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Consistency is a key component to a successful training program. But an inevitable work trip or family vacation puts your dog's routines and schedule at risk of disruption, and this can lead to a backslide in his training. It’s essential to plan not only where your pet will stay during your trip, but also to make arrangements to keep your pet’s training consistent.
To start your planning, make a list of all the behavior issues and training techniques you're currently working on. Less severe behavior problems, such as jumping up to greet or attention barking, can be handled by most pet sitters. But more advanced training techniques may require that your dog stay with a certified trainer or at a "board and train" facility while you're gone.
Next, whether you plan to use a sitter or a boarding facility, you should provide a written list of all your daily activities with your dog — this makes it easier for the caregiver to keep up with your dog's training and routines. Third, and most important, set aside time to go over your training steps with the sitter and have her practice them in your presence. This is especially helpful for sitters who are not professional trainers, because the physical movements of training take practice to be done properly.
It is critical to communicate with your sitter or boarding facility, because if you don't instruct a sitter in how to interact with your dog, you put the dog at risk for backsliding. For instance, although your dog may have made major progress in not jumping when greeting, you’ll face a major training hurdle when you return home if he is allowed to jump when he greets the sitter. When a sitter allows jumping in the owner's absence, the dog relearns that jumping works to get attention.
If you use walking equipment, such as a gentle leader, be sure to teach your sitter how to fit the equipment on your dog. Also be sure the sitter keeps up with the mental and physical stimulation you normally provide. If your dog is accustomed to walking 30 minutes twice a day, be sure to specify this on your written list of daily routines, because the sitter may have a different idea of how much outdoor exercise your dog needs.
Even if your pet sitter has training experience on a certain behavior, it’s important to make sure her methods are consistent with your own training practice. I was working with an excessive barker on no-bark protocols that were going extremely well. But he returned from the pet sitter’s house after a family vacation with a heightened sensitivity to sound. It turned out that the sitter didn’t use the gentle training protocols I recommended, but instead had used a can filled with rocks to silence barking. That method resulted in a heightened state of anxiety and noise phobia, which were more difficult issues to work with than the original barking problem. Be sure your pet sitter or boarding facility uses training methods that are in line with methods you have been using to train your pet.
It’s especially critical to find the right pet sitter or boarding facility for fearful and aggressive dogs, because they're at especially high risk of backsliding in training. Some new clients of mine, about to leave for a weeklong vacation, were considering doggy day care for their extremely fearful, unsocialized Kuvasz. This dog shivered with fright when I, a solitary stranger, came to his home, so the thought of him being surrounded by dozens of people and dogs in an unfamiliar environment was unfathomable to me. Luckily, I was able to persuade the owners to have a sitter stay with their dog at home — a much better fit for the fearful state he was already in. Had they put their already terrified dog in doggy day care, the chances were extremely high that his fear would have been intensified by the time they returned home.
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