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Leaving Your Dog with a Pet Sitter During the Holidays

We haven’t been on vacation without our dogs.  This past year, we took separate vacations – I went to BlogPaws and Johan went to the Police and Firefighter Olympics in two states.  Romantic, right?

We’re planning to go to Hawaii someday, but when I think about planning it, I get worried about our dogs.  Where will they stay?  Who will stay with them?

I’m excited to share this guest post by fellow pet blogger, Pamela, who writes the blog Something Wagging This Way Comes where she shares some great tips for dog parents who plan to leave their dog with a pet sitter during the holidays…

Leaving your dog with a pet sitter during the holidays



Leaving your beloved pets behind when you travel for the holidays can break your heart.

I can’t heal your broken heart. But I can share my best tips for ensuring you don’t have to worry about your fur kids while you travel.

Find a Good Pet Sitter

Although some gregarious pups do fine in a kennel, I believe most dogs (and certainly cats) feel more comfortable at home when you travel. They’re surrounded by the familiar objects of every day life and, more importantly, your smells.

I’ve been fortunate to find several good pet sitters over the years.

I won’t leave my dog Honey in the care of anyone unwilling to come to the house for an initial meeting. Once there, I observe how Honey responds to the sitter. And I ask a few pointed questions:

  • Are you insured and bonded? (This is not a deal breaker for me, personally. But it is one indication of the pet sitter’s professionalism.)

  • If you were involved in an emergency, how would you make sure my pet was taken care of?

  • Who will take care of my pet? You or a staff member? And, if it’s someone else, will they come to my home to meet us before I leave?

  • What do you think is the best way to train dogs? (I don’t expect my pet sitter to do any training, but I certainly want to know that their philosophy of working with dogs is humane and matches my own relationship-based approach).

  • What do you need from me to make sure you’re well prepared to care for my pet?

If the answers work for me and Honey seems comfortable, I give the sitter a tour of the house and review my dog’s routine. I love seeing a pet sitter who takes notes. But I always leave written instructions, just in case.

Leave the Pet Sitter Everything She Needs to Do a Good Job

Maybe it looks like overkill, but I leave a multi-page manual for my pet sitter along with notes in important spots.

What does my manual include?

  • Basic information about the house, including where the sitter can find first aid items, flashlights, and emergency shut-offs.

  • Information about my dog’s schedule, diet, and special needs.

  • Contact information for me, a neighbor, and our veterinarian. I also leave a key with a neighbor and ask them to check in if they feel anything has gone wrong.

  • A letter to the vet authorizing the pet sitter to seek treatment and confirming that I will be responsible for any costs of care.

And because no one wants to read a six page manual to get one stupid question answered, I leave notes as well. For example, I once pet sat for a friend and could not figure out how to put the harness on her dog for a walk. The poor pup got so frustrated with me as I struggled for fifteen minutes to work out the complicated mechanism.

As a result, I always leave guidelines for harnesses and leashes inside the cupboard door where they’re kept.

I also keep measuring cups and instructions near the fridge to simplify feeding time.

If I can save my dog from frustration when she’s looking forward to the best part of the day (walkies and dinner, of course!), she’ll be much better off.

Prepare Your Dog for Your Absence

I also spend time preparing my dog for my absence.

Honey does not suffer from separation anxiety. But I can’t say that was true for dogs in my past.

Well before leaving on vacation, it’s a good idea to experiment with calming scents, Thundershirts, comforting music, and good old training to decrease your dog’s anxiety when left alone.

In addition, I don’t do all the laundry before going out of town. I leave a few pairs of socks or stinky t-shirts around to provide a comforting and familiar scent.

Finally, I leave some particularly special treats or toys for the pet sitter to surprise my dog with while I’m gone. After all, when my parents left me and my sister with a baby sitter, we always got special treats. Why should our dogs be any different?

Be Calm and Enjoy Your Holidays

I hate leaving Honey behind. But sometimes it just can’t be helped.

I recently had to leave her behind while I was sailing in the San Blas Islands of Panama for a month. Although she probably would have loved the sailing, the five hour flight would have been another matter entirely.

Luckily, I had a great pet sitter who gave Honey everything she wanted–lots of walks, yummy treats, and room on the bed at night. And I got everything I wanted too–a worry free trip knowing that my dog was happy and healthy without me.

If you’d like to have samples of the vet permission letter and other items I left for my pet sitter, head over to Something Wagging This Way Comes to sign up to get a free PDF.

Kimberly here…

We’re staying home during the holidays.  I’m kind of looking forward to it.  So, do you plan on a vacation without your dog this holiday season?


