why does my dog mouth my hands? and what can I do about it?

I have a canine client, Quincy,* whom I love to pieces. He's fun and sweet, and I've been caring for him for quite a few years, now. Last week when I was hanging with him, I gave some thought to one aspect of his behavior that I've not seen in other adult dogs very often. He mouths. Mouthing, or play-biting, is more commonly seen in puppies, but Quincy, an adult dog, does it frequently. It doesn't bother me at all because he's quite gentle, but it got me to thinking about why he does it, so I did some research.

Why does my dog mouth my hands? And what can I do about it?

Why does my dog mouth my hands? And what can I do about it?

what is "mouthing?"

"Mouthing," a.k.a. "play-biting" is a natural, instinctive way dogs play with each other. They explore the world with their mouths like we do with our hands. Mouthing is not aggressive, but can be irritating to humans, especially guests in the home of a dog that mouths. It can be misinterpreted as aggression.

why do dogs mouth?

Puppies learn how to play by mouthing their littermates and their parents. They explore with their mouths, and they use their mouths to play with each other. The ASPCA outlines that

Young dogs usually learn bite inhibition during play with other dogs. If you watch a group of dogs playing, you'll see plenty of chasing, pouncing and wrestling. Dogs also bite each other all over. Every now and then, a dog will bite his playmate too hard. The victim of the painful bite yelps and usually stops playing. The offender is often taken aback by the yelp and also stops playing for a moment. However, pretty soon both playmates are back in the game. Through this kind of interaction, dogs learn to control the intensity of their bites so that no one gets hurt and the play can continue without interruption. 

In contrast to aggressive biting, mouthing is playful and not ill-intended. It can, however, be an unwanted behavior as far as humans are concerned.

Puppies typically learn to control the intensity of their play bites by their littermates, but puppies taken from their littermates too soon may need to learn this from their human families. Typically, humans teach their puppies that no form of mouthing is acceptable, but that is not always the case, as is the situation with Quincy. It's likely that since his mouthing is so gentle, he was never taught to behave otherwise. 

playful mouthing vs. aggressive behavior

There is a huge difference between playful mouthing and aggressive behavior. While you may or may not train your dog to quit mouthing you, no degree of aggressive behavior should be tolerated. How can you tell the difference?

PLAYFUL MOUTHING

• playful stance

• relaxed body and face

• slower and gentler

• does not inflict pain

AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR

• aggressive or fearful stance

• tension in the body and face

• quick and hard

• inflicts pain

how can I teach my puppy or dog not to mouth? 

You can teach your puppy or dog not to mouth just like his littermates would. Note that it is much more difficult to teach an adult dog not to mouth, as they are not as sensitive to our reactions as puppies are. Teaching your pooch not to mouth is a process.

1. Teach your puppy about bite intensity by yelping and pausing play when he bites too hard. Praise him when he stops, and repeat this a few times per play period. Your puppy will learn that you have a negative reaction when he bites too hard.

2. Mouthing is natural, so you want to teach your dog what is appropriate to mouth and what is not. If you wish (as most humans do), teach your puppy that no mouthing of you is acceptable. Once your puppy has eased up on the intensity, practice the same steps whenever the puppy mouths your hand (or ankle...or whatever his favored body part is). Provide him with an alternative, such as a chew toy or ball. Your puppy will learn to mouth appropriate items rather then your hands or the hands of your visitors.

additional tips

• Avoid wiggling your fingers in front of your dog's face, and avoid play-slapping his muzzle. These actions will likely encourage your dog to mouth and play more aggressively.

• Don't discourage play and mouthing all together, as it's a great way to bond and it provides your pooch with mental and physical stimulation. Allow your dog to mouth a toy you are holding rather than your hand.

• Don't physically punish your dog for mouthing–or for anything–as it will likely cause more aggression, and your dog may become fearful of you.

• If your puppy or dog mouths you, don't pull away. Pulling away will be considered a game by your dog and will encourage him to play harder. Kind-of like tug-of-war.

• Always provide appropriate chew toys for your dog.

