What You Need to Know Before Becoming a Pet Sitter

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been having a conversation, the topic of my job comes up, and I hear this same comment: “Oh, wow! You’re a pet sitter? That’s so cool! So basically, you play with puppies and kittens, sit on your butt, and watch TV all day!” I always respond by saying that there’s a little bit more that goes into being a pet sitter than that. Being a pet sitter is such an amazing, rewarding, exciting job, but it also comes with its challenges and downfalls, just like any other line of work. There is a common misconception that being a pet sitter is all rainbows and butterflies and that it’s not hard work. There are a lot of aspects of pet care that perhaps people don’t think about. I’m going to share a few challenges people should know about before they consider becoming a pet sitter.

Dog walking in the snow, rain, heat, and gloom of night

It doesn’t matter what the weather is outside; dogs still need to do their duty. Weather conditions can be fickle. Those of you who are North Carolina natives like me can attest to that fact. During our winter, it could be sixty degrees and sunny one day, fifteen degrees and raining the next. In any case, Luna is going to look at you with her huge brown eyes and paw at your leg, giving you those classic signs that she needs to go potty. And not all people have backyards that you can simply take dogs out to potty in. Some dogs won’t even poop in their backyards. Even still, some dogs won’t go potty right away when you take them out for a quick walk. They may be finicky poopers, spending thirty minutes plus trying to decide where to place their precious poops. Sometimes you may have to walk in pouring rain and wind while gently encouraging Max to choose a spot to potty.

Just the other day, I walked a client’s pup in the evening during a wind advisory. Not only was it sixteen degrees with a high wind chill, but the kind of wind gusts ripping through the air was the kind that take your breath away. I had to keep that walk super short for fear of either me or the pup getting hit with a random object or turning into ice pops. On the other end of the spectrum, you sometimes need to walk dogs during heat advisories. Walking a dog in the middle of the day during a heat advisory is not ideal but sometimes that’s the desired potty break time for clients who are away at work. I keep walks like that super short and I make sure to stay in the shade as much as possible and I try to keep to grassy areas, away from hot asphalt.

Sometimes you will also need to dog walk at night, which can be unnerving. Being aware of your surroundings is a must. Even though you may enjoy listening to music while dog walking as I do, it’s best to put the earbuds away for nighttime walks just so you have all your senses attuned to what’s going on around you.


Dealing with not-so-pleasant sights and smells

Being a pet sitter isn’t the best job for people with weak stomachs. It doesn’t just entail picking up poop while on walks. There will be instances where dogs may have accidents inside the house, especially if the dog in your care is still a puppy. And those accidents are not always going to be related to housetraining mishaps. In some cases, the dog in your care may get an upset stomach. And you know what that means: diarrhea and vomit. There was an elderly Bernese Mountain dog mix I used to watch who had regular tummy problems. One night, I was jolted awake by the pungent scent of doo-doo wafting up my nostrils. The smell was so bad it pulled me out of my REM cycle. That lovely mess was deposited on an area rug outside the bedroom, so thankfully I was able to take the rug outside to clean it. But whew! The scent of diarrhea in an enclosed space is enough to make anyone gag.

Oh, and if you also take care of cats, expect to also clean up cat vomit! In all, it’s lovely shades and consistencies. You may also get the pleasure of taking care of a dog whose favorite snack is a nice, warm poop. I watched a beagle (the cutie pictured below) who would turn his head around as his poop came out to try to eat it as soon as it exited his butt before I could get to him to stop him. I would follow him closely around the backyard to keep him from being successful with his mission.


Balancing your personal life with pet sitting

Becoming your client’s go-to pet sitter is an honor. Knowing that your client prefers you over all the other sitters in your area is a wonderful feeling. But with that comes the pressure of being available as often as possible for them. This pressure is felt even more when, like me, you take on a lot of clients who have pets who are very particular when it comes to strangers, some of whom exhibit fear-based aggression. I’ve had instances where a client tried to hire a backup sitter for when I couldn’t be available, and their dog didn’t warm up to the new sitter. When instances like that happen, it’s very natural to feel a strong sense of obligation to be available every time those clients want to travel. But being able to say no is very important for multiple reasons.

