So you’ve decided to become a pet sitter — congratulations!
I’m a professional pet sitter and dog walker, which means I’m often caring for several pets within a 24-hour period.
There’s no greater feeling than walking into a house and greeting an animal who is happy to see you. It’s a gratifying and fun job.
Pet sitting is very rewarding work, but make no mistake: It’s not all furballs and rainbows.
In this article, my goal is to give you some info from my personal experience, so you’ll know what to expect when you become a pet sitter.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Part 1: What I wish I had known before becoming a pet sitter
- Part 2: The challenges you’ll face if you want to become a pet sitter
- Part 3: Disasters in pet sitting — and how to avoid them
- Part 4: How should pet sitters handle difficult clients?
- Part 5: A day in the life of a pet sitter
Part 1: What I Wish I Had Known Before Becoming a Pet Sitter
In a typical day, I have several home visits scheduled to feed, walk, and care for a variety animals.
It’s a big job, but becoming a pet sitter was the best decision I’ve made in my professional career. However, when I first started, I wasn’t prepared for some of the things this job threw at me — but I should have been.
I’d like to start this article off with a list of 5 things I wish I had known back then:
1. Pet Visits May Take Longer Than Expected
In the initial meeting with the client, I cover how long each visit with a pet is expected to take. Each typical visit lasts from 20–30 minutes, possibly 45 for the pets who need monitoring, medication or care for special needs.
But I often get calls, texts or notes left requesting additional tasks such as:
- Vacuuming the entire house.
- Walking a set distance (e.g., “Please make sure Trixie walks at least 4 miles”). This makes a 30-minute visit impossible.
- Washing dishes in the sink (not mine).
- Bathing (something I will do this on an overnight job, but not on a 30-minute visit).
- Cooking meals for the pet.
Most pet sitters love what they do and are happy to help if you ask them to complete additional tasks. However, be realistic about time frames, and if you think those extras might take more time, book a double visit.
2. Last-Minute Calls Are a Real Thing
I get a ton of last-minute calls and people changing their scheduled visits, so I always encourage my clients to plan ahead — if only so their pets aren’t being shuffled around.
In The Pet Sitter’s Handbook, author Geri Laverie has her own solution: If “they call last minute, providing I am able to accommodate their request, what I do is charge a late booking fee of $25.”
This hasn’t been that big of a problem yet for me, but I may have to resort to this sometimes.
Of course, things happen that are entirely unpredictable — illness, death in the family, accidents, traffic and so on.
In those cases, I am ready, willing and able to jump in to help out. However, it’s helpful to everyone when planned visits are scheduled in advance.
3. Late-Night Calls Happen
Think you’re going to sleep at 8 p.m.? Think again.
Around 70% of my calls come in after 7 p.m. and usually last until around 10 p.m.
While this isn’t something that I originally anticipated, it makes sense: People work during the day and often can’t get to the phone to make appointments until the evening.
4. People Forget to Pay You
It’s unfortunate, but I’ve had to end relationships with clients who continually “forget” to pay. And, often, I have already bonded with their pets, so it’s hard to stop visiting little Mabel or Rocket.
But the truth is that pet sitters also have to make a living and cannot visit for free. That would be unsustainable.
This pet sitter loves her job:
5. People Want Their Dog Walked Off-Leash
Many people tell me to walk their dogs off-leash. To this, I have a firm response: Sorry, no can do.
Dogs whom I walk and care for are always kept on the leash, and not because I am mean. There are a few good reasons I take this precaution:
- Your dog sees you as the pack leader and will listen to you. But she probably won’t listen to me in the same way and may not come back when called.
- It doesn’t take much for dogs to get distracted while walking — or suddenly give chase after small animals. This can have tragic results when near a roadway. My main mission on a walk is to bring that dog to safety as quickly as possible — and I can’t do that if she’s off-leash.
- It’s the law where I live that dogs need to be leashed. I am not keen on breaking the law.
As a pet sitter, I wouldn’t change a thing about what I do — but I would go back in time and give myself a little heads-up about what to expect.
The benefits of the job far outweigh any minor annoyances. Pets are so special, and every single one I encounter makes me smile.
