You are going on vacation and it is one of those occassions when one or more of your family just can’t come with you. Your dog isn’t invited. First you have to get over the heartbreak of them not being there for the fun and then you need to conquer your fear of leaving them with someone else.
As pet parents everyone at our dog hotel or as some people still insist on calling it, boarding kennel, we know on a personal level how much faith it takes to entrust your family dog, fur-baby, indeed child with someone else. I’m not going to lie and say there aren’t some horror stories out there, but we are going to tell you that times have changed. When many of us were growing up, the family dog was just a dog. Some of us still feel like we are indulging or spoiling our dogs because they sneak up on the sofa with us. You aren’t alone. In fact all of the guests of our dog hotel sleep in a main room of the family home, whether it’s in a crate in the living room, in a bedroom with a family member or even on the bed, they are all truly members of the family and no one wants to see them being treated “just like any ol dog”.
The purpose of this article will not actually be to compare kennels vs dog sitting vs dog hotels all at once, but rather we’re going to break it down into parts. First we’ll establish the circumstances where dog sitting can be a good fit for you and the questions to consider and ask when interviewing a dog sitter or in home boarding situation. Here’s how to choose a dog sitter.
Is Dog Sitting Right For Your Dog ?
First lets consider the personality traits of a dog that responds well to pet sitting, whether it is in your home or that of the pet sitter.
1) If a dog sitter is coming to them, then a dog with a working family, accustomed to longer periods of alone time, flexible in their own routine. Their meal and walk times will vary from your dogs “normal”.
2) Less active definately not a puppy..
3) If at your home, contented dog who has demonstrated they are comfortable in the absence of their family with someone on thier territory.
4) Happy consistent eater with no history of inappetance.
5) Non – food or possession aggressive.
6) No known medical conditions or history of ailments (some pet sitters will be certified to care for epileptics, diabetics etc)
7) Family home with secure backyard. If dog has access to the whole house while sitter is out, then a double layered entrance is needed. I.e front porch with door before the front door, or entry through garage.
8) Comfortable mixing with all dogs. If going to a home based pet sitter your dog will need to be with other dogs 24/7, and these could be dogs of different sizes, sex and age.
Contrary to popular belief home sitting is not the least expensive option. Whilst not completely comprehensive the chart below should give you an idea of approximate costs. To ensure you are comparing apples to apples we have listed the accomodation and basic care prices published within the industry. If it takes more time you will be charged for it, if they do not charge for activities beyond, feeding, toileting (in the pet care industry commonly referred to as a walk) and a prescribed amount of time – then your pet won’t get it.
Canine – Cost comparison boarding kennel vs pet sitter vs pet hotel
Style of accomodation. $/day. Multi-pet discounts.
House Sitter $50-$100/day. Usually one price regardless of pet numbers
Visiting Pet Sitter. $35-$50/ visit. Usually same price or small surcharge for multiple pets
Home boarding $30-$60/day. Rare to recieve multiple pet discounts
Traditional boarding Kennel*. $20-$40/day Will share cages or enclosures and offer discount 20-80%
Daycare offering overnight** $45-$70. Multi-pet discounts or Multi-night discounts @ 10-30%
Pet Hotel $30-$40 Usually sharing discounts on accomodation of 10-25%
*Traditional Boarding kennels usually have a very prescribed routine, therefore the price is fixed and there is no option of varying your activities and their price. With a few exceptions, One Size Fits All.
** Daycare facilities that offer overnight usually have a similiar pricing to traditional kennels for the overnight portion, however remember you will pay the price for the daycare as well with no variation of activities, i.e. One Size Fits All.
Definitely cost is a factor with everyone but especially with multiple pet families. Having a house sitter also care for your pets when you have a large number of pets is definately a cost effective option.
If considering pet sitting for a multiple dog family, remember most home based pet sitters shouldn’t take your dogs. 3 or more dogs are a pack and when your dogs have that established pecking order it is difficult, problematic and a potentially lengthy process to add number 3 or four to that developing pack. They will not be able to offer a discount for multiple dogs because each of your discounted dogs is a full price dog they can’t take. A mixed family of dogs and cats should never consider going to a home based pet sitter. Cats do not travel well to new homes especially if other pets are present. Your cats will have learned to accept your dogs, but that is just your families dogs. Their is little chance they will feel the same about others.
House / Pet Sitter
You’ve considered your pets personality, needs, and those of the rest of your family. There are individual pet sitters and dog sitters as well as referral agencies. Most professional pet sitters will not be looking after your pets alone, they will need to look after many homes at the same time to be cost effective and cover overheads such as on going training, marketing, insurance, travel costs and of course their time. A hobbyist is not in a position to make sacrifices of their own families time, so please always consider a professional when having someone come to your home.
When considering a dog sitter or pet sitter coming to your home, consider these potential interview questions both for the referring agency and/or individual;
1) What hours are being contracted, is it # of visits per day or hours per day ? With both scenarios, what amount of time is spent, how do they plan on spending that time? What time of day will those visits be? Remember everyone hiring them for dogs will want before work and after work time periods.
2) Will the sitter reside in your home while you are away ? If so. Will they be alone ? Will you be screening their partners and guests?
3) How much experience do they have of dog sitting ? Be specific and look for experience of caring for someone else’s dog in the dogs own home.
