Lesson 03: Talking to Your Dog Walker / Pet Sitter

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Hiring a Dog Walker or Pet Sitter to share in the care of your reactive dog can be one of the most nerve-wracking things a reactive dog guardian can ever do, but it can also be the most rewarding and life-changing. 

Knowing that this person is sharing in the care of your reactive dog means knowing that they will have an effect on your dog's behaviour and so they must be on the same page as you or you will find your dog becoming inconsistent and potentially dangerous. Remember that you will not be present for the care of your dog in these situations, so you have to feel 100% comfortable. 

Let's get the nightmares out of the way first and then we can move on to the good stuff:

My biggest fear is hiring a dog walker or pet sitter for my reactive dog and they fail in the management category and my dog bites someone. This brings on the costs of a lawsuit, payment for time away from work, a "dangerous dog" order and potentially the loss of the ability to have someone else share in the care of my dog. 

My next biggest fear is hiring a dog walker or pet sitter for my reactive dog and they are not on the same page. If I am using force-free methods and positive reinforcement and then my Pet Pro puts a shock collar on my dog to control their behaviour or uses a prong collar or a leash corrections and alpha-rolls, this is going to create a monster and undo my hard work. 

What are our criteria?

For Dog Walkers

  • Trained staff (body language, group management, fight protocols, pet first aid & CPR)
  • Gentle / humane handling of all dogs
  • No aversives (leash corrections, physical punishment, compressed air, spray collars, shock collars, alpha rolling, pennies in a can, air horns or other startle tactics
  • 100% supervision – dogs must never be left unattended even for 30 seconds or to "run into Starbucks and grab coffee"
  • Follows strict management protocols aligned with training plan
  • Access to fresh / clean drinking water at all times
  • Veterinarian-approved protocols for communicable disease (kennel cough, parvovirus, distemper, leptospirosis, parasites, etc…)
  • Immediate notification of loss, illness, or injury (of dog) and any outbreaks 
  • Fully insured (ask for proof of insurance) 
  • A clear contract in laymen terms that outline responsibilities and action to be taken in the event of an incident (ask a few “what if” questions to get an idea of what would happen and who would take responsibility, and how.)

For boarding/pet-sitting:

  • ...all of the above, plus: 
  • Appropriate dog to human ratio (no greater than 6:1)
  • Climate controlled environment 
  • Frequent access to a safe / clean outdoor area for potty breaks
  • Non-skid flooring to prevent injury, sanitized daily to prevent communicable disease
  • Separate playgroups for large breeds and small breeds to prevent predatory drift injuries and fatalities 
  • Frequent opportunities for rest to prevent overstimulation (pet sitting)
  • Interruption of rough play and bullying behaviours

Should you choose to utilize a Pet Pro for your dog, keep the lines of communication open with them, asking about any changes in behaviour, play style, and health on a regular basis.

We have a responsibility to the pet professional! 

Oftentimes, these are independent small business owners who are not independently wealthy, who don't have sick days, short-term disability, health benefits, or backup income. So if something happens to them (they get pulled over and break an ankle, they get bitten by your dog or by a dog that is fighting with your dog) they pay the ultimate price. 

Always disclose full history to your Pet Professional. This includes bite history, muzzle order, and any risks you feel may be present. 

If our dog causes damage to the Pet Pro or the public and it's found that it's not due to negligence on the Pet Pro's part, it's our responsibility to ensure that the Pet Pro is cared for until they can work at full capacity again. A simple gesture like paying for time off to heal, a few therapy sessions, and covering required medical costs - this can make a very big difference in that person's life AND potentially avoid a more costly lawsuit. 

If the injury/incident is found to be due to negligence on the Pet Pro's part, then their insurance is responsible to cover all these costs and negates a lawsuit. 

Understand your rights and responsibilities prior to hiring a professional. Best to speak with a personal injury lawyer to have your questions answered as the law varies based on location. 

Prior to hiring

Have a meet & greet with your pet professional so that you can ask all these questions and get your answers. Do not sign a contract on the spot - instead, think about it for 24 hours and do your research. Ask around in your community in case others have had a negative experience and weigh those with your experience and gut. Check reviews online. 

With a reactive dog, there is often a series of events: 

  1. Initial Meet and Greet (with a dog-reactive dog, without a human-reactive dog, for safety) - generally free and part of the Pet Pro's business plan. This is where you ask all your questions. There is no handling of the dog at all. 
  2. Followup Meet & Greet (with a dog-reactive dog, with a human-reactive dog, full safety protocol to avoid an incident) - paid and temporary contract signed in advance to establish professional-client relationship. Ensure you have proof of insurance prior to this meeting. This is paid. 
  3. For human-reactive dogs, you may need a series of "Introduction Meetings" before the dog feels safe going with a new human. These are all paid and you must be present. At least one or two should be a trial run where you are not present but you are close in case you need to "rescue" your Pet Pro. These are all paid. You may consider hiring a trusted and certified professional Trainer (also paid) to oversee these meetings and assist in a plan. 

As you can see, this is an investment but you will learn a lot and you, your dog, and your Pet Pro will remain safe! It's well worth it. 

Need a referral to a Pet Pro? Ask us!

The dog walking and pet sitting are part of a completely unregulated industry (just like Training) so that means anyone can offer this service. This means that we have to do our due diligence and not rely on word of mouth referrals. Everybody loves their Pet Pro but that doesn't mean they're going to be the right fit for you and your dog. We have to ask all the hard questions.

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