Ask the Pet Expert | Finding a good pet sitter

I'm trying to find a private pet sitter to watch my dog while we're on vacation this summer. They all sound great from their ads. What should I look for to be sure the person watching my pet will be responsible while I'm gone? Any hints on finding the perfect pet sitter?

It's hard to leave our precious pets behind, but useless worry is a quick way to ruin a vacation. Obviously, trustworthy recommendations are helpful, but if they don't match your special needs, it can be intimidating to find new help.  

Like dog training, the pet sitting industry isn't regulated, so even if a professional has certifications, he or she might not be the right fit.  On the other hand, your neighbor up the street might not fit the bill either. Just loving dogs isn't enough — you want someone who will treat your dog as well as you do and be able to safely and responsibly handle any emergencies that may arise, especially if you have multiple animals or special issues.  

Knowledge of pet first aid is a must. Interview potential sitters and find out how they have handled difficult emergencies in the past, and talk them through various tasks you'll need done while you're away.  Be sure to specify what tools and equipment you find acceptable, set clear guidelines about where your pets can go off your property, and make it clear that you will not accept improvisation. Schedule practice meetings with your pets so they can be comfortable with this new person, and make sure it's someone your pet is truly comfortable with. Does your dog avoid the person or look uncomfortable when her or she is around? He's telling you this isn't someone he's ready to accept as a caretaker, and you should keep looking. 

This week's expert is Amie Glasgow, head trainer and behavior consultant at the Maryland SPCA. Send your questions to sun.unleashed@gmail.com.