Successful Sleepovers

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Ruff sitting outside his house, waiting for his sleepover.

Something that is often missed in puppyhood is practicing sleepovers. When we are through the puppy phase, we often find ourselves needing to board our dog for the weekend or for a week's vacation, but our dog has never been away from home or without us! 

It's only after that "trial by fire" experience that we realise there is so much more we could have done to make it a much easier and more pleasant experience. 

We cannot reason with our dog and make them understand that this is temporary and we'll be back in 2 sleeps or 5 sleeps or 14 sleeps. For them, this is a massive change in their environment and can be very confusing and anxiety-inducing. 

I do find that puppies who have great sleepover experiences early on certainly do better with sleepovers throughout their lives, however, we must be so careful about who we trust with our puppy due to the critical developmental periods and the effect early trauma can have on the brain. 

New rescue dogs really need consistency and predictability for a good while when they come home to their forever home; especially if they've been shuffled around from home to home, shelter to foster, etc... It's not something I would do for the first 3 months in a new home. 

So how can we best prepare our dogs for this experience?

#1: Allow your dog an opportunity to develop a relationship with the person and their space before we drop them off for a weekend or a week. Imagine the difference between staying over at your favourite aunt's house for a weekend vs a foreign exchange program with no prior meeting. Get together for walks, playdates, visits in your home and theirs. It doesn't have to be extensive but something that allows your dog to recognise this person as a "safe" person and to develop some rapport and trust. 

#2: Do a trial afternoon and see how it goes. Daytimes are often easier for dogs as the activity can provide a bit of distraction from the fact that you're not there, and the loneliness that nighttime often brings. (Kids are the same!) Once that is done, try an overnight and see how things go. There's more familiarity now, so this should hopefully go well!. Once they've nailed this, you're set for a weekend or a week! If things are not going to go well, you'll often get hints during the afternoon trial and the overnight. 

#3: Ensure this person is well equipped with everything they'll need to help Fido or Fluffy feel comfortable and right at home. Pack up your dog's regular food (portioned and labelled) plus a little extra, treats if you're particular about what your dog eats, 1-2 favourite toys, 1-2 food puzzles/stuffables, leash and harness, collar with ID tag, a clear colour photo of your dog (both digital and printed)*, and their regular bedding. 

Be sure to pack the essentials and give explicit directions in writing. Go over everything in a sit-down conversation so that there are no concerns or questions later. Your sitter should know what the routine looks like (generally speaking), any health conditions, any medications, allergies, sensitivities, what brand and portion size of food, any behaviour challenges or triggers that might cause a reaction, which vet clinic they frequent (and their contact info), the nearest emergency clinic, and your contact info as well as your emergency contact in case you are unreachable. 

More importantly, choose this person very carefully. Someone you know well and trust, who is compliant and kind/gentle with dogs. We do not recommend using apps like rover.com or random people from social media. Do your research and ask us for a recommendation if you don't have one! 

So basically, don't choose your cousin's neighbour who's "really good with dogs" and whose limited knowledge of dog training is 13 episodes of The Dog Whisperer. You want someone who is open to following your direction and not trying their hand at training.

Start small - one night is good enough for now! In a month, try a weekend. It won't take long before they're ready for a week-long vacation if all is going well! 

* You might wonder why a digital & printed photo might be important. This is for the unlikely event that your dog goes missing. Posters will need to be made, so a digital AND hardcopy image should be given to your sitter. 

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