• Provide your dog with plenty of exercise and entertainment. Excessive mouthing can be a sign of boredom. 

• If your dog is biting aggressively, seek the help of a certified, professional dog trainer immediately.

Does your dog mouth? Have you taught your dog not to mouth? Please share your experience!

*All names have been changed in the interest of privacy.

aggressive behavior in dogs: 5 myths debunked

What picture comes to mind when you think of an aggressive dog? 

Don't think. Just close your eyes and picture that dog.

No, really. Do it now. I'll wait. 

I'm going to guess that the majority of you pictured a medium-to large dog, either a pit bull breed or a long-muzzled breed, and one with a dark coat. The teeth are bared, the ears are back and the brow is furled. It's stance is strong and imposing, and it is either growling or barking.

How close did I get? I'll bet I predicted several of the features you pictured.

We all have biases and judgements when it comes to aggressive dogs. They may be based on personal experiences, what we've heard, or even what we've seen in the movies. This past week, I've been attending the Prosperous Pet Business Online Conference hosted by Kristin Morrison, founder of Six Figure Pet Sitting Academy. Kristin has interviewed some incredibly knowledgeable and fascinating leaders from all aspects of the pet industry, and one of my favorites, world-renowed dog trainer and behaviorist Victoria Stilwell, spoke about dog behavior and communication. She provided quite a great deal of insight about aggressive behavior in dogs. Some of what she said reinforced what I've learned in the past or have experienced, myself, and some of it was new to me. I'm incredibly thankful to gain this knowledge that I'd like to share with you. Based on my training and Victoria Stilwell's insights, I've compiled a list of five myths about aggressive behavior in dogs.

Aggressive Behavior in Dogs: 5 Myths Debunked.

Aggressive Behavior in Dogs: 5 Myths Debunked.

This article is intended for informational purposes only. ALWAYS CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL TRAINER WHEN DEALING WITH AN AGGRESSIVE DOG.

5 myths about aggressive behavior in dogs

1. Dogs are aggressive because they want to be the alpha.

Victoria pointed out that being aggressive to become the alpha or boss is a very human way of thinking. Dogs think differently than we do, and it's sad that this is an accepted theory about why dogs become aggressive, as it promotes confrontational relationships between humans and dogs. Victoria said we should "throw the dominance myth into the trash can and leave it where it belongs." Dogs can show signs of dominance and assert them over each other and humans, but thinking these behaviors are aggressive is a flawed way of thinking. 

So if not to be "top dog," why are dogs aggressive?

Dogs can be aggressive for about as many reasons as there are dogs, but some common reasons are medical issues, being uncomfortable or in pain, lack of confidence, or past traumatic experience.

2. Physical signs of aggression in dogs are obvious.

Remember that snarling dog you pictured earlier? Well, you hit the nail on the head, but you barely scratched the surface. That Kujo-like pooch you saw in your mind definitely showed signs of aggression, but only the obvious ones. There are many subtle signs of aggression that the average person can't read. Unless you have experience or education with the trickier signs, you may not take them for what they mean, which can put you and the dog in danger. According to Victoria Stilwell, some subtle signs of aggression in dogs include:

• stillness

• a quick freeze 

• body tension

• head turn

• eye turn

• lip lick

All of these are signs that the dog is uncomfortable and may become aggressive.

I wish I had learned more of these subtle signs earlier in my career. I recall a time when I was making a pet sitting visit to a "guest dog" of a client of mine. This client's dogs had always been delights, and they knew me well. She told me that her friend was going away with her for the weekend and that his dog would be at the house, too. "He's really friendly and gets along great with my dogs, so I don't think you'll have a problem," she said. I trusted her (I know she meant no harm), and went along with it. When I arrived for my visit, I could see that the new pooch was a bit uncomfortable with me, so I kept my distance. After some time had passed, I noticed that he had been still in the corner of the room for quite some time, frozen, yet keeping his eyes on me. I stayed about twelve feet back, bent down, and extended my open palm, slightly, resting it on the floor.

