When we meet with a potential dog walker/pet sitter to add to the Stable Hands team we may not be looking for what you think. We grade all interviews on the 20-80 baseball scouting scale and have determined that the five tools of pet sitting are;
1. Reliability-- Can this person be counted on to do what they say they will?
2. Punctuality-- Will they show up on time? 90% of this job is showing up.
3. Communication-- Will they be able to communicate with clients and us in a prompt, professional, and engaging manner?
4. Trustworthiness-- Can they be trusted in someone else's home and with their pets?
5. Animal Knowledge-- Do they have a basic understanding of dog and cat behavior and how to deal with typical situations that may arise in the course of their work?
Animal Knowledge being only one small part of our determination into who can be a pet sitter/dog walker is no mistake. It was a lesson we learned the hard way early on where we hired someone because they had a lot of experience working with animals and knew a lot about animal behavior. We chalked up many of their idiosyncrasies to an introvert personality and missed the warning signs of anti-social behavior. As we soon found out this hiring had none of the other traits we now look for and were not equipped to perform this job.
Now when reviewing applicants we aren't really looking for animal knowledge. We want some basic understanding of dog and cat behaviors but we'd much rather have a person lacking in animal knowledge than reliability, punctuality, communication, or trustworthiness. For example this past weekend I had to talk one of our sitters through how to interact with a skittish dog. Because they had plus-plus ratings in all categories aside from animal knowledge they knew to communicate with me when they had a question and I could share my knowledge with them.
Dealing with animals is a skill. Everything else we look for is a trait. A lot of jobs out there look for skills above traits when in reality it should be reversed. Skills can always be learned and it is the main reason that a strong infrastructure is important to any business. A business is only as good as the systems they have in place. If the systems for success aren't in place then it will be a lot harder for that business to have success.
The above qualities aren't just what we should be looking for when hiring someone to work for us. They are what you should be looking for when hiring a dog walker/pet sitter to take care of your pet. You should obviously move animal knowledge up in your list as that is much more important to the end user than it is to us. One of the questions we use to determine animal knowledge that you can use when hiring a dog walker/pet sitter is, "Our dog is good now at the meet and greet, but what if, when we aren't here, they are skittish or scared?"
I described the correct answer to this in a previous blog post but to refresh it is to avoid eye contact, turn your side to the dog to make yourself as non-threatening as possible, drop to their level, and what for them to come to you. It never hurts to toss a few high value treats to build association. once the dog has made contact with you switch positions and repeat the process until you can pet them or at least the let you get close enough to put a slip lead on.
This should be the answer you get at your meet and greet when asking this question. At our interviews we also accept, "I don't know. What would you suggest?" because a person willing to admit they don't know something and ask for help is the exact type of person we want on our team, but that is a post for another day.