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Dog Sitting Survival Guide

I was asked to write an information piece about Dog Sitting. It’s a difficult topic to write about because there are so many variables; will the dog be staying with you or will you be staying in the owners’ home? Are you a dog free home or do you have dogs already and, if so, how do they get along? Does this dog know you or not? However, I’ll try to cover some basics below. Feel free to contact me if I don’t cover a specific question you have on the matter.

Most owners will leave you a list of instructions. Before they head off into the sunset, make sure they have left you the following information:

  • Where is the food? How much should he get? How many times a day?

  • Emergency contact details as well as a note of which vet they use, any medical information you might need and the specifics of any medication he might be on.

  • Is there anything that gives him a dodgy stomach? Most dogs have a stomach of steel but I do come across dogs with sensitive stomachs from time to time. For some it’s cheese. For others it’s sausages. Make sure you ask the owner so you can avoid a big mess at the least and a trip to the emergency vet at the worst.

  • What is his bathroom schedule like? Depending on age, some dogs need to be let out more often than others and it is important to know this so you can plan your day and set your alarm in the morning accordingly to avoid accidents.

  • How is he around other dogs? It’s very important to know this before you introduce him to your own dogs, if any, or take him for a walk or to a dog park. You must know if a muzzle is used or if caution will be required in certain situations.

  • How is he around people he doesn’t know? Again, a very important question to ask. He might be fine with you and he might be fine with John next door but if a stranger were to approach and try to pet him, how would he react? If a plumber was called to your home – will this dog aggress? You must know this in advance.

  • The above point goes for children. If the dog is afraid of children and you have children in your home – that’s an absolute deal breaker. Not only will the dog be seriously distressed and the children put at risk but you would actually be running the risk of the dog being put to sleep by forcing him into a situation that terrifies him and letting nature take its course. This really isn’t an issue to compromise on.

  • Where does he sleep? If you are staying in the owners’ home and Rex is used to sleeping on their bed, you’d need to know that in advance so you know why poor Rex is whining when you turn off the television, kiss him goodnight and leaving him behind. It’s up to you if you want to let him join you on the bed but it’s worth knowing in advance if there is going to be an issue around bedtime.

  • On the flipside of the above point, some people are very specific about what areas of their house dogs are allowed access to. So if the owners don’t allow dogs upstairs or on their favourite sofa, my advice would be to respect that.

  • What is the dog’s exercise requirement? This will vary greatly from dog to dog so it is always useful to know in advance. If you had it in your mind that you were going to be walking the dog for twenty minutes every evening but the dog you are minding has a much higher exercise requirement (or visa versa) – that could cause some issues. A dog whose exercise requirements are not met could become destructive (digging, chewing things he shouldn’t chew, jumping on people and furniture) and very vocal as he just has too much pent up energy. Likewise, if you take a dog with a low exercise requirement, or who is older in years, for a three hour hike his little legs won’t be able for it. He won’t just be tired out by it, it is actually likely to distress him and give him aches and pains in his legs.

Some dogs will pine for their owners. This can manifest itself in different ways. They might be reluctant to leave your side and get distressed when you leave a room. They might be restless at a time when they would usually be relaxing, e.g. in the evening time when you are unwinding or at bedtime. They might whine for no reason and seem a little glum. Some may go off their food (don’t worry, it might take a day or two but he will eat again). They might seem to be ‘searching’ the house and asking to go outside more often to search rather than to toilet. It might irritate you to have a dog whining at the door when you are having a nice evening in but be patient and try to understand the confusion and distress from his point of view. Give him lots of attention and affection. Provide the dog with something to do. Perhaps stuff a Kong (this is a durable rubber chew toy with an opening in the middle, can be found in any pet shop) with some peanut butter or chicken or some other goodies. Make sure you are providing plenty of exercise each day.

When out and about, my personal bias would be not to let a dog off leash who I am minding unless I know the dog very well and I know what sort of recall (coming back when called) they have. Remember, even a dog with a fantastic recall can be lured into not to come back to you. Sometimes running after that squirrel is just way too tempting - so always keep safety in mind in terms of access to roads and cliffs, etc.

Be conscientious about who helps out with the dog. It might seem like a great help if someone offers to walk the dog for you but remember, it’s you who has to answer to the owner if anything happens. So if you feel this person might play a bit ‘fast and loose’ with letting dogs off leash, might not exercise enough caution when letting dogs play with other dogs or might be someone who would leave a dog tied outside a shop while they grab a litre of milk….. remember: it is you who took on the responsibility, even if you chose to hand the leash to someone else, it’s ultimately you that will be explaining any calamities to the owners.

I hope you found this information useful. I'm always open to suggestions about topics to write about so please drop me an email:

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