What to do when your dog becomes afraid of the walker, copyright
2011-2018 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 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 while walking to engage them and get their
attention?   Are they able to walk your dog without holding that leash too tightly or
jerking on it?  Do interview more than one walker to compare and find the best fit.  (
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, do consider working with a good behaviorist or do the
research to lean how to help the dog get over the trauma).  Once 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

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, squeaky 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) (
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.
Paying atttention to what your dog is saying means observing them carefully
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
"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
Ask me for an individual consultation
Frania Shelley-Grielen is AnimalBehaviorist.us
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813

Entire website copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen

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