You may prefer to leave your Lab in the comfort and security of his own home when you travel. This is especially nice for older dogs, who are less amenable to change and more likely to suffer stress when being boarded. Finding a reliable pet sitter who will either visit your dog once or twice a day, or even stay in your home allows you peace of mind when you must travel and leave your Lab at home.
There's more to pet sitting than providing basic care. Besides feeding, walking, and playing with your Lab, a good pet sitter will keep a watchful eye on his health and emotional state. While asking a neighbor to take care of your Lab when you travel is convenient, your neighbor isn't necessarily qualified to give your Lab the supervision he needs (unless she's also a Lab owner or experienced with dogs in general). Hiring a professional pet sitter ensures that an experienced person will show up every day to give your Lab the attention and exercise he needs while you're gone. Most pet sitters also perform such daily tasks as bringing in mail and newspapers, watering plants, and turning lights on and off — giving your home a lived-in look.
To find a pet sitter, start with that favorite method, word of mouth. Ask friends, neighbors, coworkers, your trainer, or your veterinarian for recommendations. Many veterinary technicians do pet sitting on the side. A vet tech is a great choice if your Lab has special health needs, such as requiring regular medication or insulin injections. You can also find pet sitters listed in the Yellow Pages, under “Pet Sitting Services.”
Ask how your Lab will be cared for in case something happens to the pet sitter. Ideally, the pet sitter will have a partner or some kind of contingency plan in the event of a personal emergency.
Look for someone who has professional experience, has completed pet-care study courses, is bonded and carries commercial liability insurance, and belongs to a professional organization. A pet sitter should have a brochure or other written material that details prices and services. He or she may ask you to sign a contract that spells out exactly what will be done. This protects both of you from misunderstandings.
Two organizations offer accreditation to pet sitters who meet their standards. For more information, contact the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters or Pet Sitters International (see Appendix A). Both organizations can provide referrals to members in your area.