Overworking yourself is never good, but I feel like caregivers need to be extra careful to avoid burnout. When you’re taking care of other living beings, you want to be able to give your best. You want to be well-rested, so you can measure medicine correctly and administer the right doses. You want to be alert and attentive to the needs of the pets in your care. If you’re tired and overworked, it’s easier to miss important details or make careless mistakes such as feeding your pets the wrong food or forgetting to clean litter boxes.

Making time to spend time with family and friends is also important. Full-time pet sitting can be very isolating. Spending a lot of time with animals is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes it’s nice (and healthy) to talk to other humans!

Sometimes you may need to take a break after caring for more challenging pets, such as dogs who lack training and boundaries. Some clients have large dogs, some weighing over 100 lbs., who don’t have proper leash training and will pull hard while on walks. Some may even have a high prey drive and bolt after squirrels or birds. I’ve strained muscles before and even fallen while walking dogs like these.

Walking reactive dogs is especially challenging. You must always remain hyper-aware of your surroundings so that you can avoid the dog’s triggers if possible. Some reactive dogs bark and lunge at other dogs and people, while others bark and lunge at cars and trucks driving by. You’re responsible for not only your own and the dog’s safety and well-being but also for the safety and well-being of the other people and dogs in your proximity.

Puppies require a lot of potty breaks. Accidents in the house are inevitable during that time. They possess hyper crackhead energy and need plenty of playtime. Some are in the process of crate training and will cry if placed in their crate for downtime.

Some dogs you care for may have separation anxiety or high anxiety in general. I’ve had bookings with high-anxiety dogs who whined a lot throughout the day, and once the booking was over, I heard phantom whining for a day or two afterward. There is a phenomenon that some moms experience called, “phantom crying.” This occurrence is when a mom can hear a baby or a young child crying even if they are sleeping or aren’t in the same room with her. According to an article from moms.com, it’s not uncommon for moms to hear phantom crying. In that article, Megan Gray, MD, OBGYN with Orlando Health Physician Associates explained that phantom cries are caused by the maternal brain being extremely stimulated by the sound of the baby crying, which in turn causes the brain to have an increased perception of sound. High-pitched dog cries must trigger that same response!

Taking care of dogs can sometimes feel like you’re taking care of actual children. It can be very demanding both mentally and physically. Taking breaks from pet care is very important so you can remain at your best for your clients and their pets!

Establishing Healthy Boundaries with Clients

Being a pet sitter has taught me a lot about the importance of being able to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. It has also helped me to get better at saying that glorious word, “no.” I’m a recovering people-pleaser. I used to have an extremely difficult time saying no. I still struggle with it from time to time or feel guilty when I do, but I’ve gotten a lot better at saying this because I learned throughout my pet care journey that if you say yes to every client’s wish, you’re going to run yourself ragged. You may even start to resent clients whose wishes you acquiesced to.

A good example of a boundary you need to set would be whether you discount your services when a client asks you to. And yes, that is bound to happen. You will have to decide early on if you’re comfortable with offering discounts or not.

There is also a type of client you may encounter that is what we in the industry call a “helicopter pet parent.” Now, there’s a spectrum for this kind of pet parent, but the most extreme I’ve dealt with was the kind of client who would go so far as to text me at twelve in the morning asking how their dog is doing even though I sent them an evening update already. There are a few ways to handle situations like that. You can let them know what your operating hours are and that you will not be responding to messages outside of those hours, you can provide them with a specific update schedule so they will know exactly what to expect, or you can simply ignore messages you receive during hours that are unreasonable for you. No matter how you choose to handle it, you must make sure that whatever boundary you create, you stick to it.

Another area where you may need to set boundaries in place is client expectations. Some clients may ask you to perform tasks that are either outside your comfort level or downright unreasonable. I’ve heard of instances where clients have asked sitters to do their grocery shopping for them, clean their homes, or clean up all the dog waste that had already accumulated in their yards before their booking took place. I’ve even heard a story from a sitter whose client asked them to not only watch their dog but also check on their child with special needs. Some clients may feel entitled to more than just your pet care services, so you’ll have to be able to say no when their demands and expectations don’t align with the services you offer.


These are just a few things I feel people should know before they consider becoming a pet sitter. It’s a lot of hard work, but it is such a rewarding and fulfilling job! Getting to take care of people’s pets is such a privilege and an honor. Even when you have struggles or hard days, the appreciation from not only the clients but from the pets as well makes it all worthwhile.