Summer is approaching, thoughts are turning to holidays and the enquiries for dog boarding are coming in here at Pack Leader Dog Adventures. We are just about fully booked until the end of the year so this in no way a pitch for more business.
But I thought it would help dog owners if I shared from a dog professional’s point of view what I think you should be looking for when considering a holiday home for your dog.
1) What’s important to you and your dog?
Is your dog high energy? Is he allergic to cats? Does he have no recall? Is he a couch potato? Does he cry if left alone? Does he jump up at people? Is he destructive? Is he in any way aggressive? Does he pull on the lead? Is he afraid of strangers? Does he take any specialist medication?
These are just some of the questions you should ask because they are what I would be asking when I came to see you at your house for the meet and greet. One things for sure you will find someone who will look after your dog no matter what breed or how badly behaved they are but the easier your dog is too look after the more choice you have finding your ideal pet sitter.
As an example we don’t take dogs that are in any way aggressive to people or dogs, have no recall and can’t be left alone. I started this business because I love dogs and the outdoors but I want to have fun too and looking after a whiney dog is no fun for anyone.
Yes I’m being honest here. So what kind of dogs are the easiest to look after? Well breed doesn’t come in to it at all. We started off offering lots of exercise to cater for working dogs who live in an urban environment, but we now look after everything from Pointers to Pugs.
The ideal dog for me to look after would fit the same criteria for a dog I would like to own so
That’s it really. Obviously not all dogs fit that mould but just think how easy and enjoyable is your dog to look after? If it’s difficult for you to walk him because he pulls or you don’t take him to the beach because he runs off then it’s going to be the same for your pet sitter.
Alternatively if your dog is very well behaved then ask yourself….
2) Do you need a pet sitter?
Is there a friend or family member who loves dogs and is prepared to help you out? I would recommend you try this option especially if your dog is easy to look after. Our clients refer to us as the ‘Fourth Emergency Service’ as we are the next best option for those without a friend or family member they can rely on regularly.
If you do need outside help then you have many options.
There are pet sitters who offer in home boarding and come and stay in your house with your dog. There are also some brilliant traditional Kennels and other commercial organisations who run Kennel type operations. You may want to ‘board and train’ your dog somewhere he can really work on training while you are away. Don’t forget also with the advent of pet passports you can take your dog with you on many holidays home and abroad.
Check them all out and decide from there because if you want to go away on holiday and not worry then you need to…
3) Find Someone you Trust
Whatever option you go with you need someone you can trust. Trust to exercise and care for your dog. They MUST carry insurance and you should ask to see it, I would also expect them to have attended a Canine First Aid Course as accidents like cut paws etc do happen to everyone.
With changes to the dangerous dogs act I would expect them to have a basic understanding of current dog law. This is essential if they are going to exercise dogs off leash safely (and dogs need off leash exercise in my opinion). What dog training have they done if any and how important is that too you? Its not essential but you certainly don't want your dog coming back from a holiday behaving worse than they did when they went!
Check out reviews on their website and Facebook, although accept sometimes they may not be genuine. Accreditations from certified Pet Sitting organisations look good and they do have codes of practise sitters should follow but they can be bought into for membership and so shouldn’t be a defining factor.
You really want some word of mouth recommendations.
So find someone who has used or ideally uses their service now and ask them. If you are new to an area ask several dog walkers you meet in a local park. See references and ask to speak to them if possible. I am happy for a potential client to speak to a current client about my service. This works both ways though as I’m only happy to do that once I’ve seen the client and dog and decided I’m happy for them to stay!
You can build trust over time and one way is to...
4) Have a Trial
Or as many trials as you need. I almost always recommend dogs have a trial night stay. If not then we will do a number of getting to know you walks leading up to the holiday. We charge for these too but I find they are essential. Your sitter should offer this option or if not you should ask. Think of it as a test drive, you can test as many as you want and trust your instincts you may find someone quicker than you think.
Make sure you observe the sitter on the occasions when they interact with your dog. If you want someone to just fuss and cuddle your dog then you will have no trouble finding someone because anyone can do that. I purposefully don’t fuss a dog when I first meet him because I don’t want him to jump up and then get wrong for doing that!
Also this isn’t a Disney movie so don’t expect your dog to fall in love with the sitter on the first visit. Some of my best doggy friends were a bit standoffish with me the first time I met them, but then so was my wife when she met me too!
Talk to the sitter. Are they a confident person because you need to be when handling dog’s. Ask them about the walks they do. Where do they go? What do they do when they get there? Do they walk multiple dogs? Are the dogs ever left alone? What procedures do they have in place for an emergency? Maybe ask a friend or a relative you trust to be with you for the visit so you get a second opinion.
I really don’t think it’s very fair to expect a dog to be happy just being left somewhere new and not feel abandoned. ‘Getting to know you’ walks before a holiday are just that, a chance for your dog to get used to the idea of being with someone new. The more times they do that and have a positive experience doing it the better they will settle in when holiday time comes round.
Also you the owner will go away relaxed knowing your dog has built up a good relationship with your chosen sitter and they will likely be having just as good a holiday as you are.
We are not the only ones who do but this is exactly how we work and we NEVER have any problems. It may cost you a bit more but you should do it. If the sitter may not charge or may allow you to join them on a walk. Either way get your dog used to being with their new carer.
You wouldn’t send your kid away to a scout, brownie or football camp for a week if you didn’t think they would be safe and happy with friends so extend the same curtesy to your dog.
So there you go tips from the ‘Pet Sitter’ to find your perfect pet sitter. I wanted to go a bit deeper than the usual ten point check you might see that may state the obvious but fails to get you really thinking about the type of service you and your dog need. This person will hopefully be looking after your dog whenever you go away from now on and if any emergencies crop up so you really want to get the decision right.
Dom Hodgson and his son Alex have run Pack Leader Dog Adventures, a very popular dog adventure and training business based in Sunderland since November 2011. He loves working in the great outdoors and loves it even more if there are dogs involved! The Pack Leader Dog Adventures Store is their latest extension to the business. Always keen to give advice and try new products to help with the adventure business Dom thought he was in an ideal position to sell and promote the things his and his clients dogs love the most.
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Dom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and positively welcomes feedback.