The dog suddenly became the Tasmanian Devil, gnashing and barking, attacking my hand faster than I could pull it away. He did some serious damage, and I was in shock, both emotionally and physically. Had I known more about the subtle signs of aggression, perhaps I would have handled the situation differently.

Unfortunately, I didn't read the signals correctly, and this was the result. 

Unfortunately, I didn't read the signals correctly, and this was the result. 

3. Aggressive dogs are mean.

Victoria shared with us that "every dog has a degree of intelligence." Some have more intelligence than others (just like their human counterparts), but they all have some level of ability to process and reason, read intentions, or even imagine a solution to a problem. We often hear that dogs have the intelligence of a two-year-old. Victoria says that that is generally true, in terms of the human way of thinking, but that dogs have many abilities that take them beyond human abilities.

Aggressive dogs are rarely mean at heart, but are more likely suffering from a physical ailment or emotional trauma. If we can understand why they are bothered, we can work on the aggression issue. Victoria reminded us that dogs have the ability to love and the desire to love as humans do. They share those feelings and want to love and love back.

As a simple example, what happens to your behavior when you have a bad headache? 

I know that when I have a headache, I'm much more irritable. I have the wherewithal to let my children know "Mommy doesn't feel well right now. Could we please keep the noise down?" If they don't, and I have to ask repeatedly, giving them signs and signals, I eventually snap. "QUIET! I HAVE A HEADACHE!" Since a dog doesn't have the spoken language advantage, his way of lashing out might be physical. It's not about being mean, it's about communicating a feeling. We all lash out, right or wrong. We need to understand that an aggressive dog isn't mean, but it trying to communicate a feeling. 

4. We should punish aggressive behavior in dogs.

Since aggressive dogs often have dominance, fear, or insecurity issues, punishing the behavior can make it worse. It only reinforces that they should be fearful and plays upon their insecurities. We want to build these types of dogs up rather than beat them down. Victoria calls punishing aggressive behavior in dogs "unskilled handling." 

So how can we help?

Victoria recommends aggressive dogs go through a process of habituation. Habituation is "gradually exposing the dog to something that it fears at a distance it can cope with, pairing it with something truly wonderful." Gradually, the distance is decreased as the dog learns to cope with the situation better through positive reinforcement. 

This completely makes sense to me. Why punish aggressive behavior with aggressive or other negative behavior? Build the dog's confidence and watch him learn, change, and shine.

5. An aggressive dog can't be rehabilitated.

Though there are some very extreme cases where an aggressive dog can not be rehabilitated, Victoria says that it is extremely rare (she's seen it only about five times in twenty years of dog training). It depends on the history of the individual dog. Breed doesn't matter. It's always best to give a dog a chance with a professional trainer before deeming it unable to be rehabilitated.

looking beyond the snarl

I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to expand my knowledge about aggressive behavior in dogs with Victoria Stilwell through the Prosperous Pet Business Online Conference. My horizons were broadened, and I feel like I have a better understanding of the intricacies that surround these often misunderstood behaviors. Dog behavior is not always as it seems. As Victoria put it, "In order to be a good trainer, you always need to be learning. Dogs are highly evolved. Let's evolve with them."

English-born Victoria Stilwell is one of the world's most well-known and respected dog trainers. She is the star of Animal Planet's hit TV Series It's Me or the Dog. She has co-founded several successful dog training companies, and has authored best-selling dog training books. Check out her official web site for more information. Her site is filled with valuable information and resources.

 

8 great reasons to adopt an adult dog

Puppies are impossible to resist. For that reason, they rarely have trouble finding a willing family to take them in. Once they are past just a few months of age, they start to loose their desirability. Are they tainted? How come nobody wants them? What did their previous owners do to mess them up? Are they aggressive? Are they ill-behaved? Adult dogs find themselves in shelters for as many reasons as there are dogs in shelters. The bottom line? When you adopt an adult dog, you'll have a much better idea of what you're getting into. 

Puppy fever? Check out 8 great reasons to adopt an adult dog.

