Trusting your dog(s) to someone else is a big deal. We get it. So when we talk about managing dog separation anxiety, it can be yours as well as your dogs!
This article provides some general advice on what to look for in a dog sitter (or dog walker) as well as specifically highlighting special considerations and measures you can take if your dog has separation-related problems.
When you’re looking to have someone other than yourself care for your dog, especially if it’s not someone your dog(s) already knows well, or has known separation-related problems, the first challenge is “management”.
Whether you’re looking for in-house dog sitter, and whether it’s a short term sit (for just a few hours/days), occasional dog walking, or a longer-term arrangement (for solid weeks/months), you’ll want to think about how you can manage your dog’s separation anxiety and reduce distress – before, during and after the sit.
You’ll want to put measures in place to ensure your dog(s) doesn’t experience fear episodes and/or behaviours we associate with separation distress, e.g. shaking, pacing, panting, drooling, barking, urinating, destroying things, trying to escape, injuring themselves.
Such behaviour is not your dog being naughty, they are simply seeking some relief from fear. Knowing your dog gets distressed is really hard on your emotionally, creates separate anxiety for you the owner too! And it’s one of single biggest reasons many dog owners don’t feel comfortable using a pet sitter. Because leaving a dog in distress is not only unethical, but it also works against your efforts to train it.
Managing dog separation anxiety in advance of arranging a house and pet sitter can really help. It entails building a support network for the dog to hang out with while you’re gone (which can also help them improve their ability to handle being at home by themselves!)
My colleague and friend Rosee Riggs, a canine behaviour expert, and founder of Good Dog Practice, calls this ‘spreading the love’. Her speciality is separation anxiety dog training (and in fact she’s been able to help dog owners when other dog trainers have failed). Through a force-free, needs-based approach rooted in, Rosee helps her clients learn how to “manage” separation anxiety and helps them gradually train your dog to manage times when you’re away.
Because when the dog can’t cope with being with someone else and indeed periods of being alone, you feel locked in your own four walls. But when you’re able to step outside the door without your dog going berserk or be away for a few hours without them sending your neighbour barking mad with the noise or tearing up your furniture, your life can open up again!
Instructions for the dog sitter or dog walker
Do a web search on “instructions for dog sitter” and you’ll get hundreds of templates and tips. Don’t go overboard, but pick out the ones that will be super helpful for caring for your dog (not any dog).
Your first step is to find trusted dog companions, walkers and sitters who your dog can get used to filling the gap when you’re not around. It’s also really important to have your dog meet a potential dog sitter while you’re there too to bridge the trust.
A second step is to provide guidance on your dog’s preferences and idiosyncrasies! Write it down for the dog sitter or dog walker. We often only thing of the tangible things like food intolerances, medication, safety protocols. But our dogs are individuals, they have their little ways: specific needs, likes and dislikes, vulnerabilities, routines and rituals. No wonder we worry about whether they’ll cope without us.
This is why I always like to meet my dog owners in their own home prior to a sit, and why for dogs with separation anxieties short term sits can make that impossible if you’re not able to use someone local or if it’s not a regular arrangement with the same person whereby the first visit is a ‘getting to know’ rather than a handover.
What qualities to look for in a dog sitter or dog walker
Rosee sent me a list of qualities of a good dog sitter and generously allowed me to share it via my site here. She said that if she could wave a magic wand and find the perfect dog sitter or walker, these are what would be top of the list.
Note, some excellent professionals may not check every box but are a safe pair of hands, and some casual sitters may have masses of experience from their own dogs or looking after other peoples but poor skills on one area that crucial to you.
It’s for you to decide what matters most to you and your particular dog. I like to think I tick all the boxes, but certainly dogs with separation anxiety do require a whole extra layer.
#1 – They should enjoy dogs.
You’d imagine that this would be a no-brainer, but you’d be wrong! Many of my clients, not just one, have admitted that they have spoken with folks who aren’t at all at ease around dogs.
One claimed that the potential dog sitter recoiled when her dog sniffed her leg. It seems she didn’t particularly enjoy affectionate dogs. She actually would be more suitable for a different kind of career!
Some people have irrational dog-related notions, such as the dog isn’t permitted to do this or that around them.
People who have out-of-date dominance beliefs and insist on having to be the alpha are never acceptable, because inevitably it results in power plays that your dog won’t understand and might even find frightening. Even a short time in their care can undo a whole lot of trust you have with your dog.
One woman greeted a customer of mine and offered the dogs goodies. So far, so good, but one dog purposefully steered clear of her and refused to accept the treats. This dog sitter then acknowledged that she didn’t actually enjoy dogs at all. Dogs are superb at sniffing out the real deal.
A trustworthy dog sitter will be able to accept and like the dog just as they are. They are completely dependable, willing to be patient, and capable of catering for their needs
#2 – They should be able to read canine body language and communication.
Understanding a dog’s communication is vital at all times, but it’s crucial in families with multiple dogs or if the dog will be meeting other dogs on walks.
The dog sitter or walker must accept that pets with separation anxiety should never be left alone. They should be knowledgeable enough to interpret the behaviour and body language of dogs exhibiting separation anxiety.
#3 – They ought to possess decent handling abilities.
In addition to having solid lead skills, the dog sitter or dog walker should be knowledgeable about how dogs navigate and interact in the natural world and how to support successful socialising between dogs.
If a dog has particular difficulties walking on a lead, such as being afraid of unknown people, reacting to other dogs, or over reacting to things in the surroundings, such as cars or bicycles, they should be prepared to take dogs for walks in specific spots or adhere to places you ask them to avoid.
#4 – They should meet the basic checks
A background check is essential since your house sitter / dog sitter or dog walker will most likely need to have access to your home and your house keys.
They will be knowledgeable about the local canine regulations and bylaws in your region (which you can inform them of in advance of confirming a sit).
And ideally, they will be covered by both professional indemnity and public liability insurance.
#5 – They should be able to drive or have a car
Unless you’re providing use of a car, for longer sits, your dog sitter should ideally have a car. This makes it possible for them to alter the location of their walks, if necessary, or go to places where there’s a longer walk that perhaps ‘round the block’.
And of course, to keep costs down this is going to be crucial if the dog needs to visit the veterinarian. (Most taxis won’t take dogs, but that’s something you could check out beforehand if the proposed sitter doesn’t drive or doesn’t have a car.)
If you’d like more information and expert guidance on managing dog separation anxiety, especially if it’s affecting your life and upsetting your dog, then I urge you to grab Rosee’s free ebook, titled: “There is Light at the End of the Tunnel: 10 Vital Steps to Help Your Dog With Separation Anxiety“.
In this short book, you’ll some crucial tips on managing separation-related disorders that distress your dog, and undesirable behaviours that distress you! It’s going to really get you started with helping your dog and make having a dog sitter feel like a doable option, so you can finally go away with absolute peace of mind 🙂