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10 “Must do’s” when running an ethical pet sitting business
- Turn up when you say you will. Timekeeping is really important to clients. Unforeseen circumstances occasionally mean that you will be late in providing a service, but this should be the absolute exception, rather than the norm. Timekeeping should be a high priority in your day to day schedule; that way you’ll be forgiven for the odd occasion when a car breaks down or some random occurrence makes you late. An ethical pet sitting business will aim to deliver the service requested at the time specified.
- Do what you are paid to do. If you offer day care, someone is paying you so that their dog isn’t left alone during the hours that they are at work. If they didn’t mind their dog being left alone, presumably they would book a midday walk instead. The expectation for dogs in day care is that you give them your company for by far the majority – if not all – of the day. Home boarding is similar; if the client wasn’t concerned about their dog having human company and comfort, they would likely choose the cheaper option of a kennel. Most licences allow for a 3 hour gap in care for each 24 hour period. This is reasonable to allow for shopping, walking other dogs etc., or a social event. It’s equally important that the dog has access to you and/or your family in the home. Boarded dogs shouldn’t be shut away, left outside unsupervised, or crated for long periods (if they have come with a crate for night time use). If you can’t commit to this level of care, don’t choose home boarding as the model for your company, or contract these services out to other people.
- Always keep your sights on what the dogs in your care want and need. This should be a high priority as part of providing an ethical pet sitting service. Educate yourself to know how to spot a dog who is uncomfortable, who is using calming signals, who is scared, who is trying to fake bravery, who is ‘tuned out’, or worse, shut down. A dog’s natural state is one of easy interaction with humanity. If that’s not what you are seeing, take a moment to work out why. Many dogs will find the first day and night in a boarding home uncomfortable. They may be anxious, fearful or confused. They’ve just lost most of what’s familiar to them, but with your calm kindness and reassurance they will almost certainly wake up the next morning with a cheerful and accepting attitude.
- If you can’t cover a dog’s care, find another suitable alternative. If you are walking the dog, you need someone who is over 16 and understands the issues and needs a dog might have while out in the wider world. Most pet business insurance doesn’t name who is insured (beyond the owner of the business), rather, a certain number of people working at any one time. But if you work alone, do make sure you insure for at least one other person, so that your partner/friend or another, can step in if it’s needed, and not leave you uninsured. If they can’t cover their day care or boarding commitments, an ethical pet sitting business owner, will make sure that the person they ask to step in, is licensed and insured to do so. If you leave a dog with a relative in an unlicensed premises and something goes wrong, you don’t have a legal leg to stand on. If you need to leave the dogs alone for more than the three hours maximum set by the licence conditions, pay a responsible person to ‘babysit’ them in your own (licensed) home. Again, if you’ve added one unnamed co-worker to your insurance you will still be covered.
- Always remain on the right side of the law with respect to your dog care. An ethical pet sitting business doesn’t break the law – even if they don’t agree with it in principle. This means everything from being licenced and insured, to only taking dogs who are microchipped and making sure that all dogs are walked with their own (or a company) ID tag on their collar or harness. Picking up all dog faeces is another absolute must. There’s a summary of UK dog-related law in the free resources section, and I’ll be updating that with a blog post soon.
- Don’t put the dogs in your care at risk. This is as much about education, as it is about taking care. Obvious “no-no’s” are leaving chocolate, grapes or raisins around, having poisonous plants in the house or garden, tying a dog up outside a shop, leaving a dog in a hot car or leaving them unsupervised outside. There’s a shocking video on Facebook that shows two men scaling a 6 foot wall, noosing two dogs and then dragging them back over the wall by their necks. The dogs are large breeds and still, it’s all over in seconds, as the dogs are driven off in a van. Don’t ever be complacent. Other, perhaps less obvious risks, include, feeding unfamiliar dogs in the same room, walking along a roadside with an unlocked (some might say any, because of the failure rate) Flexi lead and allowing dogs to swim in deep, rapidly flowing or tidal water.
- Give the full time that has been purchased. Part of ethical pet sitting is staying for the required length of time. One of the most complained about factors that causes a client to switch companies is finding out the walker or sitter isn’t staying for the full time. Since these services are direct “money for time” transactions, it is essential that you keep good time and don’t allow visits to be cut short. If this ever becomes inevitable, an ethical response is to tell the client what has happened and why, and then assure them of either money back or extra time for the next visit.
- Use kind, non-coercive equipment and the right equipment to remain in full control. Just because a dog is dropped at your house with a choke chain or a head collar, doesn’t mean that you have to use it to walk the dog. For many prospective clients, whom you might meet out walking, your business’ reputation stands or falls over such things. Invest in a selection of sizes of a versatile balance harness, such as the Mekuti brand and use these routinely. I decided pretty early on that I wasn’t willing to walk pulling dogs on their collars – for their sake – nor was I willing to walk pulling dogs on a standard back-attachment-only harness, for my sake. If there is one piece of equipment that I actually couldn’t do without in providing our dog care service, it would be my Mekuti harnesses. They are used every day and many of our clients also have them now. The beauty is that you can help a dog to learn to walk calmly and comfortably, rather than just physically restraining them in the way that some other equipment does.
- Follow through on your promises. If you tell a client at booking, that their Bichon can sleep on your bed, or you will walk their dog for an hour, three times a day, then you should provide this level of care, if it’s humanly possible. Obviously, if the Bichon wees on your bedroom carpet on the first night, you may wish to revise the sleeping arrangement, but be creative in aiming to fulfill what you promised. Puppy pads or large towels might be a better (more ethical) option, than banishing the little one to solitary confinement in the kitchen. I’ve done everything, from sleeping on the sofa with a dog (to give them company downstairs), to giving over an old shaggy bathmat to become a washable indoor ‘toilet’ for a dog who just couldn’t resist christening it whenever she slept upstairs.
- Work as though you are being watched and you won’t go far wrong. I learned this when nursing – to always act in the same way as you would if a relative – or an assessor- was in the room. That way, you will maintain a professional attitude at all times and eventually this will be a habit. This doesn’t mean you can’t fool around with the dogs, or be stern with them if the situation merits it; just that you are consistent in all that you do, regardless of who is watching. Some clients have webcams or nosy (I mean, helpful) neighbours, so if you always work as though you are being watched, sometimes you will be right!