and how to read and manage the pack while there. It is important that all dogs be socialized, but in a structured and respectively led way. Do your research on which dog parks are safest and cleanest and find out what times of the day are busiest and slowest. I always recommend going during slow hours, removing the leash before entering the park, and getting to know the park regulars. As a pet sitter and dog walker, the dog park is the perfect place to show off your services to potential clients.
The list of things pet sitters and dog walkers should know could go on and on, but after five years of pet sitting and managing an award winning team of pet sitters and dog walkers in Jacksonville and Central Florida, I believe these are the top 10 most important. Watch YouTube videos, read blogs, and consult with professionals to ensure you are as knowledgeable as possible. I will be posting my own videos to go along with each of these 10 things over the next few months and will update this post with links.