Wednesday, August 25, 2010

No-pull harnesses from a pet sitter’s perspective

Melvin and Buddy greeted me at the door, ecstatic to have company after 12 long hours alone. After I fed them, refreshed their water and gave Buddy his nightly thyroid pill, it was walk time. They went nuts as soon as I reached for the leashes.

Because they pull so hard, their owners recommended I walk them separately, once around the block for each dog. Melvin is also aggressive to dogs they meet, which makes him even harder to keep under control.

The owners supplied retractable flexi leads and a no-pull harness for each dog. The retractable leash was the first problem. Dogs that pull, pull even harder on one of these leashes and quickly drag themselves out to the end of the thin line. I worry it will break, and if they suddenly lunge at another dog, it’s hard to hold onto the awkward case that stores the line.

The two no-pull harnesses were a piece of work. Both were red and black, but different models, so they are put on each dog differently. I felt like I was trying to un-knit a sweater, just untangling the straps and the leash line, much less figuring out how to put it on the dog. Then I get to the second one, and it’s different, so I go through the same exercise over again. I am uncoordinated, and had to relearn the harnesses every night (I often go through similar gyrations with garden hoses and extension cords). Meanwhile both dogs are leaping in my lap and rolling on the floor, anxious to go, and begging to be first.

One night I decided to just put Melvin, a cattle dog mix, on a chain collar and a regular leash, which were both hanging by the door. By the time we got back I felt like my arm was going to come out of my shoulder socket, and we didn’t even meet any other dogs. Another night, I finally got both boys dressed, and decided to try them together. They really weren’t too bad, though I’d say they were still pulling pretty hard. Buddy, the Beagle, plows along, nose to the ground, oblivious that there is a person hanging on for dear life behind him.

I think no-pull harnesses work better when attached to a four or six foot leash. And they don’t alleviate the need for training, that’s for sure. Sled dogs wear harnesses–but they are supposed to pull. 

Artwork above: Beagle by Terry Albert.

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pet sitters: customer service and the phone

The best way to keep your customers is by providing good service, and the lifeline to your clients is the telephone. I have many customers I never see after the initial consultation visit. So we communicate by telephone.

There are times when I want to blow the thing up. When someone calls at 10 pm, I want to run screaming into the hills. But after they leave that message, the onus is on me to return their call first thing in the morning (at a reasonable hour). I have never set “hours” with my clients, because most of them are very thoughtful. Those late night calls are usually someone new who wants me to sit their pets tomorrow. No can do.

BUT, if the client’s flight was cancelled, they may need you to make another visit. Call them back to reassure them you got the message and will take care of it.

The way to build a good relationship is to return calls promptly. I am guilty of getting busy and then find myself sitting there at 9:30 at night with a pile of messages I haven’t answered. Bad dog.

If you can’t accommodate someone, they need to know so they can make other arrangements. If you have some contacts, be sure to recommend another pet sitter in the area whom you trust. Yes, you may lose the client, but if they were happy with you, they will usually come back. And either way, you’ll get some positive word of mouth for being helpful.

Follow up after pet sits with a phone call. People usually call or email to let you know they are home. If not, call them. Let them know you care that they got home okay and everything was satisfactory.  

In this era of text messaging and email, communication with our clients is easier, but less personal. I don’t text people unless I know they use text messaging. If they don’t have a texting plan, receiving my messages gets expensive.

If you are on a pet sit and have a question, clients usually appreciate a call. I rarely use the client’s phone; I always have my cell in hand. They are reassured that you are at the house and everything is okay. They feel like they’ve checked up on you, even though you were the one that called. Now they have an idea what time you make your visits.

Although sometimes the phone can be a pest, it is also a vital tool in your pet sitter’s toolbox. Return calls promptly and keep in touch with your customers by phone. Hearing your voice adds a personal touch to your communication.

Photo above: One of my clients, Rylee, a goldendoodle, learns to surf.

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Busy season!

It will be over soon, and I will wonder what I’ve been complaining about. I did nine visits yesterday, and have 7 today. Wow… I realize that for some of you that is not even a full day. Because I also board dogs at home, it is enough for me!

I’m up at 6, and feed the four horses first, because that quiets the dogs down. Then I feed the dogs. Eight guests this weekend, plus my four. Then I get dressed, feed the cats, scoop litter boxes, then let all the dogs back out together when they are done eating.

By 7 or 7:30am  I am off to do pet sits. Two homes with dogs (and bunnies) that have been in all night get to go out first, then I do cats and bird visits after that.

Home by 9 am, because an owner is picking up his dog. Back out to do another cat visit I didn’t have time for.

10-2: Play with dogs, referee dogs, sit with dogs, try to write a little on my book that is due to publisher Sept 1.

2 pm: new client brings her two dogs for a consultation.

4 pm: another dog goes home.

5 pm: the full feeding routine begins again.

6-7:30 pm: clean corrals and mess with horses before it gets dark. Training new Shetland pony.

8 pm: Pet sit visit 7 miles west of my house: cockatoo (Nilla), eclectus parrot (Betty) and a mealy Amazon parrot named Albert who always says “Hi Albert” when I come in (my last name, though I don’t think that’s what he means!).

8:45 pm: Pet sit 2 miles east of my house; walk two dogs and bring in for the night.

9:15 Home, glass of whine (that is not a typo!) and let the dogs out for last potty break of the night.

10 pm: Fall into bed; curl up with cats. Instantly asleep. School starts the last week of August and things will get quiet.

Photos: Sherlock the Shetland and Ari the Icelandic get acquainted over breakfast.
Cooper and Porter, both Labs, wrestle in the yard.
Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My new iPod Touch and how it helps my pet sitting business

I finally made the leap and bought an iPod Touch. An iPhone would have done the same thing, but I didn’t want to pay the big monthly fee. Just because the phone is
tax deductible for business, doesn’t mean I want to spend the money. So now I have to carry two gadgets, the iPod and my cell phone. But I am happy; the Ipod Touch does everything that an iPhone does, without the phone, so there is no monthly fee. And when you are in range of a wifi hot spot, you can go online for free.

Several months ago I bought Bento, a Filemaker Pro application for the Mac. It was only $49. I have been using that for all of my client records, and I love it. I can customize the various fields to my own needs. There is an iPhone Bento app for only $4.99, and now I can sync all of my client files with the iPod Touch and carry them with me. All of the emergency phone numbers, care information, vet info, everything… is in my hands when I need it. No carrying around a bunch of paper anymore.

My address book is also synched with the iPod Touch, so I have that at my fingertips too. I also loaded photos of all my pets, past and present, and of course, all of my music, which I really don’t use. Yet…

I’ve finally caught up with 21st century technology. But yes, I have hard copies of everything stuck in a file cabinet back in the bedroom, just in case. You can teach and old dog new tricks, but…

Photo above: Luke (standing) and Indy, two gorgeous goldens, visited my house this week. They love playing with an empty gallon water jug.

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.