  1. We sometimes talk about going to visit here and there, but the mere thought of leaving the gang behind creates a churn of worry in my stomach. They do better with being separated than I do, LOL!

    For the holidays, I’d be unhappy without the dogs. They’re a part of our Christmas traditions, they have their own stockings and open Christmas gifts… We’re staying home, together. =)

    • I understand exactly how you feel, Maria. The first time I left Agatha and Christie behind, I cried in the car as we left the city. It led me to travel with them and every dog I’ve loved since.

      But on those occasions when my dog can’t go with me, I’m very thankful to have a loving and responsible petsitter.

      • I’m a wuss. I’m unhappy traveling without my dogs even if I know my husband is at home with them. I know that they’re fine, but I miss them so much. =)

      • OMG – I just connected Agatha and Christie – well done!

        • No so well done, Kimberly. In our Philadelphia neighborhood, many folks weren’t familiar with the British mystery writer. For years, kids called them Africa and Christie.

          Agatha didn’t mind. And I thought it was adorable.

    • You should come visit us. We have a big house, dogs, and a huge property. Fun for everyone :)

      • I’m looking for the “Like”-button. My silly brain can’t seem to comprehend that “like” is a FaceBook thing, LOL! Shame you’re so far away. I think both we and the dogs would have a good time together. =D

  2. It is “home for the holidays” for us. It isn’t the same if the “family” is separated. When my Ma goes away, she takes me to grandma’s house, which I am very familiar with (it’s like a home away from home), and I stay there. Pamela does give great tips for finding an in-home sitter, which I have also had on occasion.

    • I look forward to the holidays, because of the number of days in a row that I can bask in the presence of our dogs. I love it. I couldn’t imagine going on a holiday without them so we stay home :)

  3. Thanks for the great tips!

  4. A good pet sitter is like gold! My boy is high needs due to allergies and past abuse so one thing I did that I’m so happy I did do was find one at a time when I didn’t NEED one. It gave me time to interview and get references and referrals.
    Best investment in time I ever spent. I can’t imagine how well I might have handled it if I had to quickly find someone.
    Planning and getting to know them is key.
    Great time for such an article.

    • That is such an amazing idea. I’m going to do the same. I don’t want to choose someone out of desparation. Thank you.

  5. We once had to leave our dogs in a kennel for a long weekend as we were having the house re-modeled, and were going to be without power and plumbing over this time. There was a kennel out in the country where you could arrange to have them given walks around a lake for a special treat, and have them bathed and nails clipped. It was nice in that I was in town and could call and check on them and so on. If I ever have to leave them again, I can feel comfortable about the kennel, and know they are well cared for.

    • That’s fantastic! I love that you have a place a mind that sounds pretty amazing!

  6. I would entrust my sister to stay at my house and care for my dogs. I also know a trainer (who does so much more than just that) that I would feel comfortable boarding my dogs with.

    We took Neeko (when we only had her) on vacation with us once. It was a blast!

  7. Hey Kim. We dealt with this a few months ago. You know my story, but for anyone else reading this…my family and I have been traveling internationally for the past three years, and our JRT Archie travels with us. He’s been to Canada, all over Europe, to Turkey, and we’re now in Mexico! We’ve had him since he was 8 weeks old (he’s 5 now) and, until recently, had never been separated. Frankly we never have a reliable dog-sitting option that would make me comfortable.

    But recently we had to go do a family thing for a week at a dog-unfriendly resort (bah!), and I was on the brink of canceling because I didn’t know what to do with Archie. Luckily, a few days before we were supposed to leave and through total happenstance, we met a terrier-savvy family a few blocks away. Their JRT of 18 years had died earlier in the year, so their home and hearts had space for Archie for a week. I have never been so grateful in my life!!! Phew. Archie and I were understandably nervous at first but everything worked out great.

    It’s such a relief to have a dog-sitting option (for a little while). Since we’re never in one place too long, this is rarely the case.

    Totally long answer, but there you go, Kim. :-) How’s the dog search coming?

    • I loved the pictures of Archie with his sitter. He looked so happy.

      The search is SLOOOWWWWW. I forgot how hard it is to get an email or call back from a rescue group. LOL

      • Ugh, I know, right? Once we tried to adopt in Vancouver BC & the Seattle area, and we couldn’t get near any kind of family dog. They all had waiting lists or were gone immediately. Finally we got impatient and headed over to Eastern Washington where you can adopt a dog for like $25 and on top of that it’s a 2 for 1 deal! We got a dog, a nice dog, but she was wrong for our family. In the end I rehomed her but I was very careful with it and she went to a lovely farm on Vancouver Island. Still, it was sad and I learned a lesson about rushing a dog adoption.

