Visualize your worst pet sitting nightmare and tell yourself, never in a million years. You don’t have to settle for less. Affordability, reliability, congeniality. It sounds like a superstar pet sitter, your ideal go-to on those seemingly too many days you spend away from home building your empire.  How do you go about finding that ideal pet sitter? What do you need to know before choosing a doggie daycare?

If you’re a first-time pet owner and returning to work in the wake of COVID-19, this article is for you. You can be choosey about who babysits your pooch. Don’t just settle for what seems the most affordable. Let’s dive into this self-help guide and learn about the many avenues at your disposal for finding that perfect sitter.

I Bought a Dog for the First Time: Now What?

Aside from the rudimentary commitments, if you plan on returning to work and leaving your dog (or pup) alone, you need a pet sitter. Dog adoptions may have increased under COVID-19, but now you find yourself heading back to work without a game plan for dog watching in your absence. If you are utterly convinced that you can neither afford nor have the time or ability to care for your adoptee, you should reconsider your decision. It is a risky game to leave a dog unattended for long hours at home alone, especially if you are a new owner. Your newest member of the family needs your attention and an organized, structured, and stable environment.

If you’re up for the challenge, however, this self-starts guide will give you everything you need to find a compatible dog sitter. It’s important to understand that this is a major commitment on your part. If you don’t want a pet sitter, there are plenty of other options. You need to understand the ins and outs of doggie daycares, obedience schools, and private pet sitters located in your own neighborhood. A well-informed choice is a choice you won’t regret.

Photo by Cottonbro on Pexels
Photo by Cottonbro on Pexels

Know Thy Self, Know Thy Dog, Then Know Thy Pet Sitter

There are several questions you need to ask yourself before you pick a dog sitter or a dog care agency:

  1. What kind of personality does my dog have?

2.     Is my dog socialized enough to spend a day or night away from home?

3.     What do I want in a pet sitter?

4.     Will my dog’s individual emotional or health needs be prioritized away from home?

5.     How will my dog respond to being away from me for hours on end?

6.     Do I want my dog to interact with other dogs or remain isolated?

7.     Which is the best option for me: doggy daycare, a private pet sitter, or obedience classes?

8.     Should affordability be the ultimate determining factor in my decision?

Asking yourself these questions will not only help you better understand your pet’s temperament and needs but will give you something to shoot for. Now you know what you are looking for in a pet sitter and which things matter the most given your dog’s level of socialization, age, and health status. If your dog has special needs (PTSD, diabetes, aggressiveness, pancreatic issues), consider these before selecting a caretaker.

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Know the Difference Between a Reputable and Iffy Dog Sitter

You can choose a private pet sitter, but beware! You need to know about the person, their mode of operation, and check out their facilities before making a decision. An iffy dog sitter may not have the proper certification. When choosing to leave a pet with a neighbor or friend, make sure they understand your dog’s needs and temperament, especially if they are keeping other pets. A reputable dog sitter should be certified through an agency such as the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, Pet Sitters International, or at least obtain a certificate through a crediting organization such as International Open Academy.

You can also use the web or apps to search for “pet sitters near me.” Make sure to check their credentials, positive and negative customer reviews, and any complaints to the BBB, if applicable. You can get a feel for a pet sitter’s style by reading reviews on Yelp, Google reviews, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Tread carefully if you run across a pet sitter who has no social media, customer reviews or lacks clear guidelines and pricing.

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What to Look for: Identifying a Reliable Dog Sitter

Keep in mind that positive reviews must be taken with a grain of salt. The reviews could be purchased or written by a friend for the sitter. Use rover.com to find customer reviews that include “verified stay,” the number of repeat clients, or for sitters who have different levels of certification, including verified background checks or the Rover 101 merit badge. You shouldn’t sacrifice professionalism and safety for affordability. Your dog’s health and safety is your number one priority in your absence.

Here are a few things to consider before choosing a prospective dog sitter:

• Make sure the sitter has references or is able to provide you with the phone numbers of previous clients. Contact 2-3 references asking questions relating to the environment, past complaints, and whether or not the sitter needs access to your home.

• Ensure that the sitter, kennel, or daycare company is insured for accidents (liability insurance), bonded (in case of theft), able to provide background checks, and personal credentials or business licenses.

• Make sure that the business or pet sitter has a contract covering emergencies, contact forms, cancellation fees, payment terms, backup plans, procedures during inclement weather, etc.

• Check the prospective sitter’s website for emergency contact information, seven-day per week availability, e-mail, and social media.

• Whether the pet sitter will be able to contact your vet in an emergency or whether they are associated with another veterinarian.

• An alternative plan should the sitter suddenly become ill or incapacitated.

• What services the sitter offers: grooming, in-home sitting, dog walking, obedience training, playtime, kennels, or outdoor activities.

• How does the sitter plan to address your dog’s emotional or health concerns?

• Does the facility require proof of vaccinations and medical history?

• Does the pet sitter have an assistant? Can they provide you with the assistant’s contact information?

• Does the sitter offer in-home consultations, or must they meet with you and your dog at the facility?

This is not a comprehensive list but it will give you a pretty good idea of what to look for. You may have preferences that influence your decision as well. For example, is there a certified medical worker on staff? Is the sitter trained in Pet CPR or First Aid? This is not necessary but an added bonus if your dog is a senior or has specific health issues or dietary needs.

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Choosing the Most Cost-Effective Service: Affordability and Pricing

Now that you have a good grip on what your ideal sitter looks like let’s talk pricing and availability. The cost of dog sitting will depend on whether you choose in-house or at-facility, how long your dog will stay over, and incidental fees. There are a variety of ways to go about boarding your dog. The most popular sitting services include boarding (overnight) at a kennel, house-sitting services (the dog goes to the sitter’s house or the sitter comes to your house), doggy daycare (daytime pet care in-house or at a facility), and drop-ins or sporadic drop-offs for a few hours or a day depending on your needs and schedule.

