What you need to know about pet sitters and dog walkers (c) 2009-
2018 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved
We are getting ready to travel without our pets. Travel is no longer fun these days with
the lines, security concerns, delays and the new "less is more" philosophy in airline
service. And leaving the rest of the family at home is no fun either.
Although, truth be told the cats prefer to stay at home. Daisy (our dog) would probably
endure the flight stuck in a travel bag under the seat just to be with us but weighs in
several pounds over the limit. And no, flying in the baggage compartment is not an
option for welfare and safety issues.
Over the years we have come to rely on pet sitters for caring for our pets when we are
away. Initially we boarded Daisy but found that being in her own environment was a
better situation for us and her. We have just moved from East Harlem to a new
neighborhood. Hello Upper West Side: full of pets and pet sitters.
Our search for the right sitters yields sitters who have never walked a dog but would like
to, sitters who only want to walk the dog during the week in the middle of the day, sitters
who want to bring the dog to their home because "it’s easier that way", sitters who don’t
do cats just dogs, etc. But New York is full of possibilities and full of pet sitters. We ask for
recommendations at the pet store, from the local vet, from neighbors with dogs. Armed
with names, we set up meetings and keep an eye out for the ones who ask questions about
our pets as opposed to telling us "every animal loves me" and who come bearing treats
and the ones that get down on pet level to interact, the ones that our pets react to best -
you know when your pet likes someone, they "tell" you, watch. We find the right one
(fingers and toes crossed). As our new sitter gets to know our pet family we are struck
again by the time it takes to create a relationship. No matter how much of an animal
person one is, there is still time to be taken in building a bond with a new animal,
comfort and trust need to be established.
To help facilitate the humans and pets getting to know each other in the most
appropriate way, I arrange for our new pet sitter to walk Daisy three times over the next
three days. And on each day I am part of that process, both as social support for my dog
and also to physically show how we do dog things; from approach -always at dog level
and from the side, no looming over (yes, the walker should have passed knowing this
when they got the gig but bears repeating), put on her halter, leash, hold the leash and
walking style. I talk about which are the preferred walks, where the shady side of the
street is for summer days and scaffolding stretches for rain.
I accompany both Daisy and the walker on the first walk. I start holding the leash and
after a block (half a block, if Daisy is really relaxing) hand the leash to the walker with
the dog between us and continue for another a block in this fashion. The next step would
when a block from home to allow the walker to step around so they are between me and
Daisy and walk her in this fashion for half a block and then return Daisy to between the
two of us for the last half of a block home. We take our cues from Daisy on this last block,
if she is unsure, we do steps instead, sometimes a few steps at comfort level are way more
effective than half a block.
It is important to keep these introductory walks short so, as soon as Daisy relieves herself
and turns for home, we go. If your first introductory walk has gone well, for the second,
go through your leashing process together and ask the walker to walk your dog alone for
a very brief walk, while you wait for them to return. Make sure and confirm that just a
pee on this walk is fine, a poo is great if it happens but the dog must be allowed to return
home when they want, where you calmly greet them with love. Repeat for the third
Daisy appears unsure initially on that first walk, not as scared on the second and
somewhat resigned by the third. On the solo second and third walk, the sitter reports
that Daisy just wants to take care of business and return. That is just fine. No prolonged
sniffing on these walks. And because these new walks can be stressful initially, I have
asked only for "relief" walks for these walks to begin with. Leisurely walks can come in
time. Daisy will adapt, in her own time, to this new situation and hopefully we will
return home to happy, healthy animals.
For the cats, I stress repeatedly that the most important thing is not to stress them. This
means that if the cat does not want to interact initially, allow this. If the cat is hiding
from you they are no doubt doing this because they are frightened of a new presence.
Doing a “cat check”- making sure they are there, changing water, cleaning litter and
fresh food (make sure to point out to discard any uneaten wet food and to clean plates in
between feedings) may be all some cats want with a new sitter. For the cats that do
approach, remind your sitter that cats, especially yours, are only to be pet in a cat
friendly manner – confining touch to the head, as in behind the ears and along the
muzzle. Touching in any other manner is too much too soon for a new acquaintance.
When working with a new pet sitter, please remember to give your pets enough time to
get to know the new person who will be in your home before you leave. As many walks or
visits as possible before you leave are necessary to begin acclimating your animals to a
novel presence in your home. Try and schedule these for initially when you are around
and then when you are not at home for maximum benefit. And please, please contract
for individual dog walks and avoid "pack" walks. Individual dog walks insure that your
dog benefits from the full attention of the walker and prevents unexpected or unwelcome
complications from a dog that is not familiar to your pet.
While you may value a longer walk for your dog, recognize that with a new person
walking your dog, shorter walks are less stressful in the beginning of the relationship.
Your cats are only used to you and the people you know in your home so allow plenty of
time to go by before asking the sitter to spend extra time with them.
With pets home alone and sitters and walkers coming and going, keeping an eye on what
is happening at home while you are not there is a good idea. Digital cameras provide a
remote view on how things are going and allow you to make sure the schedules your pet
expect and you have asked for are maintained. And provide an up close view to make
sure nothing but positive handling and love is happening in your absence.
Maintain as much of the usual structure your animals expect, keeping to the schedules of
when meals are fed and walks are given, a written list of how you do things helps
tremendously and make sure and leave adequate supplies of whatever your pet needs.
Leaving your radio turned to a classical music (studies show this type of music lessens
stress) station which the sitter can turn on and off on alternate days can alleviate some
of the angst over your absence. Above all else, do not expect an instant bond, your
companion animal has a relationship with you built on time, history and trust, allow
time for a new relationship to develop.
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
"please remember to give your pets
enough time to get to know the new
person who will be in your home
before you leave. As many walks or
visits as possible before you leave
are necessary to begin acclimating
your animals to a novel presence in
your home. "
Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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