in my last article, I wrote about Taking Care of Another Persons Pet, and preparing for it when you do not already have a dog of your own. In this article I want to talk about the second part of this, taking care of another person's pet when you do have a dog (or multiple dogs) of your own at home. Recently I had been put in this situation of having to take care of a family member's dog while her other dog was recovering from a medical situation.
It took some work and adjustment bringing this dog into our house - we already have a Boxer mix, Zoey. Let me share with you what preparations and changes we made to make it the best situation possible.
First thing to mention, no matter how much experience you have taking care of dogs, each dog is unique and each dog owner has their own way of dealing with their puppy. And as caretaker, it is your responsibility to respect that and follow their instructions as closely as possible even if it is not what you would do or how you do things for your dog. When taking care of a dog it is best to do your best to keep them on the same structure and schedule that they live on at home. Obviously, it isn’t always possible to adhere perfectly to things, but always have the intention of doing your best at following it.
This fact may be even more important when you have your own dog and your own life schedule and things you do.
Dogs are very habitual, and it is best to look very closely at the schedule the dog that you are taking care of, and how it overlays your dog's life. A good example I ran into is - does your dog eat before or after going outside to potty in the morning? The dog I was taking care of goes out first thing in the morning, while our dog goes out after she eats.
And if you read my article on moving to an urban environment, you’ll understand that in our life it is much easier to eat and then walk, because we are usually headed to the car for work - since going potty is down two flights of stairs and a half block away!
Consider Everyone's Schedule
When you have a dog guest you need to consider what time you get up, the time you go to bed, when medications are given, how long you usually leave your own dog unattended, what times you feed and how many times a day each dog eats.
These things aren’t too giant, but you really should spend a minute or two talking with the dog's owner about these things and thinking about it will fit with what you do now. Most dogs can adapt to new schedules, but there are some personality types and breeds that do very poorly adapting.
Introducing a New Dog to Your Dog
In a perfect world, a dog you are taking care of should already know your dog. But sadly we don’t live in that perfect world and occasionally need to just handle the things in front of us.
So if possible, introduce the dogs in a neutral place, like a park down the street, before just bringing them in the house. Check out our podcasts on adopting an older dog for tips on how to introduce them.
If both dogs are well socialized and regularly meet new dogs and people, it is usually a quick process to introduce new dogs. But if they don’t have the best social skills on the block, it may take a bit more time commitment from you. The first thing to remember when introducing two new dogs into a home environment is that you should maintain control of the situation. Each dog should be wearing a collar and leash so that you can grab a leash if someone gets too excited. But please note, if both dogs are wearing prong type (or commonly called Pinch Collars) collars you should take one of them off. Two dogs playing with pinch collars on can get them hung up on each other and interlocked, which can turn a fun wrestling game into a real problem when the dogs cannot escape each other. So it's best to just be preventative and avoid the situation altogether.
Watch The Body Language
Also important is to keep a close eye on each dog’s body language. When bringing a new dog into the house, a dog that can show no issues with dogs outside the home can become territorial in their own space. Understanding dog body language, like we talk about in our podcast here, can help you avoid any issue between dogs. The things you are looking for are all centered around eyes, mouth, ears, and tail. When dogs begin showing changes in their demeanor, this is the first place. Eyes get more narrow, the mouth closes, the ears will press back and close on the head, and the tail will stiffen and often curl over the back. If you see these behaviors in either dog it is time for you to intervene. Say something to them that gets their attention if they aren’t close to you, if they are close by where you are standing walk between them and separate them with your body. And in the worst cases use the leash to separate them while talking to them and trying to distract them.
Thankfully, these situations shouldn’t arise if you have chosen to bring a dog into your home to take care of because it is most important that you and your dog are safe and happy.
Feeding time in our household is always an event. When we had 3 dogs (my two 13-year-old Golden Retrievers as well as our Boxer we have now) it was like a circus of bouncing elephants. (I always felt so bad for our downstairs neighbors…)
So whenever we have a dog come stay with us, it's always interesting to me to see how the new dog fits into our feeding time routine. The dog we were taking care of last week was one of my mom's golden retrievers, and when she eats, she eats in her crate. She is happiest in there because she doesn’t have to worry about someone else taking her food (although the only animal in her house that may steal it might be the Siamese cat, but he is pretty formidable!)
Knowing that Annie, my mom’s golden retriever, usually gets walked before breakfast I would try to get her to eat first and thankfully she was ok with it. Every morning is always the same for us, we hop out of bed, stretch and head straight for the food bin. So when Annie was there we had the added step of getting her in the crate while both dogs were dancing in preparation for breakfast. It really made for a good opportunity in training Zoey on sitting and waiting by her food bowl, while I got Annie in her crate and scooped her food out.
Once we are done eating, it is very important that I pick up everyone's food bowls. Some dogs do not share their food bowls very well, and in my life, I try very hard to head off problems before they even start. My older male golden thought it was his right to investigate and clean up everyone's food bowls when he was done. The look on his face when I picked them all up before he could was always priceless.
As the caretaker here, it is your job to make feeding times as smooth as possible. Always err on the side of caution and separate new dogs when they eat, whether just on the other side of a room, one in a crate, or even putting one in a bedroom or bathroom. And make sure that if one is done eating that they are not allowed to go over and visit the other dog while eating!
Taking one dog for a walk downtown is fairly easy. Taking 2 dogs for a bathroom walk downtown is definitely a bit more complex. Trying to walk 3 dogs downtown was more than I could handle. And for one night last week we had my mom's other golden retriever stay with us too, and let me tell you how much work that was!
After trying to corral them into their own areas to feed all 3 of them I realized I couldn’t walk all 3 of them at once. So I chose the younger two to walk together. Then came back for the older one because it was her first time having to go for a bathroom walk downtown.
Don’t take for granted how you walk your dog, and that the new dog will just suddenly be able to follow along. Not all dogs have big backyards to go in; and heck, my boxer wouldn’t know what to do with an acre of grass to investigate! Some dogs don’t ever use the bathroom while wearing a leash. I have known quite a few dogs that like to do things privately, whether behind a bush or just behind your back. So be prepared that the new dog you are taking care of may not fit 100% into the usual method you do, and it may take a little more time the first few bathroom walks.
Things come up, all the time. People get sick or hurt and sometimes you are the only person that is around to help. When you are taking care of another person's dog it is important that you know what to do if an emergency arises. Whether it is one where you cannot take care of the dog yourself and they need to be boarded or go to daycare; or if the dog has a medical emergency you should know who their vet is and be prepared to follow the owners wishes on how to handle situations. The key here is to just be prepared, and worst case scenario is to treat the dog like you want your own dog treated.
Taking care of another person's dog can be one of the most rewarding things in life. You get to enjoy playing with them, giving them all the love, and then getting to send them home when you have gotten your fill! It's like being the ultimate grandparent. But just remember to be prepared for the situations that may come up, and you will get through it just like a professional!