Puppy fever? Check out 8 great reasons to adopt an adult dog.

8 great reasons to adopt an adult dog

1. You'll know if you have an introvert or extrovert on your hands. Knowing what you're getting into in terms of personality is a great thing, in my opinion. Though when you meet a dog at a shelter, he may not show his full personality to you right away, you can get a pretty good idea as to whether there are any major deal-breaking issues so that you can figure out if the animal would be a good fit for your lifestyle and family. Puppies are all pretty much cute lumps of fluff, ready to be molded. That molding is a time-consuming task that doesn't always work out as planned. When you adopt an adult dog, you'll know if he gets along with kids, needs a great deal of exercise, or is fearful of loud noises, for example. You can choose your new family member based on what works for you. No surprises!

2. Potty training–check! Adult dogs are usually potty trained. It's true that some have not been properly trained in this area, but you'll know that going in. Rescues and shelters will generally know which dogs are potty trained and which aren't. If you don't want to go through the grueling process of potty training, an adult dog may be for you. No puppy comes potty trained.

3. Size matters. Unless you get a pure-bred puppy, the size your puppy may eventually be is pretty much a mystery. I can't tell you how many times a pet sitting client says to me "yeah...we didn't realize he'd be this big when we got him." Size may not be as important as temperament and activity needs, but if you are expecting a chihuahua and end up with a pony, it might make a difference to you. 

4. They might know some stuff. Chances are, your rescued adult dog will come home knowing at least a handful of commands. Even if they don't, they have a longer attention span than puppies, so they will catch on quicker when you want them to "sit" and "stay."

5. Adult dogs aren't the time-suck puppies are. During the first year (and sometimes beyond) of life, puppies require near-constant supervision to make sure they are safe and behaving themselves, which is usually not the case, if left to their own devices. All that potty training and training training can be exhausting and can take up a ton of time. Adult dogs become acclimated to the house rules much faster.

6. They won't eat your couch. Teething puppies tend to gnaw on anything they can sink their teeth into. If proper chewing toys are not provided, they will resort to things you probably find valuable, such as your Jimmy Choos or your couch. Puppy proofing is often a trial-and-error process, and there may be casualties along the way. Though adult dogs still like to chew (and should for dental health), they typically know what is appropriate and what is not.

7. Health isn't a mystery. It is expected that senior dogs may come with a health issue or two, but when you adopt an adult or senior dog, you have a better idea of what you're getting into. You may choose to adopt an ill or disabled dog (extra hero points for you), but if that's not your thing, most dogs in rescues and shelters have been checked over by a veterinarian, so any health issues present are known. With a puppy, it's more difficult to determine because of the limited health history. 

8. You get to rock a dog's world. Adult dogs aren't considered as cute as puppies, as far as the general population is concerned. Puppies go like hot cakes, because, who can resist the pudge and innocent eyes? But if you take time to think about what you might mean to a dog that is already grown up, well, you'd be a rockstar. They want homes. They want families. They want a rock star like you to make that happen for them.

Adult dogs in rescues and shelters come from varied backgrounds. They come in all ages, all shapes, and all sizes, and they have different needs. The common thread is that they all need homes. When you adopt an adult dog, you at least have a fairly good idea of what you are getting into, so there's a greater chance you'll find that perfect match–that BFF for life. 

Have you ever adopted an adult dog? Will you please share your story?

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whisker fatigue in cats: how you can help

Whisker fatigue. It's a thing. It may not seem like your cat's whiskers are doing much, but they are hard at work all the time. Let's take a look at what whiskers are, what they do, what whisker fatigue is, and how you can help your cat.

whisker fatigue in cats: how you can help.  Discover the signs of whisker fatigue and learn how you can help your cat.

whisker fatigue in cats: how you can help. Discover the signs of whisker fatigue and learn how you can help your cat.

what are whiskers?

