Friday, July 24, 2009

“The breeder said not to train my dog until she’s 6 months old.”

I have recently welcomed some new clients in my pet sitting business: Three goldendoodles, all from different families, two from the same “breeder.” I would like to reserve the great debate about designer breeds for another time. My focus today is what breeders and vets tell new pet owners.

At first I thought the breeders were a bunch of crackpots, especially after hearing the advice that came from the pet store where one of the dogs was purchased. The owner said, “This breed is special; you can’t train them until they are at least six months old.” As a result, the dog that arrived at my house has never been in a crate or in a car, doesn’t know how to walk on a leash and doesn’t allow the owner to brush her. This is “special” all right– a recipe for a special kind of disaster.

Playing catch-up on all these training issues will be challenging for a novice dog owner. Quite frankly, I believe no experienced dog owner would listen to such advice (or buy from a pet store, but that’s another great debate). Puppies are capable of learning from the second they enter your home at 8 weeks old. They are more receptive before they reach those dreaded teenage months. They are still small and easier to handle; they also do less damage when they chew or misbehave. What was this “breeder” thinking?

After asking some careful questions of the dog owners, I found out more. I asked why the breeders and pet store personnel believe this– what reasoning did they offer? The owners were told that because the dog hasn’t had all her shots, she should be kept at home for her own safety.

That’s different. What I think really happened here is the owners misinterpreted what they were told. They were TOLD not to take their dog out in public for several months. They HEARD: don’t train my dog for several months. Big difference.

Not just doodles

Another client recently purchased a miniature dachshund. Their vet told them not to let him on the grass until he’s had all his shots.

Huh? How do you housetrain this dog? I called the vet. What he meant was “Don’t let the dog on grass out in public (like the dog park), where there are lots of unknown dog germs, until he’s had all of his shots.” But that’s not how they interpreted it.

Listen Up, People!

So vets, breeders and pet sitters: be careful how you word the advice you give new, inexperienced dog owners. People can only absorb so much information at a time, so don’t overload them. Be very, VERY clear about what you mean.

Okay pet owners, your turn. Buy books, call trainers, look at reputable web sites (I’d be happy to provide some resources), talk to friends. If something you hear defies logic, ask for an explanation. You don’t want to damage your future with your dog because you got bad information, or heard it wrong.

And to the rest of us: I am not a vet; you are not a vet. Be careful what advice you give.

Photo above: Goldendoodle and bloodhound fun in the summer. Did I mention that goldendoodles get really, really dirty?

© copyright Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dog toys and summer fun

Treat-dispensing dog toys keep active dogs busy! Liz Palika writes for the Pet Connection, and the link is to her latest post. You will find some new and different toys to entertain your pooch.

I love her idea about putting ice cubes, carrots and apples in a big kiddie pool full of water for the dogs to play in. Just this morning, the gang was playing in the pool here- a horse trough. They took turns jumping in and out, and then racing around the yard. They are now covered with mud, but tired and happy!

Another great summer play idea for your dogs is the Kooldogz giant ice cube on a stand. I wrote about it in my blog last year. My horses love it too, as you can see from the photo above.

© copyright 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved

Friday, July 17, 2009

A goldendoodle reunion!

My client Diana sent me this great photo of her goldendoodle Rylee with all of her littermates at a one-year reunion of the entire litter. I just had to share!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I Quit! How to make a graceful exit.

You’ve dragged yourself out the door, into the car, and off to do a pet sitting visit. When you arrive, the house is a pigsty (see photos), and the owner didn’t leave any cat food. To top it off, the client often forgets to leave a check, and sometimes her check bounces. Could it get any worse?

Sometimes, you can talk to the client and the situation improves. But this time, you’ve had it; you just want out. There is no easy way to have a difficult conversation. With a little preparation, you can pave the way for a graceful exit. Your goal is to remain on good terms with the client. There's no good reason to burn bridges. It will just come back to burn you.

