Animal Training and Pet Sitting Module 4

Fundamentals Of Dog Walking And Pet Sitting

Now, more than ever before, dog walkers and pet sitters are in high demand. Pet “parents” are seeking out the best care possible for their “four-legged children”. Sending them to a boarding kennel when they are away is a thing of the past. While boarding kennels are still an option, in-home pet sitters offer a personalized touch to pet care that no one else can provide. Pets that are cared for in their homes are healthier and happier than their counterparts that must travel with the owner or be boarded. This is especially true for cats – as they often do best when there are minimal changes to their environment. Dog walkers are able to provide exercise and toilet breaks for busy dog lovers and can even help some dogs manage their weight!

So you are ready to begin your study to become a professional dog walker or pet sitter. With any type of job or new course of study, it is necessary to have the basics before setting out. The best pet sitters and dog walkers will not only know these fundamentals, but will embody them and use them on a day-to-day basis. They will help you to ‘be prepared’ for the worst while enjoying the company of furry friends.

4.1 Keeping you and all pets safe

4.2 How to handle an attacking dog

4.3 When you’ll need to involve a vet

4.4 Entering and leaving pets homes securely

4.5 What you’re responsible for

4.1 Keeping you and all pets safe

Safety comes first when dog walking and pet sitting. While some of the material covered here is “common sense” – some of it may be counter-intuitive. Dogs don’t always act the way that we expect them to, so being aware of your surroundings and the pet’s body language is key.

Scope out the Home

Most pet owners have already “pet proofed” their house, but not always. It is a good idea to do a quick ‘walk through’ in the areas the pet has access to. A few things to check:

  • Make sure to check and secure
    • Unlocked windows
    • Doors to the outside
    • Rubbish bins
    • Laundry hampers
    • Cupboards accessible to dogs, especially ones containing chemicals and food

The Surrounding Area

While you don’t have to know the area like the back of your hand, be aware of the area and the challenges it might pose. Is it a safe area or does it have a high crime rate? Are the parking areas secure or is parking available?  Are the sidewalks in good condition for walking dogs? If your client lives in a questionable area, be alert and carry a cell phone with you in case of emergency. Some people are more comfortable with pepper spray or “dog attack mace” when in certain areas alone.


Crates are wonderful tools for housebreaking and keeping dogs safe. If the dog is crate-trained and the owner wants the pet crated while you are not there, please follow their recommendation. Some dogs that are destructive or anxious are better off in the crate and this may save you from having to explain damages when the owner returns. Always check to ensure that the crate latches properly, its attachments are secure and that it is clean.

Leashes and Other Equipment

Check all leashes, collars and harness to ensure that they are in working condition. Do not use a frayed or excessively worn piece of equipment. Old and worn equipment can contribute to a pet’s escape. Proper equipment for safe dog walking will be discussed in more detail in Module 2.

4.2 How to handle an attacking dog

You may encounter an aggressive dog or cat while you are pet sitting or dog walking. The reasons and causes behind aggression (and how you can read a dog’s body language) can be found in detail in Module 2.

If the dog is acting aggressively and has not yet attacked, follow these steps:

Step 1: Do not panic. There is something to be said about staying calm. Some dogs will feed off of fear and excitement, possibly making them more aggressive.

Step 2: “Be a Tree”. You may want to run and scream, but this will only entice the dog further. Stay completely silent and motionless, like a tree. Avoid eye contact. Keep your hands in fists with the fingers curled in at your sides, to protect them from a bite.

Step 3: Do not run away!  Most dogs can outrun you. Even if you are on a bicycle, many large dogs can still catch and bite you.

Step 4: Distract the dog. If you have a purse or a water bottle, throw it towards the dog to distract them. If you have food or dog treats, throw them at the dog.

If the dog continues to be aggressive and nothing is working, be prepared to defend yourself.

Step 5: Face towards the dog and say “GO AWAY” in a stern voice. Avoid eye contact.

Step 6: Fight back if the dog attacks or lunges at you. Use your ‘dog attach mace’ by spraying it into the eyes, nose and mouth. Kick at the chest, neck and head. This may stun the dog long enough for you to get away. Fight as is your life depended on it and make sure your kicks are strong and well-placed. Kicking the dog or stepping on him with your full weight in between the shoulders can also help to disable an attacking dog. How well you kick can be the difference between major and minor injury – or even death.

If you are unable to stay standing – be sure to protect your neck, face and throat. Ball up into a “fetal position” with your face to the ground and put your hands behind your head to protect your neck.

Once the dog has lost interest in you, leave as quietly and as quickly as possible – never stop watching the dog in the process.

If you are in the home during an encounter with an aggressive dog or cat, be sure to locate an object that can help prevent you from being injured. Use a broom, mop, sofa cushion, door, etc. to separate you and the animal. Try to lock the animal in the room where they are at, stay calm and contact the owner.

