Q: Every year for Thanksgiving, we pack up our whole family (dog included!) and drive to my parents in Maine. Sadly, this year our dog has to stay home. We’ve never left him before – how do we make our nervous, people-shy dog comfortable with the pet sitter we’ve hired?
A: Hiring someone to come to your home and pet sit can be a great experience for your dog if you do your homework before you leave for vacation. Since your dog is nervous and shy, have your pet sitter drop in for a few minutes as many times as possible between now and the time that you leave. It doesn’t have to be a long visit; the idea is to have the sitter get to know him (and vice-versa) and earn his trust. Once your dog is comfortable with her presence while you’re home, arrange for her to stop by when you’re out. Sometimes dogs react differently when a (relative) stranger comes into their territory while the family isn’t home. As their relationship progresses, teach your sitter the obedience commands that your dog knows (leave a written list when you leave), and have her incorporate practice sessions into the visits. The “come” and “stay” commands are potential lifesavers in the event your dog races through an open door or breaks free of his leash and runs into the street, and the odds of your dog obeying your sitter are much higher if they’ve been training before you leave. Eventually, your dog will become comfortable (or even better – delighted) with the new person in his life, and although your departure will have some emotional impact on him (which will probably be minimal compared to the emotional impact leaving will have on you and your family!), at least he’ll be able to relax and enjoy the company of his new friend.