Tuesday, February 21, 2012

• Training the Pet Sitter

Sam and Diego
As a pet sitter, sometimes I get cocky. Last week was one of those times.

My first job was with Diego, a golden retriever, and Sam, a shepherd mix. The boys are rollicking, effusive, fun-loving fellows who've never met a stranger. The second I pet one, the other noses my hand out of the way, demanding his fair share. I'd cared for them in 2010 during "Snowmageddon." When I opened the front door on Saturday morning, more than two feet of snow greeted the dogs. They lurched joyously through drifts higher than their heads.

Sam and Diego are the kind of dogs that make me feel confident as a pet sitter. They love me! But then . . . they love everyone.

Next: new clients BudDee and CeCee.

BudDee is six pounds of Maltese, with pink skin peeking through wispy white hair. His bones feel as delicate as a bird's. CeCee is a Maltese mix. Her moist brown eyes regarded me, a stranger, cautiously.

BudDee and CeCee
I employed my usual "get to know the dog" tricks. Stretched out on the floor, I tried baby talk. CeCee politely slunk to another room and BudDee followed. They accepted treats, then adjourned to a safe spot under the dining room table, within sight but not reach. They lay beside me on the chaise lounge as I watched TV, but started when I petted them.

The next day I came across a book called The Dog Listener. Its author, Jan Fennell, emphasized the importance of communicating with dogs by watching them, "listening" to them. Dogs can become stressed if their owners don't act like leaders, she said, because the dogs think they have to be in charge.

Were BudDee and CeCee stressed? Maybe I wasn't acting like a leader. Maybe by crawling on the floor and making kissing sounds, I was giving the wrong message.

The next time we went for a walk, I noticed the dogs waited for me to go through the door first. Unlike when I was with Sam and Diego, I was supposed to be the leader. So I tried to lead. When CeCee wanted to keep walking and BudDee balked, instead of turning around, as I had on previous walks, I exerted a slow, gentle pressure on his leash. Amazingly enough, BudDee walked an extra half block!

CeCee and Me
I continued to watch the dogs for cues about how they were feeling instead of imposing myself on them. I no longer lay on the floor or spoke in a babyish voice. I talked less, period. I put my ego aside and stopped pressuring them to like me.

Did my new approach make a difference? Or did the dogs simply become used to having me around? I don't know. But the next morning CeCee wagged her tail when she woke and BudDee caught her mood. That afternoon, the February sun had warmed the rock patio. I lay down, the sun full on my face. CeCee, bless her heart, snuggled next to me.

BudDee and CeCee's human "mom" has hired me for a four-night job in March. I'll finish The Dog Listener then—I've got a lot to learn.

Friday, February 3, 2012

• Why Should You Go To a Pet Expo?

The World of Pets Expo was a blast! I loved the high-flying canine athletes, the dog agility trials, the miniature horses, the costumes at the Guinea-Pig-A-Thon, and snuggling with my all-time favorite piggie, Papua Piig.

But I think what I enjoyed most was the thousands of dogs that people brought with them. I saw my first Cane Corso, with a head that was bigger—and harder—than a bowling bowl. Another "first" was a Leonburger. Check out the short video I made!

So, why go to a pet expo? I went to bone up (pun intended) on anything that might help me as a pet sitter. There are dozens more reasons to attend.

If you're thinking of getting a pet, an expo is a great place to do research. You can learn about breeds from rescue groups and clubs. Your kids can get hands-on experience with different breeds. World of Pets rescue groups included Bouviers, Brittanys, Dachshunds, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Greyhounds, Westies, and Yorkies. Cat, ferret, guinea pig, rabbit, and turtle and tortoise rescue groups also took part.

If you have questions about your pet's health or behavior, veterinarians, trainers, and others give presentations on wellness, emergency care, grooming, dental care, and other pertinent topics.

If you're tired of spending money on treats your pet doesn't like, vendors always give away treats. Food manufacturers are on hand to answer questions.

If you have kids who like animals, an expo will showcase pets such as gerbils, guinea pigs, ferrets, sugar gliders, macaws, parrots, snakes, lizards, fish, goats, and chickens. One World of Pets had a capybara, monkeys, a wild cat, and more.

If you need a gift for a pet or pet owner, an expo is like a pet store on steroids. You'll find the unusual, like lighted dog collars and french-fry-shaped dog snacks. For people, expos are a treasure trove of animal-themed ornaments, clothing, household items, magnets, signs, accessories—you name it.
To find a show near you, Google "pet expo." Have you been to one? Tell me about it! I'm sure that every pet expo is different. But I'm certain they all have one thing in common: Fun!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

• Wordless Wednesday: Multi-Pet Household

I admit it—I wasn't ready for all five dogs.

I'm a pet sitter, and I rarely have problems with animals I care for. Therefore, I reasoned, I'll never have problems with animals I care for.

They were all rescues, said the owner. They have issues with sharing resources.

Dinnertime was an intense scramble for food, with me as referee. If I hadn't closed off four dogs in the kitchen and fed the lowest dog on the totem pole in the hallway, she would not have been able to eat. As the days went by, I found myself taking a deep breath and whispering, "I can do this," as I lined up dishes and mixed and measured food. And I did it, of course, but it was stressful.

I was a resource, as well. The alpha dog was jealous when I sat next to or petted another. "There's enough love to go around," I constantly reassured him. "That's why I have two hands."

Mistakenly, I thought that stroking him while I petted another dog would appease his jealousy. I realized how wrong I was when he nipped my face.

I have no problem with caring for these dogs again. Each is loving in its own way. But next time I'll be better prepared.

Go to Wordless Wednesday: Multi-Pet Households to see more blogs in this blog hop.