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.


  1. Dear Emmy,

    Thank you for posting about your pet-sitting experiences. I know its not an easy job and yes, asking the dogs (who both us and them never meet before) to like us as soon as we open our door is not a good way. We need to ask them to accept us before they can start to like us like their human's mom. Allowing them to accept us is a good start for them to know more about us before we can actually do better.

    I believe you would be an awesome pet-sitter soon with your own way. Good luck for that :)

    btw, I might not be able to post an update on my kids blog, so could you please head over to their recent post and leave a comment so I could add you on my own site? Since I'm gonna use my own site more often, it would be great if I could keep a contact with some of you :)

    Autumn & Jasmine's Mom