Now that summer is in full swing, families are going on those long awaited vacations. In many cases, families cannot take their four legged family member with them. This means having to ask a friend, family, or neighbor to check in on your pooch, or even hire a pet sitter.
The problem that normally happens with us and our dogs is that we don’t listen to what they are telling us and rush them into inappropriate situations without the proper preparation. If we understand and deal with these issues, everything will normally be great. Dogs, like many of us, are pack animals and don’t trust new animals just appearing in their home. They feel a need of protection and will do anything to get those animals out. Just having a new person appear on the day of your departure may cause your dog to enter a protection mode as soon as you take off for your trip.
It is important that the pet sitter has visited at least two times prior to your vacation with the family at home. This assures that your dog becomes acclimated to this new person and he sees that you have given this person the “seal of approval”.
If your dog is nervous with new people, on the first visit have the sitter, ignore your dog. Eventually, he will see that the sitter is interacting with the rest of his “trusted” family and will inquisitively approach, making him more comfortable, and making it a good experience. The sitter should allow your dog to sniff but should not engage. You should repeat these visits for several times, allowing your dog to become more and more familiar with the sitter.
Next, review the commands your dog is familiar with. You can show the sitter your routine of entering and leaving the house, feeding your dog, going for walks, any special playtime or toys and his bed/crate routine. Then, with you present, have the sitter repeat all of these. The sitter should understand that she should continue with your dogs “happy things”. If he normally gets a frozen Kong toy every afternoon, the sitter should make sure he still gets it. If he likes to take a walk first thing in the morning, that should happen. These will help forge the continuity as the rest of the family departs and will encourage a trusting bond between the sitter and your dog.
The sitter now needs to practice “coming and going” to emulate the actual stay. First, the sitter should arrive with a family member. The house should be empty except for your dog. Both the sitter and the family member should arrive and enter the house. The family member should now “hang back” as the sitter goes about her activities of taking her clothes into the guest room, checking out the bath room, checking on your dog’s food and water, and letting him out in the back yard. If there are any signs of fearfulness or uncertainty from your dog, the family member can step up and encourage him that everything is alright.
The sitter should try to establish a daily, consistent timeline with your dog. Dogs understand consistency and keeping on the same schedule will help him remain calm while the rest of the family is away.
Finally, remind your sitter that in your dog’s mind, that she is a guest in your dog’s house. Always encourage him into activities and never physically force or scare him. You dog just needs assurance that everything is fine and that the sitter does not represent a major change in his environment.
If you are hiring someone you don’t know personally, make sure that you have received references for this person and let close by neighbors know you are going out of town, and someone will be staying at your home.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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