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Dog Sitting Tips, Checklist & Instructions (Pet Sitting 101)

There are basic dog sitting tips & tricks you should know regardless if you are starting a dog sitting service, sitting for your friend’s dog or looking to hire a dog sitter.

An obvious dog sitting tip is that you want to make sure to have a dog sitting checklist and detailed notes & instructions. Include notes about food, treats, medicine, leash, toys, emergency phone #’s, etc.

I cover the things I need as a pet sitter as well as what I provide for people looking after my pets. My first dog sitting tip is to either hire a professional pet sitter or make sure the person watching your dog is a pet owner.


Dog Sitting Tips For Dog Owners and Pet Sitters

Here are my tips for a first-time pet sitter, professional sitter or for anyone who needs a pet sitter for their dog:

  • Make a checklist of the things your dog needs every day
  • Write out detailed instructions based on your checklist
  • Include emergency, vet and secondary contact information
  • Mention additional important notes that your sitter needs to know

I will cover all of these from the viewpoint of both a pet sitter, but also as a pet owner.


Dog sitting checklist and instructions

Dog or Pet Sitting Checklist

An easy dog sitting tip is to make a checklist. My checklist is always in my head. All I need are specifics on food, water, treats, leash, behavior, and medicine if applicable.

I need to know where the food is, how much food to give and how often to feed the dog or pet that I am sitting. And of course, where the water bowls are.

Next, if your dog requires medicine, I need to know everything involved in administering it.

And finally, where do you keep the leash & harness\collar and how your dog behaves while on a walk.

The checklist helps you focus on the most important things. You want to eventually turn your checklist into detailed instructions for the person pet sitting your dog. Just write down topics like the following:

  • Food: 1/2 cup of dry in the morning and evening
    • Food is on a counter with extra bowls, forks, etc.
  • Treats: He can one 1 after the walks, or as many as he wants, etc.
  • Leash, harness, collar, etc. are near the front door
  • His favorite toys are …
  • Medicine: (Be very descriptive for this part)
  • Additional notes: leave a light on, he tends to pull during walks, contact info for friends and vets, etc.

You know your dog the best, so write down anything that your sitter should know.


Pet or Dog Sitting Instructions

This is one of the most important things that helps me with my dog sitting. I prefer a simple list of sitting instructions for your dog, not a short story. Please keep the notes to one page if you can.

I say this because I’ve had to read 3 pages of notes and things get confusing with that much information. And most people do not edit what they write.

Be specific, detailed and to the point. Consider asking someone to read the instructions to see what they think.


How to walk a dog that pulls

Walking Instructions

Your pet sitter needs to know where your dog’s leash and collar are and when they need to be walked. Make sure to mention any issues like aggression towards other dogs, jumping, pulling, etc.

Include anything the person needs to know to make sure there are no surprises or problems.

Here is a dog sitting tip for owners: If you sometimes allow your dog to be off-leash, DO NOT mention that to your family member, friend or sitter. Your dog may not obey commands as well from someone new to them.


Water, Food & Medicine Instructions

Make sure to have enough food, treats, and medicine while you are away. Leave everything your sitter needs out on a table or counter with extra bowls, spoons, etc.

Include how often to feed them and leave out a measuring cup of some kind. Mention if water from the tap or from a filtered bottle is to be used. I personally give my pets filtered water.

And be specific when it comes to giving your dog medicine. You probably should show them at least once. Add a note to contact you if they don’t understand the medicine instructions.


Emergency Phone #’s

Provide your email and phone number though they should already have it. Consider including the phone number of the place you are staying.

Ask a friend or neighbor if they could help if there is a problem and include their contact information. Also, include your vet’s phone # and address.

Note: I can contact you after the first visit for the first time I pet sit for you. After that, no text messages from me unless there is a problem. If you do not hear from me, that means everything is fine.

Don’t think that constant text updates are an important part of pet sitting. That is a sales pitch that some companies use, similar to the idea of “pack-walks” being great for your dog. Focus on the care, not the communication.


Dog Sitting Problems

Most of the time you will not have any major problems pet sitting dogs, cats or other pets. Other times, the pet sitting is very difficult.

Let me describe the worst experiences I’ve had since starting my pet sitting business in 2008. But regardless of the problem, you have to figure out a solution to any problems you encounter.


Dog Sitting Aggressive Dogs

Dog sitting aggressive dogs: all 100+ pounds of the Great Dane Finnegan
Finnegan: all 100+ pounds of him

I met an owner and his Great Dane named Finnegan and everything went well. The client needed 3 pet visits per day for each day that he was away.