Part 2: The Challenges You’ll Face If You Want to Become a Pet Sitter
Here are 5 challenges you should prepare for when you want to become a pet sitter:
1. Scooping the Poop
Do it — even if the person you’re sitting for is lax about such things.
Assume that cleaning up the poop a requirement, and be prepared to take care of pet waste when reporting to a job.
Your client may not notice if you leave those droppings in the yard or beside the road, but others will, which makes you look both unprofessional and lazy. If your charge leaves droppings around the neighborhood, it may even come back on your client if a neighbor complains — causing you to lose that client.
Several products out there make this job easy, from baggies to handheld scoopers.
So be responsible and scoop the poop.
2. Have Medical Kit, Will Travel
Dogs, cats, ferrets, mice, rabbits … whatever type of pet you’re sitting for may bite or scratch. Being prepared for this eventuality is part of your job. Have a portable kit handy that contains:
- Antibacterial cream, such as Neosporin
- Adhesive bandages of all sizes
- Pain relievers (Advil, Tylenol, etc.)
- Hand sanitizer
Assume that all pets will bite when taking on a job, even if the client tells you that “he’s never bitten anyone before and is perfectly safe!”
All animals can bite or scratch when they feel scared or threatened, and sudden exposure to a stranger may easily bring out this behavior.
3. Home Away From Home
Many pet sitters (myself included) offer overnight stays as part of our services, meaning that you will be staying in clients’ homes to care for their pets.
This is tougher to adjust to than you may realize. Human beings generally follow a daily routine, but for a pet sitter, that routine is, well, routinely disturbed.
Get organized and creative to make this part of the job work. For example:
- Keep a calendar or schedule book close that you can update constantly.
- Bring a familiar blanket or pillow along to help with any morning disorientation.
- Keep meticulous notes about your charges’ needs. Some pets don’t want to go out until 7 a.m., but for some, you’ll need to set an alarm.
Speaking of notes…
4. Take Notes
Pets may have wildly different needs, so keep notes and/or files on each pet to ensure they’re getting care tailored to them.
Great pet sitters come prepared to provide the best care, but it’s impossible to remember everything about every client without a cheat sheet on hand.
Here are just a few of the individualized needs of some of my clients:
- Dog #1: Needs to be walked every 4 hours or she may have an accident. She is also blind — I need to be attentive to ensure she doesn’t get injured.
- Dog #2: Extreme anxiety when his humans are away, which manifests in constant barking and occasional accidents. I have to be aware of his body language and respond accordingly.
- Dog #3: Depression when her humans are away, which translates to refusing to eat. She needs comfort, affection and play. She also needs me to sit with her at mealtimes and encourage her to eat.
Before reporting to a job, I review my notes on each client so I’m prepared to give them the best care.
5. Respect Clients’ Privacy
Your clients not only trust you with their beloved pets, but also they are allowing you into their home. Respect their privacy:
- Stay out of rooms that you don’t need to be in.
- Don’t go through their medicine cabinets.
- Most important, do not post pictures of their pets, their possessions or their homes on social media without permission.
Protect your clients’ privacy and maintain their security as vigilantly as you would your own.
Being a great pet sitter requires dedication, but it is also arguably the best job on earth. You can provide love to so many pets and feel that glow when you know those pets love you back.
Just yesterday I finished an overnight visit, and when I saw my charge’s little face peering out the window sadly as I pulled away…
I’m not going to lie — I cried a little.
Part 3: Disasters in Pet Sitting — And How to Avoid Them
Being a pet sitter is a tremendous responsibility.
You’re entrusted with the care of other peoples’ beloved pets, and — in many cases — with access to their home and possessions as well. A successful pet sitter is meticulous, caring, patient and responsible.
The best thing I’ve ever done was become a pet sitter. I can’t imagine any other career as fulfilling and fun as the one I have.
But we pet sitters are human, which means that, despite the best attention to detail, calamities are going to happen. Pets don’t always react the way we want or need them to in any given situation. Illness, anxiety, excitement, equipment failure and more can lead to disaster.
Here are 3 personal stories to show you just what I mean:
1. Leash Problems
Walking a dog who pulls is not a fun experience for the dog or for the dog walker.
Dogs who pull too hard often choke themselves in the effort to move farther and faster — while the person behind them tries to keep from being yanked off their feet. As you can imagine, this put tremendous pressure on the equipment (harnesses and leashes).