        You’ll make a great choice though, and I can’t wait to meet the new pup. :-)

  8. Luckily, we have family with dogs who I hope would watch Duke while we were away. Although he might not be in his environment, at least I’d trust that he was safe and he’d have friends to play with! I hope to be able to bring Duke with us on most vacations, but I do not plan on ever having him fly – at least not in the cargo section of a plane, so there will inevitably be something he can’t come on.

    Unfortunately, Sam & I will be spending the holidays apart but at least Duke will get to bond with his dad and not have his routine disrupted too much.

    • That’s so cool. I don’t have any family that I could leave our dogs with or that I would trust to watch them here. You are so lucky :)

  9. We’ve been lucky enough here in Bedfordshire to have many friends that also have dogs, that we regularly meet up with for walks and that we take it in turns with to sit eachothers dogs when we go abroad on holiday. As our dogs play together often, they get on very well and don’t seem to mind sharing the house and garden for a week or two here and there.

    Doesn’t stop me missing them…and my girlfriend phoning twice a day to make sure they’re ok, lol.

    • I completely understand where you’re coming from and you are so lucky to have the “pack walks” as I call them. That is such a great community bonus and I love it. It’s nice to know people who get how much you love your dogs and will take good care of them. I’m with you guys, I’d call and check daily too.

  10. Since Thor is a pit bull, I’m hyper-vigilant about how people react to him. He’s a big, love bug, but I don’t trust that a dog sitter will be as protective of him as I am. Basically, it’s not that I don’t trust my dog; it’s that I don’t trust the people who will come in contact with him.

    Besides my son and I, there is only one person I trust with my dog. He is the owner of 90-pound Doberman, another breed that’s had a bad rap in the past. Because this owner deals with the perception of his dog on a daily basis like I do, I know he knows how to watch for and avoid situations that could cause my dog harm. We also have similar training and discipline styles.

    The tips above are good, but if you have a dog that is a “maligned breed” you have to be super protective. One ignorant “dog sitter” could cost your dog its life.

    • So very true. One thing that keeps me careful about sitters is that our dogs have quirks that I take very seriously and I worry that the wrong pet sitter won’t get. I know one person who is amazing with dogs so whenever we get around to taking a trip, I’ll go with her, because I know our dogs will be in good hands.

      What’s even better is that she’s great with bully breeds; she’s a trainer and has a house full of dogs herself. She’s pretty awesome so I’ll be happy to pass on her number should you ever need a sitter.

      • I might take you up on that if my guy is unavailable sometime.

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  12. I agree that the low fat craze isn’t doing anyone much good. I will say, though, that in Frankie’s case, it’s probably the diabetes that brought on the dementia. There’s a correlation between high blood sugar and Alzheimer’s in humans so it would make sense that there’s a link in dogs too.

  13. I understand leaving your pet with a sitter can be scary sometime. Every year during the holidays I had to do that, but I am lucky that my neighbor is a 50 year old lady which is so nice to take care of Walkie for me. This year I wont have this heart break cause everyone is coming over to my house for the holidays. Yays.

    I want to get another dog like this one. They are so cute.

  14. We have a great pet sitter that comes to our home if needed. We used to have two Min Pins that were not the best travelers, or the best behaved…so we used to have our pet sitter come to the house and care for them. Now that both of our Miniature Pinschers have crossed the rainbow bridge, we take our German Shorthaired Pointer, Cello, with us everywhere we go, and tailor our vacations, sight seeing, dining, and adventures around her. Come check out all the places Cello has been…she’s been on many adventures – camping, hiking, and sight seeing! Hope you will join us on Cello’s Corner!

    • I would love to rent an RV and take our dogs on a trip; I think it would be so much fun to plan 1 or 2 trips like this a year.

  15. This a wonderful post. From a pet sitter view point I see so many great things in your manual and notes. I found myself few times in situations where pet parents forgot to mention to me couple important informations and I had to call and interrupt their vacations. Luckily many of the informations I try to cover on our firs meeting, where I learn as much as I can about pets I’m taking care of. Well prepared pet sitter will have list of many questions about your pets diet, his/her favorite toys, and things he/she is afraid of or if there’re any unwanted behaviors, and many more. My list consists between 50 to 100 questions depending on the answers given and what kind of a pet I’m looking for.


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