At the first visit, Finn was aggressively barking at me as soon as I walked through the door. He was well over 100 pounds. It was a scary situation.

I was able to walk between a couch and a coffee table with Finn on the other side of the table. On the kitchen counter, there was a bowl of his treats. My goal was to make it to those treats, which I did after a few minutes. I had no choice other than trying to calm him with his treats.

Pet sitting tip for aggressive dogs: Always bring dog treats, especially for the first pet visit. And try to get some treats from the owner when you get the keys. Most of the time, the dog will be glad to see you.


Dog Sitting Shy or Fearful Dogs

I have had dogs get away from me three different times, twice with the same dog. It almost happened a few times with other dogs. In almost every case it was because the harness did not fit. And once it was an extremely fearful dog.

It was a loose harness in the case of the dog that got away from me twice and for all other times where that almost happened.

First, for extremely shy dogs, you have to see if you can get the dog out for a walk on your own.

One thing to try is to get the owners to step outside and after 5 minutes or so. Then go in and try to get the leash on the dog get him outside. It would be best if the owners were not visible when you get outside but close if things go badly.

Decline to accept the job if you can’t get the dog on the leash or out of the door.

A couple of tips might help. If you are a man, don’t wear any kind of hat. Some dogs do not like hats. Also, some dogs are very fearful of men. In that case, it would be better to have a woman do the pet sitting.


Shy Dogs

If the owner tells you their dog is shy, or you sense it, check the collar or harness. Put the collar or harness on and check to see if they could squeeze out of it. If the dog can squeeze out of the collar or harness, then see if you can tighten it. If not, you have to tell the owner to buy another harness.

A dog that is afraid of you will be difficult to walk and will try and turn back home. And if the harness or collar doesn’t fit, then he or she will slip out and run back home.

If you are ever in that situation, try to walk around the block. Don’t cross any intersections. That way the dog will run back home without running into traffic.

If you do not notice the loose harness or collar until your first walk, there are some workarounds. You can try twisting a part of the harness to make it tighter. Or try looping the leash thru the harness or collar many times to snug it up.


Dog Sitting Fearful Dogs

As for the dog that ran away by squeezing under a gate, I blame myself and the owners equally. It’s too long of a story, but what I should have done was to see if I could get the dog on a leash with the owners out of the house, as I describe above.

If I had done that, I would have noticed the problem before they left for their trip. This dog was extremely fearful of me.

By the way, the 2 dogs that got away were fine after a bit of a run around the neighborhood.


Nervous Dogs not Eating

There have been two times when the dogs I was watching were not eating. Once was for a dog that I was boarding, and the other was a pet sitting situation. If this happens to you while dog sitting, you have to do whatever it takes to get the dog to eat.

I bought a couple of pounds of pork chops for the dog I was boarding. It was the first time I boarded this dog, so I’m sure he was confused. The pork chops did the trick and the owner reimbursed me for them.

The second situation was a fearful dog named Sinatra who just would not eat his breakfast or dinner. And this was the case over many days. Luckily, his owner had huge dog treats which Sinatra loved. I gave him 4-5 treats after every visit.

This went on for multiple weekend dog sitting appointments. Eventually, he got used to me and would eat his food. Currently, he is a regular daily dog walking client.

It is your job to make sure the dog is safe, happy and healthy. If you have to buy food, then buy it.


Tips for Pet Sitting Puppies

Dog Sitting tips are for puppies too

All dog sitting tips for dogs mentioned above apply to puppies, but puppies require a lot more care and work. However, it is unlikely that you will encounter this as a pet sitter as most people do not get a puppy right before they take a vacation. But there is a chance that a puppy owner will need sitting.

Quite often puppies are not trained so walking them will be more difficult. Plus you may have to avoid other dogs if they have not had their final round of vaccination shots.

Just get them to go to the bathroom then bring them back home. You can spend the extra time playing with them in the home to tire them out.

Do not forget to put the puppy back into their crate, den or room. Otherwise, you will find a mess at your next visit. Plus it could be very dangerous for them to free roam the house.

And I’m going to bring back the idea of only using a professional pet sitter or another dog owner. If you have a friend watch your puppy, who is not a pet owner, then they may want to show off “their” puppy.

It’s a bad idea. Just think about it and use your imagination.

Your friend will walk your puppy really far to meet other people. The pup will get very tired, maybe injured. Your non-pet-owning friend will not know to avoid other dogs and probably can’t read other dog’s body language. There is a lot of things that can go wrong.

