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How to Be the Best Pet-Sitter Ever

Introducing the first story in The GOOD Guide to Making the World Better for Pets (Even If You Don't Own One). This five part series, brought to...

Introducing the first story in The GOOD Guide to Making the World Better for Pets (Even If You Don't Own One) . This five part series, brought to you by GOOD in partnership with Purina ONE®, explores how we can all share the benefits of having pets in our lives. Check out more stories at GOOD Pets.

Not currently a dog owner but want to moonlight as one part-time? Pet-sitting is a great way to experience the perks of animal companionship without the long-term commitment. But it’s not just about games of fetch and filling the chow bowl. To be truly trustworthy, you’ll need to do your homework.

“Being a pet sitter is more than kissing the kitties and loving the puppies,” says Sherry Suhosky, president of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, a national nonprofit trade association focused on educating pet sitters and helping them expand their services. “To be successful, you have to tend to the business side of things.”

First, get some training under your belt. Along with studying animal behavior and obedience, Suhosky recommends that pet sitters take courses in pet CPR and first aid. “Being able to distinguish signs of distress and knowing when it’s time to get that pet to the vet or nearest animal hospital is key,” she says. When meeting a new client, Suhosky makes sure that the animal has current vaccination tags, a carrier, and two weeks worth of medication, food, and bottled water in case of a weather emergency.

That first “meet and greet” is also crucial for establishing a bond between the sitter and the animal. “One of the key lessons I’ve learned is to let the dog or cat come to you,” says Erica Brooks, an art director based in Phoenix, Arizona, who has been pet-sitting on the side for about eight years. “I never force it or take it personally if he doesn’t immediately take to me.” Brooks also makes sure to gather all the info she can about the dog’s personality and routine during these first meetings. “I have a questionnaire I have clients fill out that covers the feeding and exercise schedule as well as medications needed. I also ask about no-nos and habits: Are they allowed on the furniture? Do they have access to a doggie door?”

Suhosky and Brooks agree that it’s best to watch pets in their own homes. “Pets are accustomed to the smells, sights, sounds, and temperatures of their own place,” says Suhosky. “This is especially helpful for senior animals. Bringing them to [an unfamiliar] house can cause stress.”

But even if they are at home, separation or stranger anxiety might kick in after their owners leave. “The trick is to give each animal lots of love and attention to make them feel safe and happy,” Suhosky says. “I find that exercise is always helpful—whether it’s going for a walk together or just playing with toys. DogTV or a good radio station can also be calming. If I’m watching a shy cat, I’ll try reading something aloud. Many of them eventually wind up climbing into my lap! When that happens, I know that a connection has been made, and I’m giving them comfort.”

For Brooks, that warm and fuzzy feeling goes both ways. “Nothing beats being walking through the door and being greeted by a wagging tail,” she says.

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