Ever have a friend adopt a new puppy? Ever find a reason to hang out at said friend's house everyday fo the next year? It never fails that every time you visit the home of cute little puppy, you mention to them that you would love to house sit or take care of their puppy! I mean, who wouldn’t want the joy of getting to love, play with, snuggle and wrestle with a new dog and then get to send them home for all the expensive parts like vet care and boarding and daycare?
Well, finally your friend has an out of town wedding to attend and you have been chosen the lucky one to keep an eye on the puppy while they are gone! Happy days! But wait, now what do you do to do your best while taking care of someone else's pet? Luckily, I have some tips and tricks I have learned over the years!
The first thing to mention, no matter how much experience you have taking care of dogs, is that 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.
Let's talk first about if you are taking care of another person's dog and you do not have pets of your own. This situation presents a few challenges for you that need to be figured out before the dog comes over.
How puppy-proof is your house?
When you don’t have a dog of your own it's easy to forget about the requirements a dog has to have a safe living environment.
If you are taking care of a 12-year-old golden retriever you don’t have to think about the same things as you would a 12-week old boxer puppy, but it is important to walk around your house and assess everything that a puppy can bump into, including:
- furniture they can lose a tennis ball under and knock over while trying to get,
- the little trinkets and knick-knacks that adorn your coffee table that could get swiped off with one wag of a Labrador tail,
- the height of your bed and if its ok for a dog to jump on and off safely,
- laundry rooms and bottles of chemicals,
- shoe closets,
- and on and on.
As a non-puppy owner, it is your job to manage the environment for the dog you are taking care of so that they cannot get into anything and hurt themselves.
Setting up structure and schedules
Not having a dog already gives you the freedom to follow whatever schedule you need to with the dog you are taking care of, which is great! If the dog doesn’t already have a schedule of:
- when they like to get up,
- what time they go on bathroom walks,
- when they get fed breakfast and dinner,
- how much exercise they get, and when they typically get it,
it is up to you to work these things out. It's good to spend a minute looking at your life and how these things will fit in.
It is always important to remember that dogs don’t understand getting stuck in traffic, or having a last minute date call, or not being able to get home for whatever reason. You are their primary caregiver, and you need to stick to it while they are with you.
Where do they live?
When a dog is staying with you, and you don’t have dogs of your own to dictate where they live and what is their area, you need to decide on how much household freedom they have and what areas they are allowed in and where they are not allowed for their safety and protection.
This is often dictated by age and maturity levels of the dog, as well as what their family does at home, but it is important for you to do what is best for your house as well. In Creative Dog Training's 3 Rules of Housetraining, rule number 3 is “When they cannot be with you, then they go into confinement”.
And confinement for us is defined as the largest space a puppy will keep clean and not mess up. Whether this is a crate, a bathroom, the bedroom, or the whole house it depends on the dog you’re taking care of and what they can handle.
Personally, my 12-year-old golden retrievers still got put in the living room or bedroom with a baby gate when the house was particularly disheveled because the boy one was always happy to go searching and see what he could get into when given the chance. But conversely, Margaret’s golden retrievers have gotten free run of the house most of their lives because they don’t get into things. It's just all about the dog, and how they respond.
Where will bathroom walks happen?
It is inevitable that at some point the puppy you’re taking care of will need to go outside to relieve themselves. I actually just wrote an article about my journey finding an urban location to move to with my dogs, and how hard it was to find a suitable place to walk them. So it is good to think about this before the puppy gets to your place and needs to be walked. If you have a yard, that's awesome! But, it is also important to make sure the yard itself is puppy proof if you are putting them out there by themselves. If you don’t have a yard, you have to scope out the nearest grass area and make sure you have a ready supply of poop pickup bags when you go!
Finding a good place for the dog to go can depend a lot on the dog, some are used to having a large area to walk around and investigate, or if they like their privacy and places to get away from prying eyes, or if they are all business when it's time to do their business and are happy to use a postage stamp sized chunk of grass. Knowing the area around your house is key, and knowing safe places where you are able to take the dog you are taking care of.
How much exercise and when do they need it?
Each dog's activity level is different and it is important to talk to their puppy parents about what they do for exercise and how often they do it so you can keep it up.
This is not only good for the puppy, it is also good for you and your stuff! A tired puppy is less likely to chew things up and make messes of your things. It is always good to talk to the puppy’s owner about if they take them a local dog daycare, so if you are not able to keep up with the level of exercise the puppy needs then you can take them to daycare so that they can take care of their energy usage needs.
One of my favorites you will find in the article are hide and seek and round robin recalls. I will recap it for you here:
- Gather together some family or friends (at least you and one other person)
- Pack a treat to take with you that your puppy will simply sell his soul for!
- Head to a nice safe and secure area where your puppy can run a little
- Put your puppy on a long line that you know is long enough that you can easily step on it if they decide to head out of the circle
- Pass out a hand full of treats to every person who is playing
- Everyone gather into a circle, with a few feet spacing between each person to begin with.
- You hold your puppy (drop the long line, don’t hold it) and ask someone to call him (Saying “[Puppies Name], come!”), getting excited and doing everything they can to make your puppy want to come to them!
- If your puppy isn’t interested in them, have them walk towards your puppy and show him the treat, and back away while calling him. This should get him going in the right direction!
- After your puppy has visited for a second and gotten his love, another person in the circle calls him over.
- Continue to practice this until your puppy is happily bounding from person to person.
When it is time to stop the game, DO NOT call him back to you. Head to wherever the puppy is, give him a snack and some love. Then end the game.
Even in the best circumstances, emergencies happen. Happy, healthy puppies can suddenly start showing signs of illness, on a walk a paw pad might get a cut, or jumping off a bed or couch they may start limping afterward. You just never know. So as caretaker it is key that you know 2 things in case of emergency: their primary veterinary clinic they go to, and the closest emergency or after hours animal clinic.
With this information in hand, you are ready in case of anything that comes up. It is also good to talk to the puppy’s owner about what they want done in the case of emergencies, but at the end of the day, it is your responsibility to do what is best for the dog you are taking care of.
In my next article, I will talk about taking care of another person's dog, if you already have pets in your home!