Many people think cat whiskers are cute additions to the face like the whiskers a man grows, or the ones ladies get as they age (not cute), but they aren't. Cat whiskers are actually sensitive touch receptors. They are long and quite stiff and connect to the cat's muscular and nervous systems, more deeply in the cat than their fur. They are more sensitive then fur or human whiskers and provide a cat with information about its surroundings. 

Whiskers are located on either side of the cats nose and upper lip, above each eye (shorter), and also on their jaw line and the backs of their front legs. Aside from being cute, they perform important functions.

what do whiskers do?

A cat's sensitive whiskers help him in many ways, including playing.

A cat's sensitive whiskers help him in many ways, including playing.

Whiskers provide cats with important information about their surroundings. The end of each whisker contains a receptor that sends sensory signals to the nervous system and brain. These receptors are very sensitive to small changes in the environment and help the cat determine if it can fit into a tight space, respond to vibrations (helpful for hunting prey, or more commonly for our indoor domestic cats, in times of play), and measure distance. All of this, together, helps them with balance, which is why cats are so agile and "always land on their feet." 

Some people think that trimming or cutting off their cat's whiskers is a part of grooming. Please don't! Without these important sensory receptors, cats can become disoriented, which can cause them great stress and fear. Whiskers shed and grow back naturally. It's best to let nature take its course. 

what is whisker fatigue?

Since a cat's whiskers are so sensitive, if they are constantly stimulated, the cat may experience whisker fatigue or whisker stress. The most common way this occurs is if the cat is forced to eat out of a straight- and/or high-sided bowl. When the cat puts his face into the bowl to consume his dinner, the whiskers repeatedly touch the sides, which, at the least, can be annoying to the cat, and in extreme cases can be quite painful. 

what are the signs of whisker fatigue?

Some common signs of whisker fatigue are:

• the cat leaves food in the bowl, but is still hungry

• the cat pulls food out of their bowl with their mouth or paw, then places it on the floor and eats it off the floor (this can get messy)

• food aggression toward other animals in the house

• standing by the bowl before eating for a period of time, pacing around the bowl, or being hesitant to eat, though hungry

how can you help?

Even if you don't see signs of whisker fatigue in your cat, it's best to get rid of any straight-sided or high-sided bowls that stimulate the whiskers. The best way to help is to make sure your cat has a shallow bowl. Though a saucer will work, there are some spectacularly-designed cat bowls that are made specifically with sensitive whiskers in mind. 

Could your cat be suffering from whisker fatigue?

Could your cat be suffering from whisker fatigue?

I sometimes see signs of whisker fatigue in cats whom I pet sit for, and thought it's always a bit awkward to correct a client when I see that care for their pets could be improved, I try to gently let them know that the bowl they have chosen may be contributing to the undesirable behavior they are seeing. Typically pet parents notice and become frustrated when their cats remove food from bowls and create a mess to clean up. I like to try to suggest specific bowls they might try.

Our friends over at Sweet Purrfections recently reviewed the Whisker Free Stress Dish from Trendy Pet. Their gorgeous Persian cats Brulee and Truffle struggle with whisker fatigue that is compounded by their breed-specific short (flatter) faces. Though there are a variety of well-designed–even quite stylish–options out there, the dish they prefer is an excellent option and well worth checking out. Their review is great, and you'll get to see pictures of her gorgeous cats if you head over there to check it out. 

Have you seen signs of whisker fatigue in your cat? Which cat bowl does your cat like best? 

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top 10 crazy pet sitting stories in honor of our 10th anniversary

July 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of Well Minded pet sitting. Though I dabbled in pet sitting for many years prior, I decided to make it my full-time career in 2005 when my family moved from California to Arizona. This career has allowed me to meet so many wonderful animals and their families, some of whom have been with me since it all began. It has also allowed me to be a work-from-home mom. My kids, now eight and six years old, are my junior pet sitters and have been making visits with me since they were each less than a month old. I feel fortunate to be able to do what I love and incorporate my kiddos into the "family business." 

