Would You Pet Sit For This Potentially Aggressive Dog?

Would You Pet Sit For This Potentially Aggressive Dog?

Recently a great post was created in our group and I wanted to get your thoughts on it as well. The advice was many comments long with lots of different suggestions. We had Endless Consulting, a dog training and pet sitting team in New Jersey weigh in on it too. What do you think?

Calling all dog experts! I need some help. Signed up a new daily last week, 5x a week. Owner goes back to work on 12/2. It’s a male, neutered, Rhodesian Ridgeback about 2 1/2 years old. They have had him since he was a puppy. The last pet sitter they hired said the dog hid in the bedroom and growled at her and she couldn’t get him out. My employee and I went and met with the client and, though the dog was a little nervous, we thought with a few trial visits (at the owner’s suggestion) he was workable. My employee has gone three times now and has not been able to get him out. Yesterday we asked the owner to leave the leash on to see if we could just grab the leash. No dice, it seemed to make him even more nervous. He does take treats from her hand and sniffs her, but when she moves he runs and starts barking or growling. In my experience, I truly think this dog would be ok if he got used to someone. I just don’t have anymore ideas for this client. I’m going to suggest that *I* will try to do the visit myself (even though it’s 11 miles one way from me versus 4 from my employee). I just don’t think she has as much dog behavior knowledge as she claims to have. Any suggestions? Tricks, tips? Dog must go out on leash since there is no fence.


So what would you do? Would you keep taking the pet sitting client? Would you pass it up? Here is what the professional dog

Rhodesian Ridgeback during dogs show in Katowi...
Rhodesian Ridgeback during dogs show in Katowice, Poland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

trainers of Endless Pawsibilities, LLC (www.endlesspaws.com)  and Pawsitive Consulting, LLC (www.pawsitiveconsulting.com)

“There are lots of other points to consider here.  However before we do that you need to decide if he is the right fit for your company?  What we mean is: Safety first!  You need to make sure whoever will be dealing with this pet can handle him, understand his body language and act accordingly. This may take weeks or months, so if you will be the one to win him over, you need to consider a few things.  Can you or are you willing to commit the time for both driving and earning his trust?  If you are not able to and can’t trust your sitter will be able to handle him, then we would suggest being honest with the client and simply refer them to a trainer and decline the job.

If you are committed to trying to help this dog, here are a few pointers:

  1. I know you mentioned there is no bite history and that you aren’t sure of the full story with the last sitter. If you are entertaining keeping this client, then you need to talk with them again and get all the details. Who was the original sitter? How long had they been walking the dog for before the behavior change? What was the first incident with the sitter? How did the sitter react? What did the sitter do during subsequent visits? Any other behavior changes in regards to food, toys, etc? You need to find out as much about the big picture as possible. And since most owners never want to admit their dogs are less than perfect, you may need to ask the same questions in different ways.
  2. There may be a personality conflict.  As humans, we do not like all the people we meet.  Dogs are the same way.  This dog may have trust issues and he could be this way with all people or it could just be the sitter.
  3. If something did go wrong with the last sitter; such as mistreatment or just a negative experience the dog associated with the sitter (loud car backfired while the sitter was walking him that scared the life out of him), your employee may have something similar that makes him think of the previous sitter.We had a client with a timid Chow with whom Megan had worked with the veterinary office when she was a technician (drawing blood, anesthesia, etc).  Though the dog was great and none of the interactions were bad, she was not happy to be at the veterinary office regardless.  Because of their previous interactions at the office, her fear was more extreme when Megan was her sitter.  She did much better with other sitters on our team.  
  4.  If the dog was better when the owner was present, maybe perform a few trial visits with the owner home.  Stop in for some coffee and chat with the owner.  Often, too much focused attention on the dog can amp their nerves.  You being present in the home a few times without trying to engage the dog may help desensitize him to you.
  5.  When you do care for the dog, ask the owner to close all the bedroom doors so he isn’t able to retreat to his “safe” place. Changing the location of the interaction may help. The living room versus the bedroom may be a better place to start making friends. Also, suggest a harness to the owner, one that the owner can put on in the morning and it clasps and releases over the shoulders or midback. The neck is a sensitive area to some dogs and they are not comfy letting just anyone near it. Using a harness that clasps on his back may help because once you gain his trust and he lets you pet him, you can pet him from the butt upwards, and make attaching and detaching the leash a nice motion during loving time. Eventually, you can work up to just using his collar and leash.
  6. If he is taking treats then that is a great starting point.  The sitter’s body language should be in no way confrontational (no bending towards or over the dog, do not make eye contact, do not turn and face him).  Try sitting in a chair or on the floor, it makes us more approachable to nervous dogs.   Again, some dogs can really react to the direct focus.  He should be able to take the treats without any further advancement on him.  When he is close enough, the sitter can slowly take the leash which should already be connected to the harness.We have a client we’ve been working with for 2 years and when she first called it was because her dog had started growling and baring teeth to the old sitter. I was open and honest with mom when I took the job. It took 6 visits before he stopped baring his teeth when he looked at me. From then on, it was slow motions, awesome treats and knowing how to read him and act accordingly that made him finally trust me to approach me and we were able to create a relationship. Since then, I have been able to introduce 2 of my sitters to him and things went wonderfully. 

Only you know whether this is an endeavor you’re comfortable taking on. It can certainly be a liability. It will take time, patience and of course, awesome treats (something extra rare and special like boiled chicken). Make sure you explain to your client that your goal for now is just to make him feel easy, gain his trust and let him approach you for attention. Once you are able to do that – the next goal is attaching the leash – and the next is taking him for a walk. Baby steps! Building a relationship slowly will only help you in the long run.  Good luck!

Tori and Meghan are an amazing pet sitting and dog training team out of New Jersey. They have been at this business for years. They are leaders in their industry and a great resource for anyone needing guidance. Check out their Dog Behavior For Pet Sitters Safety Manual for more information!