The end of the year is always a reflective time for us, as it marks the end of another year of full time house and pet sitting. We’ve been on the road as nomadic pet sitters for five years, completing over 100 house sits, and caring for a wide range of animals including donkeys, alpacas, snakes and peacocks! Our lifestyle is a smooth-running machine at this point, though it wasn’t always that way (see our post on 3 mistakes we made when we first began house sitting). Back in January 2018, we arrived at our first house sit and had no idea what questions we needed to ask. For our first handful of house sits, we let the owners tell us what they thought we needed to know, not thinking we could ask questions of our own to suit our needs. With so many house sits under our belts, we now have our own checklist of questions to ask pet owners to ensure we have all the information we could possibly need, meaning we don’t have to disturb our clients with little questions while they’re away! We ask some of these questions before booking into every sit we do, while other questions can wait until we arrive. Here’s a run through of the kind of questions we ask pet owners:

Where are you travelling?

This might not seem relevant, after all you’re going to be focusing on what’s happening without the owner, not with them! However, it’s always good to know if an owner will be just an hour away for their trip, or if they’ll be in a completely different country. If they’re abroad, you may have to factor in flight delays on the last day of the sit, or if there will be a time difference in case you need to contact the owner in an emergency. It’s also just nice to be nice, and take an interest in where your client is going! Other practical questions include asking what time the owner would like us to arrive on day one, and what time they’ll return home on the final day of the sit, so we can pack up our belongings in good time and make plans for our onward journey.

Have you had house sitters before?

This one isn’t a deal breaker, but it helps us to understand how much experience a pet owner has with leaving their pets and home in someone else’s hands. Sometimes we’re the latest in a long line of sitters, and the process is second nature to the owner. Other times, owners have never used a sitter before and need more guidance through the process and what to expect. If a nervous dog has only ever been cared for by family, that’s something we like to know so we’re prepared to take things slowly and ease the pet into us being in their home.

What are the pets like?

This is an umbrella question for anything involving a pet’s temperament, for example; What breed is your dog? What age are your pets? Do they require medication or special care? If there are multiple pets sharing the home, do they get along with each other? All of these questions help you to get a better picture of what the animals in your care will be like, and what your experience will be during the sit. We find that we ask the most questions for dogs, as they are the house pets that require the most attention, which leads us to…

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What is your routine with the pets?

Most of the time, questions relating to feeding times, food quantities, and where items like dog leads and poo bags are kept can wait until we arrive at the sit so the owners can run us through these while we’re there – especially if the sit is at a smallholding with a more structure or involved routine. But for dog care, we always ask how long the dogs are walked every day, where they usually walk, and if they can go off-lead or whether we should keep them on-lead for our stay. It’s vital to ask if dogs are friendly towards other dogs, and we usually ask if the dogs travel well in the car in case we’d like to take them further afield for walkies. If the dogs can be let off-lead, we ask if they have good recall, and if they know any particular commands.

We have extensive dog care experience at this point, having cared for almost 150 dogs at the time of writing, so these days just knowing the age and breed of a dog gives us a lot of information. If we’re caring for a puppy, we ask if they are toilet-trained, if there’s any training the owner would like us to continue while they’re away, and if there’s any particular treats or toys they respond to.

Where are the pets allowed in the house?

For house pets, this is an important question! Whether it’s a pristine cream-coloured living room or crisp white sheets in the bedroom, some owners like to limit where pets can roam in the house. Even if the pets seem comfortable in all rooms, it’s still a good idea to ask the owner what is ok. We also ask if pets can be left alone, and if so how long for, and if they need containing in a certain room or area of the house while we’re out (though usually the only time both of us are out is if we’re at the supermarket or a Park Run!) We ask similar questions in relation to bedtime too – do the pets get shut in a certain room, are they used to sleeping on our bed? This is normally a good time to ask if dogs need to go out for a last wee before bed too, to save you from being woken up in the night!

Questions for your arrival on sit:

After years of cleaning up puppy accidents and Googling rubbish bin collection days, these are things we have dedicated related questions for now! Here’s a quick list of things to ask upon your arrival to the house sit:

  • Contact details for the owners and someone else you can contact in case of emergency
  • Would the owner like updates and/or photos while they’re away? (This is worth checking, in case they will be at an event where they’d rather not be disturbed)
  • Where cleaning products are kept (for generally tidying the house, or cleaning up any puppy puddles…)
  • Seasonal items, depending on the time of year e.g. Pet towels for washing and drying muddy paws in winter, or water bottles and bowls for sunny walks in the summer
  • The WiFi code!
  • Any codes for security alarms or key lockboxes that we’ll be expected to use while we’re at the sit
  • A house key (honestly, we chased owners down the driveway a few too many times in the beginning for us to forget this one again!!)
  • Rubbish bin and recycling collection days and which boxes/bins to use

This may seem like a lot of questions, but the more information we have, the less we’ll have to disturb an owner while they’re away. It should go without saying that these are just the questions that we’ve found useful to ask over the years, and you should definitely add to this list depending on your needs! If you’ll be driving to the sit and have an awkward vehicle (like our high top van!), it would be a good idea to ask where you can park while on the sit – whether it’s on the street, or on a private driveway, if there’s an archway to drive under or a narrow lane you’ll have to drive down to arrive at the house. If it’s important information that you need to know, don’t be afraid to ask!

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