I've been reflecting on the past ten years and remembering special clients and unique moments. Working with animals can be unpredictable. Though my years of experience help me through most situations, there have been lots of curve balls along the way. Ever wonder what it's like to be a pet sitter? I can tell you that every visit is unique, and I learn from each new experience. In honor of our 10th anniversary, I'm sharing my top 10 crazy pet sitting stories.

Top 10 Crazy Pet Sitting Stories in Honor of our 10th Anniversary.

Top 10 Crazy Pet Sitting Stories in Honor of our 10th Anniversary.

top 10 crazy pet sitting stories

1. The time I had to hand-feed an attack poodle. If I met this dog today, I wouldn't take the job. But since Paco* came to me in my first year, I was hungry for work and cocky enough to think I could charm any animal, a la Caesar Milan. Paco's mom was an elderly lady who was taking a rare 10-day trip to see her children and grandchildren. During the consult, I did find it odd that she insisted I hand-feed bologna to the teacup poodle, but who was I to argue. Paco barked at me a little bit during the consult, but seemed calm enough as his mama demonstrated their elaborate feeding ritual. 

Everything changed when I came for my first visit. He went bat-shit-crazy, barking and snarling at me. He didn't want to come near me, so I sat on the couch opposite him and didn't make any eye contact. For an hour, he snarled at me. Hand-feeding wasn't an option, so I would toss him bologna like he was a shark. Determined to break his snarling and win him over, I put on leather gloves to try to hand-feed him. He would snarl and bite the gloves as I gingerly handed over the Oscar Meyer. In addition to his off-putting demeanor, he had terrible rotten, stinky teeth (on a diet of nothing but bologna...go figure). After a few days of that, I realized that he was going to hate me no matter what. And the feeling was mutual. So I'd toss the food (if you can call it that) in a bowl and would plop on the couch with a book for the duration of the visit.

We got to the point where he would only snarl if I looked at him. I called it a breakthrough and broke up with the client upon her return.

I learned that if a dog won't really warm to you in a consult, it only gets worse from there.

2. The time I traveled the trifecta. Holiday season 2005. I was living in one city while our home was being built 20 miles away in another. In the interest of building my business, I accepted holiday jobs in both cities, and a third, which was the final point in a triangle of 20-mile-away cities. I had one morning, afternoon, and evening visit to make in each city. We had family in town for the holidays and I didn't get to see them at all. I would leave at 5:00 a.m. and return at 10:00 p.m., driving about a million miles each day. I think I spent more money in gas than I made.

I learned to limit my service area. 

3. The time I broke bones. I was walking Ruthie, the sweetest pit bull mix ever. We rounded the corner, and there was a man checking the mail with his three dogs right next to him. It was only when they charged us that I realized they were not leashed. They attacked poor Ruthie, and she wouldn't fight back (pit bull haters take note). I held onto the leash, was pulled down and drug as I tried to pull Ruthie from the pile while the owner of the other dogs pulled them off her one by one. 

Ruthie came out of it without a scratch, somehow. I, on the other hand came out with three broken fingers (not to mention quite a few scrapes). Two surgeries and six months of physical therapy later...I still have crooked fingers that hurt every day.

I learned that no dog should be out of the control of their owner. Ever. I avoid other dogs when I'm on a walk with a client's dog, always. 

4. The time the ambulance came for me.  I had a heart condition, and I suddenly fell very ill at a client's home. Thank goodness my children were not with me. I called my husband at work and asked him to come right away. I'll spare you the gory details of the condition I was in, but suffice it to say I couldn't stand or walk despite repeated attempts. He asked me to call 911, but I knew I had to give a diabetic dog an injection, so I told him I wouldn't call until he got there and was sure he could give the injection. If he couldn't, then he'd have to carry me to the dog to do it. 

When he got there, I was lying on the bathroom floor. We called 911, and in the moments we waited, I instructed him on how to give an injection to a dog. He was very nervous, but pulled it off and fed them and cared for them before following the ambulance to the hospital.

I learned that a back-up plan is critical. When you think something can't go wrong, it does. (I've had heart surgery, and now I'm all good.)

