Of course, nearly everyone I know has a dog or two, and it seems someone is always on vacation somewhere, so I frequently have extra dogs at my house. Sometimes I’ll have one, sometimes eight. With the set up at my house, I can handle ten dogs, but it runs best with five or less. I don’t mind a lot of dogs when I’m on vacation. It kills me when I’m working.
Over the last few years I’ve learned a lot about how to care for other people’s dogs. The truth is, it’s not the same as hanging out with my dogs. For the visitors it’s a new routine, with new rules and new places to explore. When I began dog sitting, I didn’t realize this, and got myself into trouble.
How much exercise is too much?
My house backs up to the wash. It’s a rocky area around the Santa Ana River as it flows from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Behind my house, there’s a fire road made of packed dirt that runs along the wash and goes for about half a mile in either direction with an incline that leads down to the water. It’s filled with rabbits, ground squirrels, hawks, snakes and the occasional coyote. I take my dogs out on the wash nearly every day. They LOVE IT and go crazy whenever we head out to my back fence, no matter how many times we’ve gone on that particular walk. (That’s something I love about dogs, their enthusiasm for exercise.) Problem is most dogs don’t get as much exercise as mine, and most don’t have such tough pads on their feet.
My favorite visitor is Nikko, the Superdog, but the first time I took care of him, I got into trouble. Nikko is generally mellow, but he has a weakness–small furry creatures. He goes crazy. So, the first time I took care of him, we headed out to the wash, and he lost his mind. Up and down, in a hole, in the water, he had the time of his life. Unfortunately, dogs don’t self-monitor. So, after staying with me for the weekend, he went home sore and stiff with his pads torn up from rabbit hunting on the rocky trail. OOOOPS. Now whenever I take care of a dog, I explain how much we walk ahead of time and if the dog is out of shape or has soft pads, they can skip a jaunt or two.
Anything around that’s deadly?
Being in the dog world and talking to dog people, I know of multiple dogs killed by poison left where “no dog could get it.” The most tragic story involved four dogs getting into snail bait one evening. Their owner, unaware, crated them up for the night. The next morning, he found two of the dogs dead and two in critical condition. Although he raced them to the vet, they didn’t survive.
The dogs I work, train and dogsit have incredible food drive, are persistent and intelligent. So, I don’t buy poison. It isn’t worth the risk.
Top no-nos include:
Gorilla Glue: If a dog swallows even a drop it expands in his/her stomach and kills him.
Is there such a thing as too many locks?
A few years ago a former roommate came into my backyard through an unlocked gate, broke into my house and stole my computer. As he ran out, laptop in hand, he left the gate open. When I got home, luckily, my sister’s dog sat waiting for me on the front lawn.
I am more paranoid about losing a guest dog than my own dogs—though I’m pretty paranoid about that too—because the guilt of losing a someone else’s dog would be unbearable. So, if I’m gone for less than three hours, the dogs go into crates inside the house or garage. If I’m gone for more than three hours, the dogs go in one of the outside pens. The pen I use most often has a camera hooked up to my phone so I can see what’s happening wherever I am. I also padlock all of my pens, and I have both my front fence and back fence locked.
Does your dog have a tag?
My dogs are chipped and always wear a collar with a tag. I know it sounds basic, but it is key to getting your dog back if it ever escapes. When a dog has a tag, contacting the owner is easy, and people are more willing to stop and help if they know they won’t be stuck with a stray dog.
Below are the questions I ask before taking care of a new dog:
How much exercise does your dog get on a regular basis?
Can your dog be off leash?
Does your dog come when called?
Does your dog get along with other dogs?
What kind of prey drive does your dog have?
Who is your vet?
What is your price limit in case of a vet visit? (I once had someone tell me not to spend more than fifty dollars. After that, I wouldn’t watch his dog again. An office visit fee is forty dollars!)
If I can’t get it touch with you, whom should I call?
Every time I watch someone’s dog I learn something new, and tweek my system to make it better. Now, when Nikko comes to visit I keep a closer eye on him. I check his pads at the end of each day, and if he starts to limp, I leash him up for walks. He’s the Superdog, and I wouldn’t want anything to happen to him on my watch.