I have some dogs just like this. And the inevitable did occur – the dog was pulling so hard that he managed to snap his leash.
This is a very dangerous situation. The dog is now free to run wherever he wants, including into traffic or smack into other dogs who may react aggressively. So what do you do?
- The first thing is to not panic. Whatever you are feeling is going to be in your voice. If you’re calling to a dog in fear or anger, they’re going to react to that by running away.
- Don’t chase aggressively — this can scare a dog or make them think you’re playing a game.
- Speak calmly, and if you’re smart, you’ll carry some treats with you. Most dogs have some sort of food motivation, and if you’re calm and happy-seeming, you can get their attention and wave the cookie. Because you don’t appear angry or threatening, the dog is usually happy to return to your side for the cookie.
With my client’s dog, this was the case.
He bounced right over once I said the magic word.
Of course, I had to hang on to his collar all the way home, but the important thing was he was safe. The client invested in a stronger leash, a harness and promised to leash train their dog.
As for me, I now carry a backup leash wherever I go.
2. Catastrophe on the Roof
This story is from a friend of mine; we’ll call him “Brian.”
Brian agreed to watch a woman’s 3 cats while she was away.
It was a pretty standard deal: feed, water, scoop litter and playtime. What the client failed to mention was that she had a window with no screen open upstairs.
Pet sitters don’t — or shouldn’t — tour people’s homes unnecessarily. We’re not there to invade your privacy. We’re there to take care of your animals.
So Brian didn’t realize that there was an open window until he arrived at the house the next morning — and found one of the cats peering down at him from the roof, meowing loudly.
Naturally, Brian went upstairs to try and coax the cat back inside. And that’s when he realized that somehow the cat had managed to get his tail stuck and couldn’t get loose.
Climbing out onto the roof was not an option, so cue the call to the local fire department, who showed up in the big red ladder truck to lend a hand — which, of course, instigated the curiosity of the neighbors, who gathered in full force to watch the drama play out. The cat was rescued safely and checked over by his veterinarian as a precaution, but he was fine.
Needless to say, Brian did not hand out his card in that neighborhood.
3. When a Dog Bites
One thing that people don’t always realize is that their dogs aren’t going to behave the same way for a pet sitter as they do for their them.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “She definitely doesn’t bite!” during an initial meeting — then 2 days later, when I attempt to attach a leash, I have to to play “dodge the teeth.”
In this particular incident, a meeting involving a friendly Lab named Lucy and her humans went very well, and I didn’t anticipate too many problems walking her. However, when I arrived the following day and attempted to attach the leash, Lucy wasn’t having it. And she let me know in the clearest way possible — with her teeth.
So here I am, bleeding, with a dog that still needs to be walked lest she ends up toileting in the house.
How to fix this disaster?
First, with bandages and a calm demeanor. Lucy is not a vicious dog — she’s anxious. I made the mistake of not reading her body language quickly enough to determine that she’d need some coaxing.
Once bandaged, I sat down and simply talked to Lucy, while offering a cookie or two.
It took some time, but eventually she allowed me to leash her, and we went for a walk.
Learning From Mistakes
In every disaster, there is an opportunity to learn something. From these 3 disasters, we have 3 important takeaways:
- Backup equipment is a must. You don’t have to spend top dollar on it, but have a leash and/or harness ready in case the pet’s equipment fails. If you have a dog who pulls significantly, you may even want to walk them with both leashes attached.
- Ask people about any and all routines involving the home. I always ask what their security routine is regarding windows and doors. Use your eyes when you arrive and depart, and look for any problem areas.
- Never assume any pet will not bite or scratch because they didn’t when their humans were around. Any pet is capable of inflicting injury, given the right circumstances. Budget extra time for the first few visits so you can take your time getting to know the pet’s body language and comfort zones.
Pet sitting is the best job in the world, but like any job, it has its low points.
Stay calm when they happen, be honest about them and learn to laugh about them — some are simply unavoidable.
Part 4: How Should Pet Sitters Handle Difficult Clients?
Pet sitters are generally good-hearted people who love animals and want to help their clients out.
Unfortunately, sometimes this means they get taken advantage of.