5. The time a game of fetch went south. A classic game of backyard fetch with an ultra-friendly pooch. What could go wrong? We played, and played, and played. The dog was large and the yard small, so I was tossing underhand, palm down (swinging from the hip with the back of my hand on the upside of the ball, like modified bowling). The dog got excited and playfully charged the ball, only my hand was in the way. His upper fang got stuck in the back of my hand.

I probably should have had a stitch in it, but I'm stubborn and foolish sometimes. Ask my friends.

I learned that even happy dogs can cause injury.

6. The time the dog locked me out. This family recently (and beautifully) landscaped their back yard. They requested that I let the dogs out one at a time, and accompany the outside dog. Apparently, the dogs would destroy the landscaping as a team, but were less likely to disturb things going out solo. I followed instructions.

I took Tango outside first and left Sparky inside. Sparky wanted in on the fun and was quite excited, so she started jumping up and down at the slider. Up and down, up and down, up and down...click. In her flurry to join us, she clicked the lock down. Tango and I outside, her and the key and my phone inside. 

I walked about a mile to another client's house to use their phone to call my husband to bring the back-up key from my office. I went back to Tango and Sparky's in hopes that the landscaping was still in tact. It was. Instead, I could only watch as Sparky drug the bathroom trash to the window and teared through each piece before my eyes, taunting me as I waited for the backup key.

I learned to keep a client's house key and my cell phone on my body at all times.

 7.  The time I found out more about a family than I needed to know. The characters: Two barking dogs. Three talking birds.

The dogs would bark, and bark, and bark at me, at a tree, at each other, and at the wind. It was quite irritating. The birds revealed how the family handled the situation. About five minutes into the bark-fest, I hear:

"SQUAK! QUIET!"

"SQUAK! SHUT UP!"

"SQUAK! DAMN IT!"

 I learned to keep my mouth shut at that house and any other with a talking bird. And I had a good laugh.

8. The time I scared the shit out of a dog. Poor thing. Poor me. It was a big English Sheepdog, and I was instructed to let her out of her upstairs crate and into the backyard. The poor thing was quite fearful of me. As soon as I opened her crate, she bolted toward the stairs which curved twice leading downstairs. As she rounded the staircase, she let her bowels loose and sprayed feces in a fanned-out pattern ALL OVER the staircase walls. 

I learned to always ask a client where they keep their cleaning supplies.

9. The time I was sure a dog would choke. Oh, Quincy. One of my all-time favorites, but not the sharpest tack. The small terrier was rummaging behind a bush, but I didn't think much of it. Dogs nose around in bushes all the time. When he emerged, I saw he had something quite large in his mouth. 

A dove. He had a dead dove the size of his head in his mouth. I slowly approached him to retrieve it, knowing that if I tried to get to him too quickly, he'd bolt. As I approached, I calmly requested Quincy to drop the bird. 

He looked up at me and swallowed it in one gulp. If I didn't see it with my own two eyes, I wouldn't think it possible. He then went about his business as if he'd not just swallowed something the size of his head.

I learned that when it comes to dogs and prey, the impossible is possible.

10. The reunion. Perhaps my favorite memory. When I first opened for business ten years ago I was contacted by a very nice couple with a puppy named Clinton. I cared for Clinton regularly for a couple of years, and we had a special bond. Then the couple moved away. Then I moved. Then they moved. Then I moved. They had a couple of kids, and so did I.

A couple of months ago, I received an email from Emily, Clinton's owner. She said she'd found my web site and wondered if I serviced her area (not really, but close enough). She wondered if I'd be Clinton's pet sitter again. 

So now I am. He's not a puppy any more, and neither am I.

I learned that bonds with animals survive over time and distance.

After ten years, I can definitely call myself a pet sitting veteran. I've seen a lot and experienced a lot. Mostly positive, with a dash of "what did I get myself into?" But every situation has been a learning experience, making me a stronger, wiser pet sitter. I'm fortunate to be able to be paid to do what I love. 

Here's to another ten years of making crazy memories!

* In the interest of privacy and security (and to save off embarrassment), names have been changed.