4) While you are away, how many other pets/homes will they be visiting, caring for. Where are those homes located ? What coverage area do they advertise ?
5) Ask them to give examples of how they have taken care of a pet who had decided to not eat while their parents are away?
6) What have they done when arriving back at a house to discover the dog is agitated, protective and won’t let them into the house easily ?
6) Most bonded dog sitters will have done emergency first aid courses, but what experience have they of recognising altered behaviour or health state in a dog they are unfamiliar with ?
7) What happens to their own pets while they are caring for yours ?
8) what if they are ill, experience car issues etc. What back up do they have if they are unable to get to your home ?
9) What procedures will they practice to prevent your dog or cat trying to exit your home and “go to find you” ?
10) If your dog bites them, who pays ? Just because they are bonded does not mean that their insurance covers you if your dog bites them. Often bonded is more to do with “house sitting” and potential theft. Verify with both your and their insurance providers to ensure you are protected.
When thinking about safety and the behaviour of your dog at your home, remember you don’t know how they will behave when you aren’t there. You are their pack leader, and depending on your pets personality they either want to please you by protecting you and their territory or they will be fearful in that territory without you there to help them.
Many years ago my husband and I were staying with friends for a few days. We had known their dog Whiskey since she was a puppy. We had stayed overnight many times over the years and indeed had been alone with Whiskey when babysitting while our friends had gone out for the evening.
We discovered while staying for a few days, that we hadn’t tried to enter the house when Whiskey was alone before. We saw a side of Whiskey that no one had ever seen and that only home security videos could convince Whiskey’s parents, even existed. It took at least 40 minutes or more every time we came back to the house over the next 4 days, before we could freely move around the house. And that was 40 minutes of actively working with and trying different techniques to achieve a temporary lowering of Whiskey’s guard.
No one knew this side of Whiskey. Had we been a paid sitter, Whiskeys time would have been used entirely and probably substantially more than was contracted, just to gain access to feed, let alone toilet and spend proper quality time. The next appointment or our own family life and comittments could have prevented us from spending more time. Of course we were friends doing a favour and so Whiskey and I danced our merry game every day until her Mom and Dad came home. I wouldn’t have been very financially successful at pet sitting, I’d have to spend the time ensuring my charge was well taken care of, regardless of the time or risk involved.
Now, my current dog Maggie is a perfect candidate for Home sitting. She loves everyone and has allowed many a tradesmen to come into our home while we were out, and complete work. Well….. she has tried to distract them by sitting on them and seeking love, but other than that she has let them get on with their work.
In home Boarding
Maggie wouldn’t however be a great candidate to attend an in home boarding situation because she is both a Great Dane (they can understand their own size in their own homes, new environments take time to figure out how to fit) and not crate friendly. Most in home boarding situations I have visited needed to rely very heavily on the use of crates, usually because of numbers of dogs.
The category of In Home boarding has unfortunately become very broad and potentially open to a lot of abuse when it comes to both numbers and how the dogs are accommodated. Ideally an in home situation involves a talented and knowledgeable caregiver who for whatever reason is able to stay at home (ie does not have secondary employment) and is able to do so for minimum wage or less.
3 x (average daily rate of $35) + (their own dog at no cost) = $105.00 = enthusiastic hobbyist.
With good protocol and safety measures in place an experienced hobbyist can be a very nice choice for some family pets. So once again let’s look at the interview questions you may want to ask. The above lists all apply but here are some specific questions for in home boarding.
1) Where will your dog sleep ? Remember most family pets sleep in a bedroom or on a bed. You won’t be the only parent with a pet staying there looking for this, in fact thier own dog probably already sleeps there.
2) No one can stay home 24/7, how will the dogs be kept safe (from each other) while they are unsupervised ?
3) Meal time – either their families or that of all the canine guests can be a very dangerous time with dogs becoming possessive/aggressive around food. How will feeding take place and where will the dogs go while their family eats ?
4) Do they have children ? What ages ? What of other youngsters, kids friends etc. who may be coming to the house ?
5) Bearing in mind how most dogs react to a closed door with activity or voices on the other side of it….who pays for damages to the caregivers home or belongings ?
6) Dogs don’t have to like every dog they meet, in fact they don’t. No amount of pre-screening is 100%, what will happen if 2 or more dogs don’t get along while you are away?
7) Who is the vet they use while guests are with them ? Ask for permission to speak to the clinic, it doesn’t need to be the vet; technician or reception will suffice to find out what sort of reasons pets have visited in the past. You are investigating to find out if there have been any fighting related injuries.
8) Insurance – it is awful that it has come to this, but our society has become so litigious that you have to make sure you are protected. Pay special attention to both insurance for your dog and thier health AND what protects you if your dog is part of a situation causing bodily harm. To either a human or other guest.
Whether you find a friend, family member or are referred to a house sitter, pet sitter, in home boarding opportunity or go for the security, safety and personal attention of a dog hotel: How your dog will spend their vacation apart from you is a personal decision.
Good Luck researching and Bon voyage !
Next article we will look at how to choose a good boarding kennel.
……Jenn Dahinten has been involved in health and pet care for over 20 years and is currently a part of the caring team at The Royal Pets Hotel & Spa, a 5 star Pet Hotel just north of Toronto in Barrie, Ontario