What to do when your dog becomes afraid of the walker

By 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.

- Make sure to tell every walker, that you are not asking them to train your dog. That you only want positive, no force methods used with your dog.

- Ask how they feel about sniffing? And let them tell you. A leisurely sniff around the block relaxes and satisfies the dog brain far more than any timed walk not including a sniffari can ever do.

- Ask open ended questions as to what they do to correct behavior. Wait a minute or two for a response and avoid filling in the silence. You want to know their answer. What happens when things go wrong? What do they do when a dog does not listen? Move forward? Pull? Lecture? Redirect with neutral or positive energy?

Take the time to find the right fit here, not going for a walk is way less harmful than going for a walk with the wrong walker.

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 (an absolute 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. (Continue Reading Below)

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). Make sure to install remote observation and make sure to monitor it.

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, 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) (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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