With that in mind, here are 4 types of clients that you’re better off steering clear of when you become a pet sitter:
1. The Incommunicado
When things go well on a visit, it’s great. But if there is one guarantee in pet sitting, it’s that things don’t always go well.
Sometimes you need to get a hold of your pet’s people either while you are in their home or before you report to the job.
People who continually avoid your calls — and don’t respond to your texts — can’t be relied upon to direct you in the event of an emergency.
Now, this doesn’t mean that since Barbara didn’t return your call that one time you should drop her as a client. People get busy at work or are away from their phones sometimes.
This refers to the client you continually can’t reach, regardless of whether you call, text, leave notes, send smoke signals etc.
2. The Clam
These are the clients who want you to start a new job with a new pet or pets without any initial meeting, discussion or sharing of information.
They basically toss the key to their house under a rock and run out the door, leaving you wondering if you’re sitting for a dog, cat, iguana or some fish.
They don’t give you information about medication, veterinarian on record or aggression.
But this client will hold you responsible if something goes wrong.
3. The Peeping Tom
Most homeowners have security of some kind, and this includes cameras both in and outside their homes.
This is expected and normal.
What is not expected — and certainly not acceptable — is for cameras to be in an area of the home where the pet sitter may be unknowingly exploited.
A colleague recently told me about a client who had positioned their home cameras on the floor, angled up, in the bathroom and in the bedroom she was assigned to sleep in. She did not discover these cameras until 3 days into her 7-day overnight job.
Clearly, this was not accidental on the part of the client, who had plenty of time to tell the pet sitter where their cameras were located and that the video of her undressed was recorded.
Pet sitters, if this happens to you, it is unacceptable.
This is a complete violation, and you should report it to your local police department immediately and refuse to complete the job.
4. The Liar
“Liar” is not a pretty term, but it’s hard to gloss over a person who is outright dishonest about a pet’s problems.
People usually do this because they’re desperate for a sitter.
So when the pet sitter asks about aggression or past history of incidents, the client will tell them that their pet is not aggressive and has had no history of causing injury — even if the pet has.
This can be downright dangerous for the pet sitter.
A dog with food aggression is no joke, and some breeds are capable of causing incredible damage. A pet sitter who is not informed about food aggression can be attacked when feeding the animal.
If a dog is aggressive to other animals, a pet sitter can be caught unaware when the animal lunges at another pet.
Learn why this pet sitter loves her job:
What to Do
Pet sitters, if you have clients who display any or all of these traits, you need to let them go immediately. Call them and arrange a meeting if possible.
If not, simply have a phone conversation to discuss the following:
- State clearly that you can no longer sit for them and if you are scheduled for any upcoming jobs, be sure the client understands that you will not be completing them.
- Explain why you have come to this decision. Use examples: “The past 3 times I have fed Fluffy, he has lunged at me, and last time he bit me on the arm.”
- Be polite but firm. The client will probably be upset, but remember: They weren’t worried about upsetting you when they left you with no information, used their security equipment dishonestly, withheld the truth or refused to return your calls. Reiterate that you are sorry but refuse to be drawn into an argument. When ending the call or meeting, do so as courteously as possible.
Whenever you have a situation that makes you uncomfortable — but you aren’t sure if the client is actually going too far — documentation is your best friend.
Keep a notebook handy and jot down anything that makes you nervous or insecure about the job.
Accept the fact that a client you let go of is going to be unhappy, so be prepared for negative feedback. Having documentation allows you to provide clear and detailed examples — and defense, if you need it.
Happily, most clients are amazing people who have allowed me to be a part of their extended families, and it’s been a real privilege.
But there’s always that one.
Part 5: A Day in the Life of a Pet Sitter
A pet sitter’s day is filled with fun, hard work and sometimes the unexpected.
My schedule varies somewhat daily, but here’s a look at a typical day in my pet sitter life:
6 a.m. — Manny
Manny is an easygoing, quite fluffy cat whose humans have taken a quick trip out of state.
At 6 a.m., I’m walking in the door to spend a little time with him. I’ll clean his litter boxes and feed him as well as provide some love.
As I walk in, I feel something squish under my foot.
Oh, a hairball. Well, par for the course. Manny looks on in satisfaction as I commence wiping up his offering of love.
