Pets 101

Pet Parent’s Consumer Checklist

How to pick a pet-friendly business with confidence

By Susan Palmquist

With so many pet businesses and service dotting the landscape these days, it’s hard to know which one is the right one for you (and your pet). Follow our handy tips to help you decide when to say yay, when to say nay, and when to just do it yourself.

Daycare and Pet Sitting

The Good

When you’re searching for a reliable daycare for your pet consider the following:

  • Screening and security should be top on your list of things to do when looking for a pet sitter. Start by getting references from friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
  • Interview the pet sitter before you hire her. And use this time to check on things like: is she on time and does she ask lots thoughtful questions about your pet.
  • Ask the pet sitter if she knows pet first aid and CPR.
  • Ask if the pet sitter is a pet parent herself, or if she’s ever been one.
  • Seek out a place that screens all animals for both health concerns and temperament too.
  • Look for a facility whose employees are good with both people and dogs.
  • Make sure they have more than one room. It’s not always a good idea to put really big dogs in the same room with the tiny ones.
  • Find sitters who will spend at least 15 minutes with your pet.
  • Make sure staff are in the room with your pet 100 percent of the time while they are at daycare.
  • Check on any licenses the daycare has. While this varies from state to state, if the daycare also boards animals it should have a kennel license.
  • Be sure the pet sitter is bonded if she is part of a business with other staff members.
  • Run a check on a daycare or pet sitter with the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints reported.
  • Make sure the pet sitter is certified. The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS), PetSitters.org offers a certification program where pet sitters can take a course in such topics as animal care and health issues.

The Bad

Consider looking elsewhere if you observe any of the following:

  • They don’t want to meet your pet or they don’t seem to interact with her or get down on the ground to play.
  • During the interview, you do more talking than they do. Shyness aside, a good pet sitter asks lots of questions about your pet, his habits, allergies, etc.
  • They don’t have adequate staff to deal with the amount of dogs in their care.
  • Staff seem overwhelmed by the dogs and aren’t interacting with them.
  • Both big and small dogs are kept in one room.
  • They don’t keep an adequate amount of bowls filled with water in each room.
  • DIY Option

Good sitters and daycare options are readily available, but if you’re in a bind try the following:

  • Find a reliable neighbor who might come in and feed your pet, or even take her for a walk.
  • Speak to your vet; sometimes vet technicians are looking for ways to supplement their income and won’t mind looking in on your pet while you’re gone.
  • If feeding is an issue while you’re gone for the day you can buy an automatic feeder with a timer that opens the top to allow your pet access to his food.
  • Visit a website like SetiaDogs.com that serves as a helpful resource to people seeking at-home care for their pets.

Pet Groomers

The Good

The following are points to watch for when you’re looking for a reliable groomer:

  • Make sure they ask if your pet has any allergies, or if they’re sensitive on any parts of their body.
  • Take your dog to a salon where you can actually see the area where the pets are groomed.It should include a large open area and windows for viewing; nothing should be done behind closed doors.
  • Choose a grooming salon that has a supervised drying area. Your pet should never be left unattended because this is where injuries are most likely to occur.
  • A good groomer, just like a great hairdresser, always keeps up with current styles, and is trained in all breeds and mixed-breeds.

The Bad

Avoid groomers that exhibit the following characteristics:

  • You take a look around the salon and see that it’s not neat and clean.
  • Head to the door if the groomer doesn’t seem to be listening to you and ignores your instructions on how you want your pet to look.
  • Avoid any grooming salon that seems to have an assembly line feel to it.

DIY Option

While the grooming salon is an ideal resource for keeping your pet looking neat and clean there are a couple of things you can do to maintain your pet’s appearance on your own:

  • Give him a daily brush. Smaller dogs have silky hair that can get easily tangled so it’s a must to brush them frequently. Brush the whole body, not just the top. The biggest plus to giving your pet a regular brush is it distributes the oils evenly and produces a shiny coat.
  • Use a self-service doggie wash so you don’t end up spending hours cleaning up your bathroom, and remember, brushing is better than bathing. Too much bathing can dry out an animal’s skin.
  • Nail trimming can be a piece of cake if you’re patient. Cut just a little bit at a time, and reward your pet after each groom and trim.


The Good

Many qualities go into to making a good trainer, but the most important are:

  • Using humane training techniques. Make sure you ask about her training philosophy to determine if she uses positive reinforcement or a reward based method of training.
  • Asking for references. A reputable trainer will have no problem giving you names and numbers to call.
  • Make sure he’s a member of a reputable dog training association. For example, The Association of Pet Dog Trainers promotes humane and positive dog training methods.
  • Finding a qualified trainer can take your dog from puppy to adulthood and problem solve in between.

The Bad

Move on to the next trainer if:

  • You only get to talk to the dog training facility’s sales person and not the person who will actually be training your dog.
  • The facility won’t give you a tour of the building and you don’t get to see the area where your dog will be trained.
  • The trainer talks to you in a rude or condescending way.
  • The trainer won’t let you choose an appropriate humane training collar.
  • The facility does not have a refund policy or satisfaction guaranteed.

DIY Option

Sometimes immediate training is beyond a person’s financial means. In the meantime, consider basic at-home training to get your pooch started on the path to good manners:

  • Always train your dog on a leash or line so you will be able to reinforce commands. As your dog becomes more reliable, you can remove the leash.
  • Remember the 3D formula for distraction training: duration, distractions, and distance. You build time first (5 minute sit/stay), then add distractions before adding distance from your dog.

Pet stores and Boutiques

The Good

While there are some great places to buy pet supplies, more reliable stores have the following characteristics:

  • Knowledgeable staff.
  • They sell a variety of products.
  • Keep up-to-date on industry news, such as the recent pet food recall.
  • They will special order a product for you.

The Bad

Move on if:

  • The staff doesn’t know anything about the products they’re selling and can’t answer your questions.
  • The store doesn’t look clean.
  • The store sells dogs and cats. A good boutique will sponsor adoption days, but if it’s selling large animals, walk away.
  • The small animals for sale (such as hamsters, gerbils, reptiles, or fish) are kept in unsanitary conditions.

DIY Option

If you’d rather shop at home and take your time browsing, ask your favorite retailer if they have a website: You can also check out these sites in your area:

*A special thanks to our sources: Genenieve Thiers, founder and CEO of Sittercity, Amy Nichols owner of D.C.-based Dogtopia, Lou Kurtz, owner of Country Canine Cuts in Newton, Pennsylvania, and Jim Burwell, professional dog trainer and founder of Jim Burwell’s Petiquette in Houston, Texas.

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