4.3 When you’ll need to involve a vet

If your charge suddenly becomes ill, it may be necessary to involve a veterinarian. Ask your client to leave the name and phone number of the nearest 24 hour emergency veterinary hospital and the pet’s regular veterinarian.

Good basics to follow when it comes to identifying when the veterinarian should be involved:

  • Whenever there is blood seen on or around the pet. This can be from a toenail, in faecal material, a wound, etc.
  • Open-mouth breathing in cats
  • If a cat has not eaten in 48 hours
  • If the tongue or gums become brick red, purple, blue or yellow
  • Vomiting of more than twice in 24 hours
  • Consistent loose or watery feces, or difficulty passing feces
  • Uncharacteristic lethargy or change in attitude
  • Difficulty walking
  • Sudden lameness
  • Rectal temperature of more than 39.4 C (103 F)
  • Respiratory distress
  • If there is evidence that the pet ate rubbish from the bin, houseplants, chemicals or unknown human food
  • An excellent resource for toxic substances and pets: The ASPCA Animal Poison Control website.

It is always a good idea to contact the owner before taking the pet to the veterinarian, but in an emergency situation, seek veterinary attention first.

If you are not sure what to do, contact the veterinarian’s office. Often staff members or the veterinarian can give recommendations over the phone.

4.4 Entering and leaving pets homes securely

Entering and leaving the pet’s home securely involves a few easy steps:

If the pets are known to be loose in the house, open the door carefully to avoid an escape. Be mindful of their body language as you approach. If any animal seems aggressive when you enter, take proper action. Use your knee to prevent large dogs from jumping on you and knocking you down. Stay calm and speak in a quiet voice. If you seem excited, the dogs will become more excited and may act more unruly. Also, practice obedience training such as “sit” and “stay” by giving commands when you arrive to unruly dogs and give rewards when they calm down.  Remember to lock the door after you enter. This will prevent unknown persons from coming in behind you or animals escaping.

Always double-check outside doors, windows and crate doors – just in case one is not secure before you leave. You may not have come in through another door, but the owner could have forgotten to lock it previously.

If you take the dogs out into a garden or yard, check the perimeter fence and don’t let the dogs off-leash unless the owner instructs you to do so. Check that all gates are properly secured before letting the dogs off-leash.  If you open a gate, shut and secure it when you close it. If a gate was left open, shut it if you need to when caring for the dogs, then open it as it was.

Leave in the home the same way you arrived – quietly and keeping the animals away from the door. Be aware of your surroundings when you leave – particularly people taking interest in the home or if you see the same person(s) around each day when you are there. It may be necessary to carry a flashlight with you if you must travel by foot in a dark area.

4.5 What you’re responsible for

There’s a lot to be responsible for when you are caring for someone else’s loved one.

Basic responsibilities include:

  • Pet Sitting
  • Feeding and watering pets at appropriate intervals
  • Ensuring that the pets are eating and drinking proper amounts
  • Cleaning cat litter boxes on a daily basis and discard of waste appropriately. Replace all litter in the box weekly with fresh, unless instructed by the owner to do otherwise
  • Keep pet bedding and bowls clean
  • Keep the home and surroundings safe
  • Exercise pets and allow ‘toilet breaks’ according to owner’s instructions
  • Give medications as instructed
  • Spend time with the pets!  You’re not just there to take care of their bodily needs – you are there to care for them emotionally as well. Pets can become sad when their owners are away and when you take the time to pet them, talk to them, go on walks and groom them – you may form a bond and make their owner’s absence not seem as scary.
  • Following local business laws and ordinances

Dog Walking

  • Exercising the dog according to owner’s instructions, for amount of time agreed upon
  • Keeping the pet safe outdoors
  • Maintenance and inspection of walking equipment, such as leashes, collars and harnesses
  • Providing water before and after walking
  • Being mindful of the weather and plan your walks accordingly
    • Brachycephalic breeds (“smushy-faced” dogs) such as pugs and English bulldogs – should NOT be walked during hot weather. When the weather is warmer than 22 C (70 F) use extreme caution as these pets can easily overheat. Walk them only during the coolest parts of the day – in the early morning and late evening.
    • Any dog can experience heat stroke, frostbite or hypothermia. During extreme weather, use your best judgment and keep the walks as short and safe as possible – even allowing only for a “toilet break” or two during the day.
  • Provide any other services you offer (grooming, nail trims, etc.) with excellent quality.
  • Following local business laws and ordinances
  • Keep the dogs engaged and enjoying their walks! This is supposed to be fun, not boring. Mix it up by walking new routes or introduce them to other dogs and clients during your daily route in a particular area.

Well Done!