You’re going to be gone for a long day. A friend offers to walk your dog while you are away. You hang out with this friend a lot, and you’ve taken many walks together. You assure your friend that she’ll be fine with your dog.
You leave. The friend comes over. Maybe your dog won’t let her in the house. Perhaps she can’t get close enough to pet him. What happened?
Professional pet sitters often run into this problem. The dog “suddenly” doesn’t respond to the caretaker. He may become spooked and not want to be touched. He may not come to the new person or may act out aggressively. He might run away. A common denominator in these scenarios is that dogs behave very differently with their owners than they do with acquaintances.
Your pet’s behavior is based on a long-term relationship with you. This involves trust, training, providing of basic needs, consistency and love. It may seem that your dog is just as happy to be with your friend as with you when you are together, but his sense of security more likely comes from you being present.
We might assume that a trained dog automatically will respond to cues (sit, lie down, come here) in the hands of any person. About 35 years ago, I searched the streets of Fort Collins with a distraught pet owner whose dog had been missing for about a week. He was being treated at a veterinary hospital. This dog was the top winning American Kennel Club obedience trial dog of his breed in the United States. His owner was an accomplished dog obedience trainer and competitor.
A well-meaning veterinary assistant, being fully aware of the dog’s trained status, assumed he would respond to anybody. But the environment around the pet hospital was unfamiliar to him. And he was stressed in his owner’s absence. The assistant opened the door, and the unleashed dog ran away. He didn’t respond to her attempts to call him back. This highly trained dog never was seen again.
Our students sometimes hear me say, “A dog is not a dog is not a dog.” Dogs are all the same species, but their temperament, emotional makeup and attachment can be as different as with any two human beings. Making assumptions about what dogs think, feel or know can be risky.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training with more than 25 years of experience.