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Talking to my Dog Sitter

We have just returned from a two and a half weeks' holiday to Perth, Western Australia and Singapore. During our time away, we had a dog sitter from come to stay with our animals - our two dogs, Rowan and Willow and our two cats, Taupo and Rubin.

Above: When Tim drove the pups to Dundee station to pick us up.

Our cats have stayed in catteries before, and while they never liked being taken anywhere, they generally coped okay. However, after our last cattery experience with a highly regarded cattery in Dundee, which was dreadful, we decided that it would be better for them to have someone come in to look after them. They were clearly stressed and had spent the length of their stay in a stressful and stinking environment. They smelled awful for days and we felt guilty for putting them through it.

They are our family and we owe it to them to give them the best conditions while we are absent.

Our dogs on the other hand, have only stayed in one luxury dog retreat just south of Glasgow twice. They were happy there and we would house them at Clyde Valley Dog Retreat anytime, except the facility is often so booked up that we would need advanced advance bookings. Other kennels that we visited smelled bad and all we could hear while we were there were the resident dogs barking non-stop.

We never liked the thought of our dogs staying in a kennel where all they heard all day was other dogs barking. It looked stressful and it was anxiety making for us, humans. At CVDR, all we could hear was the resident birds chirping away on the hillside.

So, with the recent circumstances of the cats and the lack of good quality local dog kennels, we decided to use in the last year. Since our first holiday, we have never looked back! We have had two extended holidays so far and both times we felt stress-free while we were holidaying - sight-seeing and doing things that were out of the ordinary.

Our first holiday was to Mallorca and we had a lovely Aussie girl, Natalie stay with the animals for nine days. She was amazing and the animals loved her! After our holiday, we were able to host Nat for another visit where she came and just enjoyed her time here in Dundee in December, so the dogs got to see their favourite Natalie again. It was lovely and we appreciated her friendship.

This time, we came home from Western Australia and Singapore, and offered our house sitter, Tim to stay with us for a few more days so that he could see a bit more of Dundee. We took the opportunity to get to know Tim and to learn more about this person who has spent a good chunk of time with our animals, particularly Rowan and Willow - learning all their little quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Walking in our favourite wood, Dronley just this morning, it was clear that Tim also feels an affinity to this special place where dogs are happy and very much themselves. It was lovely to share this special part of Scotland with Tim. Walking with the pups, Tim told me that the dogs are "so funny", "very good" and "have such good lives", and it was just so nice to hear from a stranger that we seem to be doing the best by our animals.

As dog owners, it is so important to have dogs that can settle with someone we have entrusted them to. To be able to leave them with a responsible person, whose job is to walk them the way we walk them, that is, off lead and having a good time, and to give that person a peace of mind that our dogs will be safe around other dogs, people and animals - is priceless.

To be able to come home from what was an amazing holiday of complete detachment to hear that the dog sitter also had a great time with our dogs was just comforting.

So, when Tim dropped us off at Edinburgh Airport two and a half weeks ago, and we said goodbye to the pups in the van, we knew that they will all be alright - Tim included. We didn't stress and we just focused on getting our minds ready for our holiday. That was such a good thing to be able to do. When we left our cats in the cattery, we definitely stressed because of the conditions and smells of the facility.

We had a grand time over the holiday and we got just a few short updates from Tim - a couple on the first day to double check amounts of food as well as where things were kept, and then a few more in the last few days to arrange our pick up from the bus stop in town. There was very little chat about how the pups were doing over their holiday with Tim.

In our minds, no news is good news.

Some owners would find that amount of updates unbearably scarce, but for us, it helped us to have a proper holiday - one that meant that we could completely immerse ourselves in our holiday activities as well as in our catch-ups with friends and family. We appreciated that Tim understood what true holidays should encompass - complete detachment from the daily grind that, while functionally important, is difficult to find joy in.

Holidays are supposed to be just that - *holidays* - breaking away from the mundane day-to-day activities that feels perpetually on-repeat so that we can make a living. Yet, how many of us are so busy making a living that we forget to make a life? Apart from those of us who have the opportunity to dictate our daily activities without compromising our careers and salaries, it would be safe to say that those of us salaried-workers who have work schedules to maintain, commitments to fulfil and chores to complete every day, rarely have the opportunity to properly experience life.

We have salaried people and then we have salaried people who own dogs. Salaried dog owners have the additional care-giving responsibilities of caring for their dogs. From twice a day walks, to cleaning up dog fur (from carpets, sofas, bedding and maybe even the dishwasher), to preparing their meals, to brushing their coats and teeth, and sometimes, to even trying to squeeze in a wee training session here and there, if our energy levels permit.

Dog ownership truly is a paragraph and not just a term.

So, wait a minute, why are we talking about dog sitting in a dog training business?

Well. I am glad you asked!

This is why:

1) Dogs fare much better in their own home environments than in a kennel - in more ways than one - so choose to use a dog sitter so that your dog also has a good time while you are away, instead of being cooped up in a kennel that probably lets them out twice a day for 30 minutes at a time.

2) Dogs need to develop good social skills, boundaries awareness as well as coping skills to relate to a stranger who will be looking after them for a block of time. To engage a dog sitter, one must have a dog that is able to not just tolerate the dog sitter but to also be reliable, safe and fun to be around.

3) To have a dog that can be entrusted to someone else in your own home, or in that person's home, depends on the quality and variety of training you provide to your dog on a daily basis - your doggy lifestyle.

This is where dog training is linked to dog sitting.

Above: Rowan was so pleased to see us!

To achieve a safe and happy dog sitting experience for both dog and dog sitter, it is the owner's responsibility develop a dog that is positive and confident; that understands boundaries; and that is emotionally robust. Your dog will need to cope with the obvious change of you being absent and having a stranger who might just have basic dog caring skills to come live with them for an extended period of time. Your dog needs to apply what it has learnt about proximity, recall, problem solving, loose lead walking, obedience/compliance and a whole host of other skills in a cooperative manner with a total stranger. This requires work - a lot of it - and a lifestyle of training everyday.

So before your next holiday - while you are sitting down with your coffee in between the mundane jobs of your daily grind, have a think about how you can facilitate your dog using a dog sitter to also have a safe and enjoyable time without you. Can you teach your dog to develop good positivity and confidence skills as you go about your dog ownership lifestyle?

Have a think about how you can truly have a holiday - detaching from the mundane day-to-day grind - knowing that your dog will be just fine. Can you start to leave your dog with people you can trust for short periods to start practicing for your holidays? Can your dog transfer what it has learnt about boundaries and stress coping to a different person?

And while you sip away at your coffee and drift away into your next block of annual leave that is three to four months away, have a think about what amazing holiday experiences you could organise next. You might be swimming with whale sharks off the coasts of Mexico, paragliding over the Blue Mountains in Sydney or you might find yourself reconnecting with our primate cousins, the lemurs in Madagascar while your dog is having its own wee holiday and having a marvellous time with their dog sitter.

So, here's to your next holiday! May it be a holiday of total and complete detachment from the daily stresses, including from your little furry friend who will obviously be doing the same!

Above: We think Willow was quite happy to see us too.

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