How To Handle The Inappropriate Pet Sitting Client

How To Handle The Inappropriate Pet Sitting Client

As pet sitters, sleeping in people’s beds, with their pets gets pretty personal. We are in their homes, sometimes living IN their homes as if we were them, so the professional lines can get a little blurred. It isn’t your typical office setting. I am sure you have come across blurred lines before and been able to articulate what is and is not ok, but what happens when this inappropriate behavior happens to your staff? How do you make sure they tell you, you include it in your employee handbook, and step in to back them up so it doesn’t happen again?
cara amour
For this article, I called upon Cara Armour, the Alpha Female of Active Paws Inc to share some experiences that she has had to deal with and then we will discuss ways to avoid future occurrences. Throughout this article, we will hear Cara’s experiences and reflect on how you can learn from these experiences and apply them to your own business.


Train Your Staff For Success

“First and foremost; training your staff on what is expected of them when a client is inappropriate will build confidence for your employee by letting them know you have a support structure in place and will help set boundaries for your clients,” says Cara.

Defining what types of situations they should and should not be expected to handle is something that is outlined in an Employee Handbook. That’s why they are so valuable. Employee Handbooks give your sitters the information they need to be set up for success and handle situations each pet sit.

But the line isn’t always clear.

Cara continues, “We are in the service industry and to some degree, we are expected to serve people’s pets, I fully understand and acknowledge that – BUT and I mean a big BUT – we are not servants. This line must be drawn in the sand for your clients and understood by your staff.”

She reflects on some experiences that she had, “Over the years I have been asked to pick up dry cleaning, because according to the client, ‘I was out anyway”, asked to remain in a home for a 4-hour window to wait for a furniture delivery, and asked to bring a client down to her mechanic to pick up her car.  Saying “no” to those things,” she says, “was easy for me. I had no idea until some years passed and some requests of my staff later that saying “no” isn’t as easy for everyone, especially the wonderful introverts I tended to hire.”

Cara makes a great observation here that just because it is something she was okay with saying no to, her staff may not be as easily versed. This does especially hold true for pet sitting staff, which typically tends to be the “people pleasing” type of character.


inappropriate clients

Did She Let Her Staff Down?

Cara reflects, “I thought I had trained my staff to the nines. I went over every imaginable policy and circumstance I had encountered and procedure I learned from my own experience and others. I overlooked the unthinkable and at least several times I let my staff down with lack of training.”

But I don’t think that is accurate and I am willing to bet that some of you see yourself in her thoughts above. Am I right?

Cara is doing something that many business owners do, beat themselves up and probably giving her staff information overload with all the possibilities. What my years of experience tell me… is that if you train your staff to make it MANDATORY to tell you when anything is “off script” they will.

This can be in writing via email (my preference), a phone call, text, whichever. But it is the employee’s responsibility to report anything out of the norm. Failing to do so can {and should} result in a write up.

Cara and I both agree, your staff needs to know that you care, and as management, we should create opportunities for open communication.


Ideas on how to keep that proverbial door open:

1. Check in with your sitters frequently at the end of the day. Ask them how their rounds went. What was good? What was bad.
2. Ask them if they have any questions about a job.
3. If a high maintenance job is coming up, follow up and ask them if they need any help.
4. No matter how silly you think their questions are, oblige.

Making your staff happy will always pay you back ten fold. If you take care of your staff, they will take care of your clients. That is a fact.  The EMyth Mastery actually talks a lot about this!


inappropriate client

Cara continues to share her experiences of Inappropriate Client Behavior:

Towel & Shower:

Cara: The first instance was when a male client came out of the shower while my female dog walker was in his home. Cloaked in nothing but a towel he proceeded to advance on my employee, eventually getting close enough to place his arm against the wall preventing her from moving towards the door. Now there was no physical touching but that is horrendously uncomfortable and wrong! Thankfully my employee’s instincts kicked in and she managed to squeeze out that, “Baxter had peed and pooped on his walk” but she had to go – ducking under his arm and running for the door. Her next move was to call me.