Remember the owners love their animals. I learned the hard way on this one. Can you believe I told someone that her dog was whacko? She exploded, fired me before I could quit, and I felt like a complete jerk. I really liked the owner, but I was sick of dealing with the dog. I handled the situation in the worst way possible.

Quit in person or over the phone. Email is the chicken way out. Plus, you can be sure the client will forward your nasty remarks to everyone she ever knew–proof in writing that you are the lowest kind of slime. I’ve made this mistake too.

Be kind. Tell a white lie if you have to. No one wants to be criticized, and a person might lash out when her feelings are hurt. If you have to say something unpleasant, be ready for a backlash, or even a tirade. Grit your teeth and get through it without losing your temper, and you will be glad you did. The client will cool down later and realize you handled the situation with as much grace as possible.

Be a good listener. Years ago when I was in the retail business, our employees went through a training class called “Attitudes for Success” where they learned how to deal with customers, especially angry ones, and end up with a pleasant outcome for everyone.

Here are a few ideas that have stayed with me all these years:

Repeat back what the speaker said to you, maybe rewording it a little. “Okay, as I understand what you said, you want to do this…” It is a sign of respect that you actually listened and tried to understand his point of view, even if you don’t agree.

Make him right. This validates the speaker and honors what he said. “ I see your point. Let me think about how to do things that way.” Don’t get defensive and argue. Let him have his say, and respond that you appreciate his input or opinion. And mean it. You may have to listen to a little constructive criticism here too.

If the client feels like you were sympathetic to what he said (even if he is dead wrong) he will come away with positive feelings from the conversation, even if the outcome isn’t what he wanted.

Be helpful. Sometimes a client just isn’t a good match and another pet sitter will love them. Offer to refer them to new sitters, and maybe even introduce your replacement.

Rehearse. Have a friend listen to you practice what you will say. Make a list and work from that. You’ll go into the discussion with a lot more confidence. If you can’t find a good listener, talk to your dog or the bathroom mirror.

Say thank you. Thank the client for using your pet sitting service, and wish her the best of luck with her pets. Go out of your way to drop off the key. A little extra effort on your part softens the blow.

By planning ahead, you are more likely to handle an unpleasant issue with confidence and class.

© copyright 2009 Terry Albert

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A passion for your business

I met a friend, Jan, for coffee this morning between pet sitting visits. She is a retired teacher who now has a business helping people get organized in San Diego. We have a common interest in horseback riding, which is how we became acquainted. As we chatted, I talked about several friends who are moving, and their struggles to get rid of junk, get the house ready to sell, and get packed. Jan showered me with advice to pass along to my friends.

It dawned on me that when I am out with people, I often talk non-stop about pets, training, and rescue. Jan was doing the same thing about the subject she loves. When you are passionate about what you do, your work spills into your everyday life and conversation. Her eyes lit up as I talked about file cabinets and plastic boxes, labels and shelf organizers.

My eyes lit up when she talked about her dog Wilbur, her search for a new horse and her neighbor’s goats. If you are laughing at us, I understand completely. But I bet you have a subject that gets you going too.

I have an entire section of my garage devoted to leashes, collars, dog dishes, flea control products, shampoos, toys, food and other dog paraphernalia. My friend Seana, the one who is moving, gave me freestanding stacking drawers that inspired me to actually sort everything, throw out the old things, and label each drawer so I can find what I’m looking for. And as an added bonus, I actually know what I have now, instead of just sticking my hand into an unknown pile of tangled “stuff.” I even created an area for the boarding dogs’ possessions. Each now gets his/her own drawer with leashes, toys, medicines and bowls.

When your business is slow, it’s a perfect time to get organized. Work will be easier when you’re busy if you get organized now. Go through the bag you keep in your car, the first aid kit and the pet section of your house. Donate or throw away what you don’t need. Be ruthless.

Pet sitting doesn’t seem so much like work when you are fulfilling your dreams, following your passion, and have an organized file cabinet :)

Visit Jan's website at

© 2009 by Terry Albert. All rights reserved.