Dog snifffing stranger's hand
The holidays can be challenging for all dogs, but for those who are anxious or fearful it is especially so. Though we love to have our dogs participate in holiday celebrations with family and friends, it may not be possible for an anxiety-prone pooch to share in the fun.

Boarding your dog, or leaving him with a pet sitter, can help alleviate his stress by removing him from a situation that may overwhelm him. But it’s important to find the right arrangement for your canine.

If your dog’s anxiety causes behavior issues, seek professional guidance before leaving him with a boarder or pet sitter. Talk with your veterinarian to rule out any medical causes for his anxiety and ask about a referral to a veterinary behaviorist or positive reinforcement trainer.

Choosing a Caregiver

When you’re searching for a boarding facility or pet sitter for your anxious dog, it’s important to find a situation that works for him.

If your dog is easily stressed by people or other dogs, a sitter who comes to your home may be a good option. A dog with separation anxiety may do best with a sitter who can stay continuously with him in your home until you return. In some circumstances, however, an anxious dog is more likely to be protective in his home environment, so a boarding facility may be better. In that case, look for a quiet facility with a private kennel run for each dog. 

Doggie day care may be another possibility for dogs who enjoy the company of other canines but are merely a little shy with people. For anxious dogs, a combination of day care and a sitter at home in the evenings may be a workable solution. A doggie day care may also be a good option if you are hosting a party or event and want your dog to go somewhere fun and stress free for a day or evening.

In every case, be sure that the sitter or boarding facility staff are prepared to meet your canine’s specific needs. If possible, opt for a caregiver or kennel that has extensive experience with anxious or fearful dogs. Ask if the boarding facility has veterinary technicians or certified trainers on staff who are familiar with the signs of anxiety and fear and who are trained to work with animals requiring special care. 

Be sure as well that the sitter or boarding facility’s training methods match your own, especially if you are relying on positive reinforcement-based methods. A fearful or anxious dog’s trust and progress can be hindered by intimidation-based techniques or failures to accommodate the dog’s individual needs.

Preparing Your Dog for the Sitter

Help make your dog’s stay a success by offering specific notes on what works best for him. Before you leave, outline any specific protocols for your pooch; tell the sitter or kennel staff about anything that may upset your canine and how you would like them to handle the situation. 

If this is your dog’s first experience with a sitter or boarding facility, consider a meet-and-greet. This allows your dog to get familiar with the new person or place and lets you spend some time talking with potential caregivers. If you’re happy with the sitter or kennel, consider scheduling a trial run before your holiday plans kick into high gear. This gives everyone an opportunity to identify concerns that may need to be addressed ahead of time.

When you get ready to leave, even if it’s just for an afternoon of shopping, be sure to provide your sitter or the kennel staff with detailed information about potential problematic behaviors. If your anxious dog has the potential to become aggressive in certain situations, such as when people try to pick him up, it’s important to provide caregivers with a list of triggers that may make your dog uncomfortable, as well as advice on how caregivers should best approach such situations. You don’t want anyone getting hurt or your dog to be stressed while you’re away.

You also want to be sure to provide contact information for all the right professionals, including your veterinarian and your dog’s trainer, just in case. Finally, always have a backup plan in case the sitter or boarding facility is unavailable to care for your pooch.

More on