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Dog Sitters Part II: Being One

Some of you have taken up or be interested in doing occasional dog-sitting, or you might find yourself being asked by a friend to watch their dog for a while, or you might be temporarily between dogs and considering dog-sitting or fostering to get some extra doggy joy into your life.
Dog-sitting is not all cuddles and romps and extra pocket money, though. These will be dogs who you might not know very well, they will be upended into a different environment and a different routine, and their owners will be temporarily gone, so it can be a tough time for dogs and their behavior can reflect this.
Here are several tips for you to handle your dog guest with safety, courtesy and hospitality!
Get as much information about the dog from the owner as you possibly can. Present a positive, non-judgmental attitude; many owners will feel guilty if they believe they are doing something incorrectly with the dog (“I know I shouldn’t let him on the bed, but…”) or are a little ashamed of behaviors their dog does. The truth is, most behavior issues are very common and nothing to be embarrassed about. Put the owners at ease by letting them know this and know that you won’t judge.
No matter what the age and training level of the dog, your house must be puppy-proofed, as if you are bringing home a new puppy who knows nothing. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, whatever manners a dog knows and obeys in his own home may not automatically transfer over to a new house/environment. In training terms this is called “generalization,” and means that, for example, even if the dog knows not to jump up on its own kitchen counters and eat food, it might not automatically understand that the same rule is in place for your own kitchen counters. It hasn’t learned anything about the availability of food on your own kitchen counters; it’s naive about this.
Secondly, due to the change in the dogs environment, it might regress for things like chewing. It might be testing boundaries, but most likely is that the dog is under a mild (or, depending on the dog, a major) stress and stress-related behaviors such as chewing will pop back up. So err on the safe side, and set the dog up to not make any house manners related errors right off the bat.
Shy dogs might need restricted space for the first couple of days, until they feel confident enough to venture out through the whole house. Usually you can boost confidence in a shy dog rapidly by giving it a very slow acclimation to your house. Very confident dogs, on the other hand, can usually have a walk-through right away. It’s fine to keep the dog on leash for this as you walk through the house, into all rooms that he’ll have access to, and then go outside and walk the fenceline.
Use good animal care procedures during the dogs entire stay. Many problems and situations arise because people do not use correct procedures. For example, proper household dog management involves feeding the dogs separately. In many households, the dogs are completely fine and everyone eats side by side, but for an unknown dog, even if you suspect he’d be just fine, go ahead and follow the separate feeding procedure anyway. There’s no harm in this and it may prevent a fight. A daily check of your fenceline, daily quick check of the dogs health, and equipment check (collar, leash) whenever you take the dog out should be among your regular routines.
Make sure to stay in touch with the owner! A text message with a cute photo each day will be nice. Reply to the owner’s text messages and phone calls immediately; if this isn’t likely to be possible let the owners know up front – “I have my phone on silent while I’m doing computer work and dinnertime, so I’ll reply as soon as I turn it on again” – so that the owner doesn’t send a check-in message at 7 PM and then panic until 8:30 PM when she doesn’t hear from you. The owners love their dogs, and it’s normal for them to be worried and miss them while separated! Be very understanding about this.

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