There are thousands of NYC dog walkers and pet sitters to choose from. And since you are hiring someone to come into your home unsupervised to take care of a precious pet, it’s important to pick someone who has good dog walking credentials and whom you feel very comfortable with. Here’s a few pointers to help you in your search.
- Do your research. It’s tempting to go with whomever has the prettiest website or the most features and gimmicks, but at the end of the day the most important questions to ask are: is this person trustworthy? Are they with a long established company with a good reputation?
- Make preliminary inquiries. When you find a dog walking service you like the look of, it’s a good idea to make sure they are a good match for you in terms of rates, policies and availability before going any further. Check dog walking rates on their website and be sure you understand exactly how much they charge and what their policies are for things like cancellations, scheduling flexibility and holidays. Be sure you’re on the same page regarding things like surcharges or extra charges for multiple pets. Make sure that they have availability in your neighborhood at the times you need and that they have an opening to take on an extra client (you may go through 2 or 3 companies before you find one with availability at the times you request).
- Schedule a meet and greet. It’s one thing to read online reviews and read a company’s promotional blurb. Ultimately, you’re going to want to meet the walker or sitter in person and use your instinct. What kind of personality do they have? Do they give off a friendly “vibe”? How do your pets respond to them? How do they respond to your pets? Do they seem like they have an affinity with animals? Do they seem like someone who is going to be easy to communicate with? Do they know what to do in an emergency? The meet and greet is generally done at your home with your pet(s) present. Spend some time preparing a list of questions and/or discussion topics. Ask the sitter about their prior experience with animals, whether they own their own animals, if they’re familiar with your pet’s breed. If your dog is a puppy, do they have prior puppy experience? If your pet has special requirements, medical or otherwise, make sure you bring them up during the meeting so that you can be sure that your sitter is capable of meeting those requirements.
- Ask for references. Getting an impression of the dog walker or sitter in person is essential. But it’s still not the full story – you need to know about other people’s experience with this person. Don’t be afraid to ask the sitter or the company they’re with for references from prior or current clients. If they’re reputable, they’ll generally give you 2 or 3 numbers to call or addresses to email. Don’t be worried if they say they’ll “get back to you” with the references – they’ll generally have to ask formal permission from the references to give out their contact details, so you might have to wait a day or so while references respond to the request. When you call a reference, make sure you have the questions you want to ask written down so that you don’t forget anything.
- Make sure they have been through a background check. This is one good reason to go with an established, reputable company over an independent walker whose ad you saw on Craigslist, etc. A reputable dog walking company has strict hiring policies, including a check for criminal history.
- Make sure they are insured & bonded. This should be standard with any contractor who has permission to come into your home, but especially so for service providers who are entrusted to look after your pets. King Pup is insured and bonded with the Business Insurers of The Carolinas, through the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS).
- Don’t be afraid to take your time. Choosing a dog walker or pet sitter is a highly personal thing so don’t worry if you need a little more time to decide, or if you plan to interview more than one service provider. If you do plan to interview multiple candidates however, it’s always a good idea to let everyone know that they’re not the only one in the running!
So what’s next?
You’ve chosen a company you like and interviewed the walker and everything seems great. You’re clear on and happy with the offered rates, and everyone’s on the same page regarding schedules, times and policies. So how do we start?
- Make sure all paperwork is filled out. Companies vary in the amount of paperwork and formalities required to begin services. At the very least, however, you should be offered some terms and conditions to read and sign. These generally outline such things as giving permission to come into your home and provide services, liability agreements and cancellation policies. You may also be required to provide proof that your dog is fully vaccinated. King Pup has an online client portal which can only be accessed through initially agreeing to our terms and conditions – other companies may have a physical contract that must be signed. Independent walkers do not generally have formal terms and conditions.
- Fill out a pet profile for you and your pet. A reputable company will keep a full profile of your pet in their database. In our client portal you will have access to a full profile for both you and your pet(s). Here you can fill out all of your contact details as well as full information for your pet, including emergency numbers and your pet’s vet details. If your dog walker or pet sitter does not require this information then they are not reputable!
- Make sure everyone is on the same page with schedules and dates. You should make absolutely clear, in the meet and greet and in any subsequent written communication, what days you require service and the start/end dates of service. Companies vary in the systems and methods they use to record and maintain client schedules – King Pup, for example, has an online client portal in which the pet owner can check the times and dates of their upcoming visits. If there is no online portal and you are required to keep your own scheduling calendar, then the potential for errors and misunderstandings increases considerably.
- Make sure your sitter has formal access to your apartment. If you don’t have a doorman, this is going to involve giving your sitter a key. If you require emergency backup in case your primary sitter can’t make it, this may involve giving an extra spare key to be kept in the company’s office. We have a key tracking system and employees keep their keys in a lock box overnight. We never label your keys with your name or address, and we have a key tracking system so that the location of every key is known at all times. If you have a doorman, things are generally a little easier – the sitter can pick up a key from the front desk every day (provided your building management is OK with this). Organizing access with your building management generally involves having the name of the sitter and/or the company they work for added to your apartment access permissions on the building’s computer system. Be doubly sure that your management is on the same page with you regarding access before the sitter’s first visit.
- Ensure that the sitter has everything they need. Firstly you should make sure that your dog’s leash, collar and/or harness are in good condition. Your leash should have no tears, and the collar and harness should be tight enough so that your dog cannot wriggle out of them under any circumstances. Also make sure that any jackets or sweaters you wish your dog to wear are visible to the sitter. Usually this entails leaving notes on days in which you require them to wear clothing (with King Pup you have an online conversation feed with your sitter on which you can communicate information like this). If you wish your sitter to treat your dog during or after the walk, make sure they have this information in your pet’s profile and that you leave the treats out for them.
- Make sure you’re aware of payment methods and requirements. We take it for granted that everything can be paid online with a card nowadays, but there are still dog walkers out there who only accept cash, or sometimes only cash or checks. Make sure that you’re both on the same page regarding payment so that there’s no confusion when it comes to paying your bills. King Pup accepts payment online through our client portal – you have access to all of your invoices and can pay them with one click using a credit card, debit card or ACH bank payment. Next, be sure that you know how often your dog walker needs to be paid. Most will invoice weekly, but some are more liberal than others when it comes to how often those invoices need to be paid. Some companies offer a monthly payment cycle too.
- Be aware of your walker’s scheduling limitations. It’s worth being aware of the fact that your dog walker or sitter usually has a full schedule from day to day, so once they have locked you into a time slot, it’s not always possible to change this time on spec. Generally they’ll always do it if they can, but there may be times you request a time change only to find that your walker cannot fulfill it due to existing scheduling commitments. If you feel like you’ll need to change the time often, it’s a good idea to get this out in the meet and greet so that the walker can let you know how flexible they are with their schedule.
And that’s all there is to it! Choosing a dog walker or pet sitter in NYC can be a stressful or daunting process, but if you take your time and ask the right questions, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up with someone who both you and your pets are comfortable and happy with, either for a short term or long term arrangement.
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