So the main dog sitting tip for puppy sitting is to only use another dog owner or professional pet sitter. Also, take a look at my article Puppy Exercise Needs for some additional insights. Also read my Tips for New Dog Owners article, specifically the section on dog body language.


Dog Sitting Tips Specifically for Pet Sitters

My first tip for pet sitters would be to not believe the owners 100%. And what I mean by that is if they say the dog pulls a little on the leash, assume the dogs pulls a lot. If they say the dog is a little aggressive towards other dogs, assume the dog is very aggressive.

It is better to assume the behavior is way worse than communicated so that you are prepared for how the dog truly reacts. I have learned that the hard way.

The dog that got away from me was so fearful of me that I could not get close enough to it to put her leash on. The owners told me she was shy but they undersold just how much.

They told me they had a yard that they use for her. I thought I could at least let her out so she could go to the bathroom and slowly build up the trust. But they didn’t mention that there was a gap under the fence.

The dog took off and ran across a 4 lane street. Luckily a woman was able to catch her about 6 blocks away.

They also didn’t tell me that the dog was not so good with men. What a nightmare. They should have told me more and I should have asked more questions.

So tip #1 is assume the owner(s) did not tell you just how difficult their dog can be.

The second dog sitting tip would be to be hyper-vigilant the first time you pet sitting a new dog. You need to know how they react to certain situations and to build trust.

Most of the time the dogs are fantastic. But every once in a while, you have an extremely difficult dog. Do whatever it takes to get through the dog sitting and decide later whether or not you want to keep the client.


Sitting Tips for People Who Don’t Own a Pet

Sitter: It’s not your pet! Act accordingly.

You do not want to make a phone call to your friend with horrible news. Stick to the dog or pet sitting instructions that your friend has left you.

That tip or advice may seem callous or abrupt, but replace “pet” with “child” and see how quickly your focus changes.

Owner: Are you sure? Is there no one else?

I’m a pet sitter. You may think that I’m pushing my profession for selfish reasons. Maybe. But I’ve also heard pet sitting horror stories that are the result of someone who does not own a pet and made the wrong choices.

Only a pet sitter or other pet owner knows how serious they need to be and has the experience to make sure your dog is safe.

If a friend who does not own a pet is your only option, then pick the most responsible friend.


Have a professional dog sitter rather than using a last-minute sitter

Local Professional Dog Sitter vs. Last-Minute Dog Sitter

Let me ask you a question. Would you use an app to find a last-minute baby sitter? You know the answer is a definitive “NO!”

And isn’t your pet your baby?

I can’t speak for other pet sitters, but I rarely say no to a new client if I get at least two weeks notice. However, I will and have said no when I only get a week or a few days notice for a prospective client. Especially, if the time period in question is when I am very busy, like a holiday weekend.

And if you are an existing client, I never say “no”, even if only given a few days notice. Though that rarely happens. So my final dog or pet sitting tip would be to find a quality professional pet sitter and stick with them.


I hope you have found these dog sitting tips useful. Please email me or comment below if you fell I have missed anything or would like to share your experiences with me. And that goes for pet owners and pet sitters alike. We all want our pets to get the best possible care.

Jim Kernicky

I have been a dog walker and pet sitter for my business Fairmount Pet Service in the Art Museum area of Philadelphia since 2008.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Tyson Coolidge

    I like what you said about making sure that the dog can’t squeeze out of its collar while pet sitting. My brother has been telling me about how he needs to go out of town in a few weeks, and he wants to make sure that his dog is cared for. I’ll share this information with him so that he can look into his options for professionals who can help him with boarding them.

  2. Michaela Hemsley

    I like that you said when pet sitting you should always bring dog treats, especially for your first pet visit. I am thinking about becoming a pet sitter because I think it would be a great way to make some extra money and get to spend time with dogs. I will have to make sure to invest in some healthy dog treats so that I can be prepared and can make sure that the dogs I’m watching will like me.

    1. Jim Kernicky

      Why not just mention that you make and sell nutritional dog treats?

  3. Ashley Johnson

    I liked that you said that one thing to consider when hiring someone to take care of your pet when you are gone is to give them the emergency contact information of a neighbor or loved one so that there is someone to help when you are unable to. I have been thinking about going on vacation and leaving my pet with a sitter but I am nervous that an emergency will occur while I am away and I won’t be able to help. I will be sure to ask trusted loved one to be available if needed, in case of an emergency, while I am gone.

  4. Skylar Williams

    Thank you for your tip to only pick friends who have pets to pet sit. I have been thinking about going out of town but I have two dogs that can’t come with me. I think I will stick with using a dog sitting service.

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