Are You Afraid of Leaving Your Fearful Dog?
I’ve had my dog Emerson since he was two weeks old, since I cared for his momma and littermates after they were abandoned. He was always the “scaredy dog” of the bunch. When all of his siblings learned how to go up and down steps, they got the hang of it very quickly and zoomed up and down with ease. Emerson, on the other hand, very slowly crept to the top, then wailed and wailed when he couldn’t get back down.
He screamed bloody murder throughout his first bath, even though it lasted all of two minutes and he only had to have his back soaped up. He was a drooling mess in the car on the way to get his puppy vaccines, and he was terrified of being out of my arms. And when it was time for him to start meeting people who might want to adopt him at 10 weeks old, Emerson ran and hid from everyone. He preferred to cling to my legs or climb into my lap.
Long story short, this doggie has been scared from day one. And strangers are not on his list of favorite things!!
Or, at least it used to be that way. He has gotten used to my mom and brother over the last eight years, and so I always knew they could pet sit for Emerson if needed.
But family weddings threw a wrench into that idea. And so when my cousin got married in 2011, I had to figure out a solution for Emerson. All of his trusted people would be going away for a long weekend!
Kenneling a Fearful Dog?
I decided that a kennel environment would scare the wits out of him. I used to work in a kennel myself and knew that Emerson would probably be the dog who refused to be leashed for walks and who would be thoroughly frightened any time his kennel had to be cleaned.
Finally I found a place that offered large cabins for dogs. Emerson and my other dogs would have a couch to lay on and full access to an outdoor potty yard. No one would have to leash Emerson to take him out to go potty. And the dogs would even get to watch movies!
It seemed like the best option. Allowing your pets to visit dog kennels gives them free time to themselves, grow their confidence with other animals and it means it’s like a mini holiday for your dog, which I’m sure they will enjoy.
But Emerson was still petrified. All of my other dogs were brought to a play yard to romp and run three times a day, but Emerson refused to let anyone near him with a leash. So, following my instructions (thankfully), they left him alone.
Finally, on the final day they were able to leash him up. As a courtesy, this facility always bathed the dogs before sending them home. I just assumed Emerson would be spared the bath, but somehow they did it.
“You’re giving Emerson a bath??”
“Emerson?? I mean … do you have the right dog??”
Scratch that idea.
A Pet Sitter Is a Much Better Option
Three years later, another cousin got married. This time, I was going to try to keep Emerson’s routine as normal as possible, so I looked around to hire a pet sitter. I decided to use Mad Paws to find a local sitter with a good reputation. But I needed really someone who passed Emerson’s inspection, and I finally found one that he seemed to like. She arrived to meet him with a huge pack of jerky treats. It was love!
He was happy to allow her to pet him and even treated her to some kisses. I felt that this was as comfortable as he would get.
And so she got the job. Now all I had to do was bite the bullet, get on the plane and check my phone for texts every two seconds.
Finally the text came: a picture of Emerson lounging on the couch curled up next to his dog sitter!!
“He barked at me for like 10 minutes but I just ignored him and he warmed up,” the text read. “We’re buddies now!”
It was a weight off my shoulders to be able to leave Emerson and know that he wouldn’t have a total meltdown. The next year I took my dream vacation: 10 days in Europe! And it wouldn’t have been possible without an amazing sitter.
Tips for a Successful Sitting Experience
My advice to other owners of fearful dogs includes:
• Trust your dog’s judgment! If he warms up faster to one sitter over another, it’s a good sign.
• Have the dog interact with the pet sitter as much as possible before you leave for your trip.
• Do a trial day if you can, where the sitter comes over during the day to let your dog out while you’re at work.
• Have the pet sitter at your home already before you leave to catch your flight. Having a “stranger” enter the home is the most stressful part of this scenario for your dog, but you can normalize the pet sitter’s presence on the first day with a little planning.
• Make sure your pet sitter knows not to force attention onto your fearful dog.
• Have the pet sitter enter your home through a back door, if you have a fenced yard, so that he or she can easily get inside without invading your dog’s space; the sitter can just push the door wide open and let the dog out immediately.
Author bio: Cathy Habas has two main loves in life: animals and writing. She.currently have 5 dogs, 5 cats and a horse. From pigs to hermit crabs, she cared for all types of animals throughout her time as a veterinary assistant, a shelter and sanctuary volunteer and, of course, a pet owner.