What to do when your dog becomes afraid of the walker,
copyright (c) 2021 Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved.

Busy schedules and regular dog walking for your dog can mean you have to hire a
dog walker to help out but how do you choose?  How do you make sure a dog
walker is the right one for your dog?  What do you look for and what questions
should you ask?  And what happens if your dog becomes afraid of the walker?
How can you help to fix it?

Please, do take the time to make sure your dog walker is the right walker by
meeting them first.  No matter what a potential service may tell you about how
wonderful their sitters and walkers are, nothing can substitute for seeing for
yourself.  Pay attention to whether they ask you what your dog likes and how
you provide it as opposed to telling you what an expert they are even though
they have never met your dog.  Relationships are created with our pets through
experience and trust and are not instant.  Watch them in action; are they good
with dogs- speak gently, approach from the side, avoid scolding or punishment,
stay off their phone?  Did they come bearing treats?  Do they want your dog
to like them and willing to work to make that happen?  How does your dog
respond to them?  You know what it looks like when your dog likes somebody
or not so watch closely to see how your dog feels about the prospect of this
possible walker.  

Make sure that first meeting with a potential dog walker includes showing them
how you walk your dog and seeing their handling ability in action.  Take a short
walk with them and your dog.  Start your walk with you holding the leash with
your dog next to you and work up to the walker holding the leash with the dog
next to them.  How are their leash handling skills?  Do they speak to your dog
before taking that first step to get their attention, and engage them while
walking, did they use your dog's name affectionately?   Are they able to walk
your dog without holding that leash too tightly or jerking on it?  Are they big
on letting dogs sniff (a non negotiable). Do interview more than one walker
to compare and find the best fit.
More on introducing pet sitters and dog walkers.)

But what happens when you believe you have found the right walker and with all
your best efforts there comes a time when the walking or sitting did not go as you
or your dog would have liked?  Perhaps proper introductions were not made or
sufficient time taken for the walker to develop a relationship with the dog or the
walk was rushed too often or the handling was too rough.  A sufficiently negative
experience or an accumulation of not so great experiences can prompt a strong fear
response and elicit a behavior that is self -defensive -your dog may not want to go
out again with walkers and communicate this in canine fashion by hiding when
the walker comes, growling and snapping.

When your dog starts telling you something is wrong, try and figure out exactly
what it is. What changes in behavior are you seeing?  Does your dog appear more
anxious before or as you are leaving your home?  Now reluctant to leave your
home or go on walks?  Are they more reactive than usual around strangers?  
Are they more anxious/shy/aggressive than usual?  Are they hiding in corners
of rooms?  Close to your bed?  Following you around more than usual?  Take an
inventory of any recent changes in your dog's environment that might be
responsible to evaluate their impact.  Make sure to consider the things that
might be happening that you cannot see, including medical and what may
be happening when you are not around.

Investing in a hidden remote camera and observing your walker when you are not
around will allow you to make sure that your dog is not being scolded, handled in
the wrong way or otherwise harmed.  It also can tell you if your instructions are
being followed as to when walks are actually happening and if other dogs are part
of the party when you have requested a solo walk.  (In cases where the dog has
been seriously traumatized by the events, terminate the arrangement and do
consider working with a good, force free, science based behaviorist or do the
research to learn how to help the dog get over the trauma).  If you have
determined that everything is as it should be when you are gone, revisiting
walking protocol is in order.  One of my clients is going through this and no
one is happy about it.  Here's my advice (I have changed names to protect
the innocent):

Oh Valerie, I so wish we could fix this right away, really, for you and mostly for
Lawrence who is petrified to be doing all this. If the first walk with the new dog
walker went well, whatever approach the walker used for the second walk should
have been the same.  What did the walker do the second time that did not happen the
first time? Something was different that was scary; perhaps speed, restraint, caution,
noise, attention, different handling. (But if the walk was not a good one - the dog is
adamant that the experience not be repeated.)

The walker may not have been aware of it at all, but Lawrence reacted to the
difference and once he was scared and defensive again another strange human
the manager then went over to try and walk Lawrence himself) entering would
not help unless that human did remedial work -softly announcing their presence upon
entering the apartment by using Lawrence's name, lying parallel on the floor to the
bed, no talking at first, looking away, then speaking soothingly, then offering treats, s
queaky balls, etc., that's the protocol and it might take up to an hour at that point.

Lawrence does need to trust the stranger entering his home; it is natural and
necessary behavior for him to be defensive if he is fearful of being hurt. Meeting the
walker before the first walk with you there for one visit, a (short!!!) walk with you
home and the walker walking the dog for the second visit, a third visit offering
Lawrence lots of treats and playing with his squeaky tennis ball (
this is one
of Lawrence's favorite toy you may need another special toy your dog likes
when you are not home -no walk yet(!) and if all is going well, on the fourth visit,
a walk alone (leave his collar on for this visit, less handling that way) (
some folks
leave the collar off a dog when they are home, leave it on if you are expecting a
walker so that new person in your dog's life does not have to be putting the
collar on when they arrive, less stressful for your dog)
is the best way to go.

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Paying atttention to what your dog is saying means observing them carefully
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
"A sufficiently negative exper-
ience or an accumulation of
not so great experiences can
prompt a strong fear response
and elicit a behavior that is
self-defensive -your dog may
not want to go out again with
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Frania Shelley-Grielen is AnimalBehaviorist.us
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813

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Frania Shelley-Grielen

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