Check out the numerous websites that help you search for a sitter, such as dogvacay.com and care.com. Costs will vary by facility, add-on services, and location.

Here are some of the average costs of boarding your dog at a facility, daycare, or the vet:

• $40 per night
• $150+ weekly
• $500 monthly

These numbers represent national estimates. Other factors will either increase or decrease the final cost. If you book your dog at a luxury hotel or spa, the cost will increase to $55-$95 per night or $950-$2,600 per month. It is much cheaper to board a dog by day or half-days at a daycare, kennel, or in-house. This does not reflect potential discounts, package deals, or discounted rates for boarding multiple pets.

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Facility or Not Facility: Where to Board Your Fur Baby

Dog kennels offer 24/7 care for your dog, surveillance, playtime, meals, daily walks, crating, and potential dog-walking services (likely for an added fee). However, keep in mind that while this might be the most cost-effective option, your dog needs to feel comfortable here and the facility certified.

Doggy hotels/spas are the most expensive boarding option, but if you can afford it, the facilities may include bathing, grooming, spa services, suites, a swimming pool, live webcams, gourmet food, play spaces, and photoshoots of your pooch!

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If you only want someone to watch your dog while you are at work, you should consider doggy daycare or, if your dog can behave on its own, dog sitting ($25 for a 30-minute visit by the sitter at your home). It is the cheapest alternative (averaging $18-$29 per day, and your dog doesn’t have to stay overnight. If you want your dog to board overnight at the sitter’s house, this may average $70 per night. These options give you the comfort of knowing your dog is safe at home (a good option for dogs with aggressive behavior or PTSD issues) in a familiar and structured environment.

You may also consider boarding your pooch at a hospital or vet, but this costs slightly more than in-house or facility services averaging $35-$45 a night (or up to $55 if your dog has medical or emotional issues). This is a good option if you want the security of medical supervision, experienced animal handlers, and staff that you are familiar with and trust to care for your pet. Whether you want to board your dog in-house, at a kennel, or at the vet, the choice is yours! You can choose the most cost-effective service or the one you feel most comfortable with.

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Dog Sitters vs. Boarding Facilities: Additional Fees and Costs

Depending on where you choose to board your dog you may incur additional charges:

• Flea treatment: only if you do not have this taken care of before brining the dog to the facility. Check thumbtack for potential costs to defleaing a dog.

• There may be additional costs if your dog is pregnant and requires special handling and isolation.

• Is your dog a senior? Will it require the administering of medication or mobility assistance? There may be a fee. Call or check with the facility or sitter.

• Obedience classes can span anywhere from one month to a year. On average, lessons cost between $1,600 for four weeks or $500-$1000 per week (although sometimes there are package deals for a whole month or year). These classes teach your dog basic manners, potty training, or socialization.

• Grooming: $15 for a basic grooming or $50-$100 for the works or a full groom.

• Other costs include dog walking, feeding (if you don’t bring your own chow), and insurance.

Keep in mind that if you choose to board your dog in-house or with a private sitter there may be other costs not covered by facilities. Check with your sitter to see what options they have available. If you don’t want your dog groomed at a facility work out arrangements with your pet’s groomer or a mobile pet groomer. Additional costs may be more about your preferences and less about necessity.

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What Does My Dog Sitter Need From Me?

Your dog sitter is not the only person who has to be checked out. Even though you are the customer, to a degree, you too must answer to the sitter. There are several things your sitter will need before signing a contract with you.

Review this checklist to ensure you meet all the requirements and give your sitter everything they need to care for your pooch:

• Your pet’s vaccinations, immunizations, medical history, habits, likes and dislikes, behavioral issues, and any dietary restrictions or concerns.

• Whether your dog is pregnant, disabled, or had surgery recently.

• Your dog’s routine: eating, sleeping, walking, playing, intelligence building, or training.

• Emergency or veterinarian contact information and how they can get in contact with you.

• Identification tags.

• Potential hazardous items your dog must avoid.

• If your dog is diabetic or has pancreatic disorders bring their limited ingredient food, ready-made chicken and rice, portioned food bowls, or safe treats.

• Vitamins and supplements or vet prescribed medications or relaxers.

• Provide the dog sitter with your work schedule and ETA.

• Give the sitter your dog’s favorite toys, snacks, bed, blanket, and music.

As a general rule, your dog should be at least four months to board (varying by facility, of course) and must have had the Bordetella, Parvo, Rabies, and Distemper vaccinations. Some facilities require proof that your pooch is free of fleas, heartworms, and parasites. Some facilities may board a dog if it is sick (cold, allergies, etc.) for an added cost. If you want to board a puppy, check with your vet first. Many vets suggest keeping a pup away from other dogs until it has had all its immunizations. If so, in-house or private dog sitters may be a better route for you.

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Reaching an Agreement: Do What Is Best for Your Pet

At the end of the day, only you know what is best for your best. Maybe your pet is shy and would rather stay in-house with a sitter. Or Maybe your pet loves to play with other dogs and would rather board at a daycare. Only you truly know what your dog wants and needs. Your dog’s health and emotional wellbeing should be the determining factors in choosing an ideal pet sitter.


It is essential that you understand what you want in a dog sitter, what is affordable and available, and which caretakers are certified and reliable. If you are returning to work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and want to ensure your pet’s safety in your absence, please make use of this self-help guide if you are unsure what to do. Start from the top, and the rest is toast!