House sitting is a wonderful tool for travelers, especially digital nomads, to spend time abroad for free in exchange for taking care of someone else’s apartment or cat/dog. Recently, I lived in a luxurious apartment all to myself, while taking care of a gorgeous King Cavalier Spaniel dog in a quaint part of Brussels in Belgium. It was my first house-sitting gig and as such, I wasn’t fully aware of all the things I should have looked out for before signing up for this opportunity. To avoid a bad house sitting experience, it’s important to take proper provisions and ask specific questions before committing to being a long term pet /house sitter. Below are some important questions and things to consider before excitedly running to say “YES!”
What is Pet/House Sitting?
But first… If you aren’t familiar with pet/house sitting abroad, here’s how it works. Depending on the platform, you pay a fee (ranging from about $30 to $150 a year). You set up your profile, search for listing around the world, and then pitch yourself to the homeowner. The better the location, the more applicants there will be, so the way you introduce yourself is very important. There are also other factors that can put you ahead of the long list of applicants: ID verification, references, experience, and your overall online profile.
Interested in joining? Here’s my Trusted House Sitters referral link for 25% off your annual fee!
Doing Your Due Diligence Is Critical
Short or long term house sitting is a serious commitment. Once you commit, the owner is relying on you to take care of their pet/home while they’re away for those fixed dates. You don’t want to find yourself in an awkward situation with a vacation damper / where you want to leave but are committed long term because you didn’t do your due diligence.
I house sat in Brussels for almost a month and found out that my dog was a one-year-old puppy with separation anxiety, that I was allergic to the nearby trees, and that the house I was sitting was a 30-minute walk from the nearest supermarket. If I had done my homework beforehand, I would have avoided these blunders.
Have a Face to Face Meeting With the Home/Pet Owner
Consider doing a video chat to meet the owner and their dog/cat and to see where you’d be living. You can get a better feel about the prospective experience through live video communication than pictures and texts. For the video chat, you can also prepare a questionnaire/two-way interview so you don’t forget anything important. Make sure to be clear about your house sitter responsibilities and the dog you’re pet sitting. Read further below on the important things to ask!
Pet Sitters: REALLY Inquire About the Pet
Questions The Dog’s Personality
If your house sitting comes with a dog (or cat), it’s important to assess whether the dog is a good fit for you (and vice versa), and of course, to learn how to best care for the dog.
What is the age of the dog? Is he a puppy or is he older? Puppies and younger dogs often require more maintenance and attention. Since they’re younger, they usually have less training so you’d have to exert more energy and patience. This also means monitoring and walking them with extra attention since they tend to put everything in their mouths… even things that could kill them.
What is the dog’s walking schedule like? Most owners walk their dogs in the morning and at night because of 9-5 work schedules. But some dogs are walked throughout the day (especially puppies). This means that if you are house sitting to travel and get to know a destination, it’s going to be particularly hard if you have to walk the dog in the morning, during lunchtime, and in the evening!
Is the dog OK being left alone in the day time? Some dogs get anxious if they’re left alone for too long. Some owners want a dog/house sitter who will be home most of the time to keep the dog company. If you’re not planning to hang around at home throughout the day, make sure to ask this question.
In the case of an emergency, who is the nearest friend/family member and vet to contact? What if you have an emergency and can no longer take care of the dog? Is there a backup person whom you could talk to? What if the dog gets sick? Who is the dog’s vet? These are very important questions to consider, especially if the dog/homeowner has limited service while away.
Questions The Dog’s Training
Some dogs are trained better than others, even if they’re younger or older depending on the dog owner. Here are some questions about their training to ask.
Does he know not to pee and poop indoors? For obvious reasons.
Does he jump on the table/try to eat your food from the table? Dogs that haven’t been trained as much require more careful attention and provision. The first week I dog sat, I opened a new container of hummus, stepped away to grab a spoon and the dog BOLTED onto the chair and then the table and began licking my hummus. This is particularly important to note since dogs can get sick from eating certain things!
Does he go into the garbage? One afternoon I came home to see that the dog had somehow managed to knock the garbage over AND get the lid off. There was a mess all around the apartment AND he’d stained the owner’s white couch with strawberry jam. To be 100% safe, I now know to empty the garbage out every time I leave the house.
Will the dog want to jump on people? This is important to note because if it’s a bigger dog you will need the strength to pull them back. If you’re smaller like me, you may not want to commit to a bigger/heavier dog that likes to run and jump on strangers.
And it’s important to know this ahead of time to be on the lookout to avoid frightening someone or causing an accident. The dog I found
House Sitting Questions About the Neighborhood
Although Google Maps can show you the exact picture of the street and neighborhood, it’s important to ask more specific questions about the home/location.
Is the city/town safe? If you’re walking a dog early in the morning or very late at night, it’s important to feel safe doing so.
Are there nearby supermarkets within walking distance? If not, how can I get to the nearest supermarket for grocery shopping? If you’re staying long term somewhere without a car and the nearest supermarket is a one hour walk, it might make it difficult to go grocery shopping.
What is nearby public transportation like? Again, if you don’t have a car you should look this up to make sure that you can easily get around; especially if you’re house sitting to travel and explore the local region and/or for everyday things.
Are there any [insert your allergy]? If you have ANY allergies, ask if there is mold, dust, certain pollen, etc. This may sound silly but can be important depending on your specific health. I have chronic pollen allergies and was completely unaware that July in Brussels was worse than peak springtime in NYC. So I became chronically ill with asthma and hay fever.
FYI –– You can check tree and grass pollen count around the world here.
Do Your Homework About your the Home’s Work
Are any specific things to watch out for in the house? For instance, maybe you can’t use certain things in the dishwasher, or maybe there’s a sensitive counter that easily stains if you set anything wet on it.
Do you have any work to tend around the house? Such as plants, grass mowing, checking the mail, etc.
When in doubt, do not make any assumptions. Do not assume that you’re getting a well-trained adult dog or that the owner would tell you everything important ahead of time. Put together a questionnaire of essential house sitter questions to ask so that you do not end up committed to an uncomfortable long term house sitting experience.
And please don’t feel dissuaded by these precautions. If done properly, house sitting can be an amazing opportunity, especially for long term travelers!