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How Pet Sitters Can Care for Skittish Dogs

Woofmeets Editor

Tue Oct 18 2022

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How Pet Sitters Can Care for Skittish Dogs

If you’re going to become a pet sitter, you might specialize in certain animals. Some pet sitters know how to care for lizards, ferrets, or more exotic pets. Many pet sitters start with dog knowledge, though, because dogs are one of the most common pets.

As someone who will be called upon to walk someone’s dog while they’re at work or to feed the dog and play with it while they’re on vacation, you should know at least some basics regarding canine behavior. No two dogs are identical, but you can watch for certain behaviors that tell you how the animal feels about you, and often, humans in general.

If you’ve been tasked with caring for a dog who’s nervous or skittish, you might not be sure how to do that. We’ll take a few moments to talk about that right now.

Talk to the Owner First

The first thing you’ll need to do is talk to the owner. You can communicate with them in person, on the phone, or via text messages. If they know they have a nervous or skittish dog, they can probably fill you in on some crucial details regarding how you should behave around the dog and what form their behavior takes.

Nobody knows an animal’s history or temperament better than the owner. The owner might give you valuable information regarding how you can get on the dog’s good side when you meet it and during the subsequent visits when you care for it. Maybe this dog doesn’t do so well with male humans, or humans wearing hats cause the animal anxiety.

Meet the Dog with the Owner Present

Some dogs exhibit problematic behavior because they’re very protective of their owners. Others might pose a problem because they’re protective of their property. That may lead them to bark at the mail carrier or an Amazon delivery person approaching the house or apartment where they live.

Dogs are pack animals, and the majority of them view their owner as the alpha animal that leads their pack. Accordingly, they will follow their master’s lead in many instances.

You should try to meet the dog when the owner is present, rather than showing up to care for the animal having never met it before. If the dog’s owner seems friendly and accommodating toward you, the dog will likely behave the same way.

Give the Dog Treats with the Owner Present

When you meet the dog with the owner present, the owner might instruct you regarding what treats it’s safe to give the dog. This particular dog might get Milk Bones, chicken jerky, or one of the dozens of other treats on the market.

As the dog’s caregiver, you’ll want to only give it treats that the owner specifically told you were okay. Some dogs have dietary issues, and only certain treats might be safe to give them.

If the owner seems accepting of you during this first visit and they tell you to give the dog some of its favorite treats, then hopefully, that will start to establish a good relationship between you and the dog. It will not only see that the pack leader has accepted and endorsed you but also that it can associate you with treats. It will begin to see you as a friend.

Watch the Dog’s Body Language

You can also watch the dog’s body language during this initial meeting. If the dog wags its tail, that generally means it’s friendly and accepting of you.

If the dog keeps the tail tucked between its legs while meeting you, it’s still nervous about you.One thing you can do with skittish or nervous dogs is to speak to them in a soft toneof voice. During the initial meeting, you should also try not to make sudden or exaggerated moves with your arms or other body parts.

You can also sit on the floor when meeting the dog. This way, you’re getting closer to the animal’s eye level. Then, you can invite the dog to approach and smell you when it feels ready. You can talk to it softly and initiate body contact only when the animal seems comfortable with that.

Begin to Establish a Rapport

Remember that some dogs are nervous around new humans because they experienced improper care or even cruelty in their early life. That might lead them to growl at new humans, cower when one approaches, or exhibit similar behavior.

This is not the animal’s fault. Just like when humans experience trauma, dogs recall what happened to them in the past, and it shapes their current personality and temperament.

If you speak softly, don’t make large motions, and get down on the dog’s eye level when you meet them, that should go a long way toward establishing trust. You can probably move quickly to giving the animal treats, and you meeting the dog with the owner present should help the process as well.

Soon, you and the dog in question should be friends, and this animal put in your care will start to trust and like you.


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