After spending some quality (hairball-free) time with Manny, I’m off to the next pet.
7 a.m. — Garfield
Garfield is a big, loveable and well-trained dog who lives in the next town over. He needs his breakfast and a jaunt around the block for elimination purposes.
At 7 a.m., we’re off on our walk.
Garfield sets a good pace and does his business in short order. I scoop the poop for the first time of the day, and it’s back home for breakfast.
After breakfast and a playful tumble, I head out, now sporting a trendy layer of Garfield hair on my pants. (Regular grooming, people. It’s strongly encouraged.)
8 a.m. — Jack and Jill
Jack and Jill are 2 small elderly dogs who take a slow ramble around the block every morning and afternoon.
Jack is 16 and Jill is 15 (and blind to boot).
Jack loves his walks, but because of his advanced age, it is difficult for him to move very fast. This is a very slow walk, which frustrates Jill — she would like to go much faster.
Being blind, Jill also has the tendency to bobble all over the road, tangling leashes and causing general mayhem.
By the end of the walk, I have Jack shuffling along slowly as I turn around and around, allowing Jill to run in circles around us at the end of her leash. That way, Jack’s not going too fast, and Jill’s not bouncing around at the end of the leash in frustration — problem solved.
The neighbors find this hilarious — but, hey, both the dogs are happy.
9 a.m. — Fiona and Cooper
Fiona is a massive, longhaired German Shepherd, and Cooper is a mid-sized terrier.
Fiona is (thank goodness) exceptionally well-trained on the leash, and Cooper is … well, he’s working on it.
We leave the house and Cooper issues a long, loud and excited series of barks to let everyone know he’s here. It works, and now dogs from 6 neighboring houses are all barking out their windows.
I hope everyone was up already.
10 a.m. — Luna
Luna is a 14-year-old Whippet mix and one of the best-trained dogs I have ever seen.
She’s in terrific shape other than a touch of vertigo brought on by age. We set a nice, brisk pace and head out.
She does enjoy exploring all manner of uneven ground, which means I must watch carefully and brace her so she doesn’t tip over. Sometimes Luna and I hop in the car and head down to the beach to do our walks there — it’s one of our favorite activities.
Best job ever!
11 a.m. — Break
It’s a wise idea for any pet sitter to try and build breaks into their day.
This gives you extra time in case there are any issues with pets that wreak havoc on the schedule. This is also a handy time to run to the bank, the post office or complete any daily errands.
I also eat a quick sandwich — there’s a full slate this afternoon, and unless I enjoy Milk Bones (I don’t), I probably won’t get another chance to eat for hours.
12 p.m. — Callie
Callie is a young, energetic hound. She loves exploring the world with her nose — scent is her life.
On our walks, we take plenty of time to stop and let her soak in the scents around her. She’s sweet and incredibly smart but has the unfortunate tendency to eat random things that she finds.
Such things include:
- Pine cones
- Certain leaves
- Rotten discarded food
- Shells, dead crabs, live crabs and bird poop at the beach
Yeah, I watch her like a hawk.
1 p.m. — Bailey
Bailey is a Corgi with a weak bladder, so it’s important that I make it to him on time.
When I arrive, he dances about in excitement as I sweat to get the leash on and get him outside before he has an accident brought on by joy. We barely make it, but I notice that he’s peed a little on my shoe.
Oh, well — that’s the life of a pet sitter.
Check out these tips from this pet sitter:
2 p.m. — Jack and Jill
These two get walked twice a day, so it’s back to a stately, circle-turning pace.
It’s a beautiful day out, though, so it’s still a nice walk, even if I get a little dizzy.
3 p.m. — Break
During this break, it’s time to check emails, return calls and look at the next day’s schedule.
Any calls I’ve taken during the day regarding schedule changes need to be entered and any new client meetings scheduled.
I sneak a look at my FitBit and crow at crushing the competition.
4 p.m. — Manny
It’s full circle back to Manny and our evening visit.
We have a repeat of the morning, but he hasn’t left a hairball trap at the door this time.
After Manny, it’s time to head home. But it’s been a pretty great day, all in all, full of dogs and cats and no serious problems.
I get home, open the door, start to head in and, oh … my cat has coughed up a hairball.