Whether you’re going away for just a day or as long as a couple weeks (or more), hiring a professional pet sitter is the best option to care for your pet while you’re gone. Professional pet sitters offer the daily care that your dog needs and is a superior alternative to imposing on a friend or sending your dog to a kennel.

Hiring a pet sitter does not need to be a difficult process. Simply follow these steps to ensure that you make the best decision for you and your dog.

First, ask around for some recommendations. Your friends, your vet, and fellow dog owners in your area may be able to provide testimonials for local pet sitting services. If you already use a regular dog walker, inquire at the dog walking business office if the walkers also provide pet sitting services – it would be most beneficial to your dog to have a trusted figure, such as her regular walker, to look after her while you’re gone.

After you’ve found a few businesses offering pet sitting services, your next step is to find out what services they provide and at what cost.

Arrange a meeting with the owner or manager of the pet sitting businesses you’ve been referred to well in advance of your trip. Come to the meeting armed with questions about the business’s services and practices. Basic pet sitting services include three walks a day accompanied by feedings, watering, a brief grooming, and clean-up. Additionally, a quality pet sitter should be able to provide a few basic home care services, such as pick-up of mail and turning lights on or off at little or no extra charge. Pet sitters should be aware of any medical condition your dog may be dealing with, and they should be able to evaluate your dog’s well-being on each visit. Providing medication for older dogs or basic supplemental training for puppies may incur an extra charge, and it is best to ask about special situations at your initial meeting.

Some pet sitting services may prefer that the sitter stay in your home with your dog for the duration of your time away. This is beneficial to you, in that your dog will be looked after and cared for at all hours of the day, but such a service may also come at a premium and raise further concerns about your home’s care. Ask about the pet sitting business’s license and bonding information – should any conflicts arise, it is safer to deal with a business that can handle claims and pay out for any damages, as necessary. Ask if the business runs background checks on their sitters, and ask about what oversight the business itself has over its sitters on assignment. Owners and managers of locally operated pet sitting services will usually be able to “make the rounds” and check up on dogs and sitters to ensure that all is going well in each home.

Any special requests you may have as a first-time user of a pet sitting service should be met graciously by the owner or manager of a pet sitting service, as it is in their best interest to ensure that you return to their business the next time you are in need of a sitter. Remember, there are no “stupid” questions when hiring a pet sitter, as the pet sitter will be looking after two of your most valued assets: your home, and your best friend.

For more information on pet sitters, the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) offers up tons of information and even gets you started on locating a sitter.