Tips at Winning-Over a Nervous Dog
– In part one of this article we talked about arriving at your pet sit, how to recognize the signs of a nervous dog, and a few of the reasons he might be that way. In this half of the article, we’ve suggested a few ways to bring some peace into the visit. Most importantly…DO NOT ENTER the house if the dog is snarling and lunging at the door no matter what the client tells you.
Give Them Space…but not too Much!
Loose fearful dogs might back up and let you in but won’t let you approach. If you force the issue, they might bite which causes them even more stress, since they are most likely mild-tempered dogs…and you won’t be too happy about it either! A fear bite hurts just as much as an aggression bite. Give the nervous dog some space. If the yard is fenced, open the door and move out of the way. If it is not fenced…and even if the family tells you the dog will stay close to home, NEVER let the dog out loose. (Any dog!) He’ll be half-way to the next town before you make it out the door behind him. It’s better to clean up a mess on the floor than to lose the dog!
Try a Little Quiet
Generally, smiling, standing quietly (standing tall to ensure they know you are taking the lead role,) and talking in a low, gentle voice, is enough to settle any dog down after awhile. Be patient. Dogs are curious creatures and if they’re barking and you’re speaking quietly, they can’t hear if you’ve said any of the magic words such as treats, cookies, outside, or car. Many trainers suggest no contact of any kind with the dog at first. This includes not talking to them, touching them, or making eye contact with them for the first few minutes. This helps establish your role as leader. I haven’t used this tactic on initial visits – but if a very boisterous dog doesn’t settle after I’ve tried talking with him, I will ignore him while I attend to another task such as his meal or preparing his harness for the walk. I’ll even do this with dogs I know well when they get over-excited. After they start wondering if I’ve lost my mind, I turn to them and ask in a conversational voice, “Are you going to be quiet now? Sit.”
Avoid Eye Contact
Making eye contact in the wild is a sign of aggression. You can try avoiding eye contact with a nervous dog…but keep your gaze peripherally on the dog. Stay safe. Confident, domesticated dogs are used to making eye contact and will even try to get your attention by staring right in your eyes (or by standing in front of the television!) But a nervous dog might prefer an eyes-off approach.
Stay as Though You Have Nowhere Else to Go
It might take time for a dog to settle and he’ll know if you’re anxious or don’t want to be there…so put your next pet sit appointment out of your mind and relax and let the nervous dog take the time he needs. On one occasion, after nearly 30 minutes, one of the two Chihuahuas I came by to see finally got brave enough to let me put her halter on her so she could get out to pee. The male, though, went to the far side of the bed and was shaking so hard I gently told him he could curl up and have a little sleep and not worry about going out. I left to see two other clients’ dogs and when I came back, he finally came around…especially when I started tossing him little pieces of his favorite treat. After he nervously let me put his halter on, he strutted out the door to show me his yard.
Treats…The Magical Distraction
Sometimes sliding a treat across the floor to the side of a nervous dog…or tossing it just over his shoulder so he has to break his focus…is enough to snap the dog out of a momentary flap and bring back the sweetheart you met back at the meet-and-greet.
Skip the Halter this Time Around
We use Sporn harnesses quite a lot in our pet sitting but, as with most harnesses, it involves lifting the dog’s front feet into it. Lots of dogs don’t like you messing with their legs and especially their feet. Considering you have your arms and face very close to the dog’s mouth, if the dog is nervous at all, don’t take a chance with the halter. If you think you can’t manage him without it, just do a backyard visit the first few times until you feel safer.
Just Be You!
We all want our pet sitting visits to be enjoyable for the animals, but sometimes it takes patience. Sometimes going outside is exactly what the animal is stressed to do with a new person…and over time, through your own natural talents, you’ll find the best ways to help the animal adjust and feel comfortable around you.
Always remember that animals take a cue from you when they see you. If you put a smile on your face and enter every door happy to see them, then most every one will be happy to see you too!
Until next time…have fun out there!