For those of us who enjoy canine and feline companionship, there is no greater joy than their presence in our lives. The human-animal bond is unlike other relationships that come and go as it is rooted in mutual respect, reliance and adoration. We’re just happier having them around! As professional pet sitters, we’re making our living from living with other people’s pets! How cool is that?
This important role that pets play in our happiness was deeply reinforced during Covid-19. Countless articles have been written about the human-animal bond and its strength in our lives.
Pets, just like human children, need consistency in their routines. When routines are disrupted, dogs and cats become stressed.
Recently rescued dogs and cats often struggle with their new-life and new-home acclimation. The often quoted “3-3-3 rule” does not apply across the board. Most, if not all dogs, will “crossover” in their trust journey and relax knowing their (new) owners will return home. There is no pre-determined time frame as each dog is uniquely different. As a pet sitter, you may be the solution to helping dogs and cats regain trust and comfort when left alone.
8 Signs that signal Separation Anxiety
(1). Over-grooming: dogs may obsessively lick their paws and cats may pluck their tummy fur. This can cause skin irritation and possibly infection. The family veterinarian should be consulted to make sure this isn’t an underlying medical condition. Seasonal allergies notwithstanding, keep an eye on this as a potential stress reaction that requires client attention.
(2). Excessive vocalization: if a dog is barking or whining more than usual, this is another sign of stress. As you get to know your furry clients and dog behavior in general, this becomes more apparent with each experience.
(3). Yawning & panting: excessive panting is a sure sign of stress (unless you just came back from a long walk or the hot outdoors). Yawning is hard to interpret. Is this dog just tired or not? Referred to as “displacement behavior”, animal behaviorists attribute this to discomfort.
(4). Pacing and shaking: if a dog is shaking and trembling this is not normal and requires immediate attention to determine the cause and remove him from it or seek vet attention. He could be in pain or simply preparing to flee from a bothersome situation. Shaking often occurs during thunderstorms or loud noises such as fireworks. Unusual pacing is just that, unusual and certainly a sign of discomfort or distress.
If the dog is not in pain requiring a vet visit, calming aids can be employed. What calming aids can you confidently recommend? Do your homework! Some veterinarians will recommend Trazodone, Xanax or similar for high-anxiety dogs. It’s not a pet sitter’s position to interfere with vet/client relationships. However, please familiarize yourself with various drugs, side effects and do your best to be an informed consultant in the process.
(5). Hiding: if a dog or cat is suddenly ducking under a bed or behind the chair, they’re bothered by something. Consider (or recommend) a cat tree as cats are more comfortable in higher places.
For the “disappearing” dog, consider the triggers that are sending him for cover and remove them. This happens when you prepare to leave the home and any dog knows what those signals mean. You might stuff a Kong toy with treats and provide them for a dog’s entertainment while owners are away, or you are leaving after a visit. A Kong can be stuffed with peanut butter or Cheese Whiz and frozen for longer-lasting enjoyment. If the dog is a “super chewer”, best to let them indulge on the Kong while you have them in your sights.
(6). Sudden indoor accidents: if a litterbox-trained cat starts missing the mark, she could be stressed by something. You may suggest to your client they add another litterbox to help identify the source of her stress (is it a loud noise or a new cat member sharing the same litterbox)? Rule of thumb is one litterbox per cat and a spare for good measure. Litterboxes should be cleaned daily, and the litter replaced 2 x week.
If a housetrained dog is now leaving “gifts” inside the house, he is definitely sending an “I’m not happy” message. He might benefit by an indoor grass or bark potty box yet may also benefit by desensitization techniques or calming aids to assuage his anxiety. Is the dog getting enough exercise? You may suggest a longer walk (for an added fee if you are his dog walker during the day.
(7). Tail tucking, flattened ears or crouching when they are scared or stressed, they tuck their tails in. This reaction is most likely a response to fear and should be met with lots of space, patience and caution. Cats will flatten their ears and curl into a ball with a flicking tail as a warning sign.
(8). Loss of appetite: this happens for a myriad of reasons; stress is one, yet more likely a medical condition that needs a vet’s attention if the hunger strike continues for several days. It’s possible a simple change of diet is the solution. Honestly, would you eat the same food every day of your life? NOTE: Dogs eat less in the summer months, so don’t panic if rising temperatures prompt slightly reduced consumption.
To prepare pets for alone time, 8 simple techniques to consider:
- Create a safe, comfortable and quiet area in the home just for them.
- Provide entertainment and enrichment toys. Stuffed Kongs and treat puzzles are a great distraction for home alone dogs. Hide them throughout the house to create a treasure hunt.
- Invest in a Furbo or Pet Cube Camera. Both products allow owners to keep a remote eye on a wandering dog or cat. These effective “nanny cams” also allow the owner to talk to their pets and/or dispense treats or play laser tag.
- Leave the TV or radio on, with soft music in the background (classical is best). Remember that a dog’s hearing is far more acute than ours so turn the volume down to a peaceful level.
- Start conditioning a dog with treats and praise when they are acting calm. To begin desensitizing a dog to absence, leave the house for short periods. When you return, wait for their so-excited-to-see-you-again reaction to quell before you fuss and fawn over them. Walk past them, turn your back and as soon as they settle down, reward their chill behavior with treats and praise.
- Dogs love to sniff things. Suggest to your clients that they leave an old t-shirt or personal item lying around for the dog to sniff and remember them while they are temporarily away.
- Always provide daily exercise for dogs. If it’s too hot for a walk, play a short game of fetch before you leave for the day. You’ve heard it said countless times: “a tired dog is a happy dog”. PET PRO TIP: If you are providing dog walking services, you might recommend more than one walk per day or offer extended “cuddle” time with the pet at an additional charge.
- Leave a blind or shutter open so the dog has a view of outdoor activity in the neighborhood.
In addition to these blogs, we also recommend professional training to “up your game”. Our MEMBERS ONLY section includes several pet sitting certification and training courses ranging from $40-$150 (we have carefully selected the courses with you and your pocketbook in mind!). JOIN AS A MEMBER and let’s “up our game” together! Click here: Join Us – Association of Pet Professionals
If you have any questions, please complete the contact form to interact with us. We are interested in hearing about you and your business and anxious to help you in this joyful journey of quality pet care.
Tori and the Pet Pro Team @ Aopp
First photo by Bacila Vlad on unsplash
Second photo by Anna Shvets on pexels