I’ve been working as a live-in pet sitter for several months now. I work for various families in my area, and stay at my parents’ home when I am not booked. My first job was staying with three small dogs for two weeks.
I faced a lot of challenges as a live-in pet sitter that caught me by surprise. One of them was separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is something that most dogs (and some cats) face when their owners are not present. Many dogs get separation anxiety during the day while their owners are at work, but it is a real problem when their owners don’t come home at all for several weeks.
Separation anxiety is the stress that dogs face when they are lonely, and it manifests itself in poor behavior, such as defecation on the carpet, insistent barking, chewing, and other troublesome behaviors. For a long time, I was at a loss for what to do. I did some research to find out what other pet sitters were doing to combat this problem.
Most people recommended exercise. These dogs became frantically excited at the notion of walks, and often tangled each other in their leashes, pulling and coughing. But discipline won out in this case. At first I tried taking them each separately and they did much better alone than with their companions, but the other dogs were desperately unhappy when I took one and left the others. So I switched back to taking all three at once. I took them early in the morning so that we would have plenty of time to move slowly through the neighborhood. The smallest one often got tired before the others, but she was only a few pounds, so I carried her sometimes. If I got the chance, I asked my little sister to come help me walk them. She knew the dogs pretty well, and was excited to help out. Having two people to juggle leashes helped the dogs not to get tangled.
I also upped their visits to three visits per day. I find that if an owner wants a live-in sitter, the dogs usually need much more attention. In the evenings, we spent time running around the backyard and throwing toys to each other. Once the dogs got started, they usually kept playing with each other for an hour or so. I left the back door opened when I was home and they wandered in and out as they pleased.
But dogs need more than just exercise to stay happy and healthy. I found that sitting up late at night with a book and letting them lay on my lap for a few hours also helped. One of them in particular was a lap-dog. She would find some way to climb onto my lap no matter where I was.
Halfway through the two week job, the dogs were used to the routine that I had set. Their anxiety levels went down significantly, and they stopped the unusual behaviors. Of course I heard reports that they went bonkers with joy when their owner returned home, but hey, who wouldn’t?