I learned an extremely valuable lesson to include in my employee handbook that if a client makes any staff member feel uncomfortable for any reason; they have my support that they may simply turn their backs and walk away. No words need to be said to the client, make certain the pet is secure if the client is incoherent for any reason and get the F’ out of dodge! That sounded like a straightforward and simple protocol from my perspective, but I’m an extrovert with type-A tendencies with no problem speaking my mind.


How Would This Look In Your Employee Handbook?

The following is an exact example taken from the Jump Consulting Employee Handbook which is available for immediate download. This is exactly how you can word something like the above in your Handbook:

  • Refraining from offering pet care advice to clients regarding matters such as pets’ food, training, care products, medical conditions, and non-pet-related issues in the client’s home.
  • Expressing appreciation for inquiries, asking clients to contact {YOUR COMPANY} management, and notifying {YOUR COMPANY} management if a client contacts the employee directly for scheduling or other business-related issues.
  • Refraining from communicating with clients outside of job responsibilities, except in situations pre-approved by {YOUR COMPANY} management.

Little by little:

Cara continues with her examples by saying, “To some, a client asking to change a lightbulb or take out the trash isn’t seen as inappropriate at all, and in many circumstances when you are pet sitting and in charge of the house, considered run of the mill. But when the client is home for each visit and becoming increasingly disabled and constantly asks for favors; it starts to get uncomfortable. It’s hard for the employee to distinguish between, -“I am providing a service” and “that isn’t part of the service agreement”.  Add to the matter that the employee is a natural people pleaser and doesn’t want to rock the boat; the trash, the lightbulb and then eventually removing the AC unit from the window, just don’t get mentioned to me. They don’t want to get caught in the middle until it goes too far.

This is where establishing a habit of checking in with your sitters, learning what is going on at pet sits, and letting your sitters know you have their back comes into play. Examples could be: “How is X client going?”  “Oh, X client is home when you are there? Do they keep you there long? etc” It isn’t fool proof, but keeping in touch with your sitters and how they are feeling can help intervene here.”

Now the inappropriateness snowballs. Cara continues with the scenario:

Too far, what’s too far? The same trash, lightbulb, AC unit client began having medical and mobility issues. He had caretakers coming to the house but they weren’t there all the time and as his 7-day a week dog walkers, we reliably were every day. On one particular day the client had had an accident. The human – not the dog – and yes number two, not number one (not that that REALLY matters but we’re talking gross). It was in the hallway and this client proceeded to ask my walker to clean it up – OMG and my employee did clean it up! To make matters worse, the employee was now so far down the rabbit hole of keeping the client happy that he took another 2 days to tell me!

I had known about the trash and the lightbulbs which resulted in what I thought a good conversation with the employee about simply saying to the client, I am here for Max, if it doesn’t concern his well-being I am afraid I must decline the task. That doesn’t work because the client will say if the trash isn’t emptied Max will get into it and if the light isn’t changed he could trip over Max – see where I am going?

This behavior didn’t stop until Cara actually stepped in and spoke with the client.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Business owner stepping in can change the course of the problem.

This situation resulted in Cara feeling terrible for her employee. I would encourage her not to beat herself up. None of this was her fault. She had told the employee to tell her when things were out of the normal routine and they didn’t. I would have suggested the employee receive a stern warning so they understood that in the future, they needed to let management know what was going on. By Cara feeling bad about the situation, she did what many pet sitters do and blamed herself when simply, as she even said, you can’t account for every possibility. She set her boundaries “Tell me if things are out of the norm” and the pet sitter didn’t do that.


inappropriate client

So How Do We Avoid Clients Who Are Inappropriate?

In short, here is my recommendation:
1. Nip it in the butt! You MUST ensure that your staff will tell you immediately and you MUST address it with the client immediately.
2. Depending on the situation, you need to coach the client or part ways.
3. Document everything, always.

Inappropriate behavior will happen during the lifetime of your business. The goal is to not let it happen again and again. It is true that we teach people how to treat us and it is up to us to set, establish, and model professional boundaries.