While their ability to sense how their humans are feeling makes them seem, well..almost human, it’s easy to forget that dogs also share some traits with their wilder cousins. Luckily, a lot of these traits are easy to anticipate and prevent—even if you don’t know a dog very well. As a pet sitter or dog walker, you should watch out for prey drive and pack mentality.
It’s easy to forget that our fluffy canine companions are also carnivores. Even a cute, five-pound Chihuahua can have a prey drive.
How to tell if a dog has high prey drive:
If a dog loves chasing squirrels, cats, or other creatures through the bushes, they have a high prey drive. For some dogs, this is a fun game and they wouldn’t have a clue what to do if they actually caught something. For others, squirrels seem much more appetizing than kibble.
What this means for you:
Dog breeds that are bred for their prey drive, like terriers, or to chase things, like greyhounds, generally should not be mixed with small animals or cats. Sometimes they may not even be the best fit for a house with smaller dogs.
If you have cats or small animals, or watch other small dogs, ask potential clients if their dog enjoys chasing bunnies, and watch how they behave on walks during your Meet & Greet. In the end, if you don’t think other pets will be safe, it’s totally okay for you to say “no thanks” to a stay or walk. Dog owners will appreciate your honesty—just like you, they want to make sure it’s a good fit.
Simply put, dogs in a group often act differently than dogs on their own. Two dogs will often play. Add a third dog into the mix, and two dogs will play while a third referees, creating a tense environment. And when you have four or more dogs? That’s where pack mentality can really kick in. What you want to avoid here is a pair or group of dogs ganging up on another dog. Make sure you really get to know the dogs you’re sitting/walking, and ask the owner a lot of questions about the dog’s history.
What this means for you as a sitter:
One of the reasons dog day cares separate dogs by temperament instead of size is to avoid high-energy, high-prey-drive dogs from ganging up on docile dogs. As a sitter or dog walker, it may make sense for you to adopt a similar philosophy. You should also ensure you’re careful with how many dogs you keep together and what their temperaments are like. No matter what, it’s a good idea to supervise groups of dogs at all times, and separate them when you can’t physically be there (pro tip: baby gates are your best friend).
Trust your judgment when you’re deciding what dogs you’re comfortable caring for, especially if you have pets of your own—or you’re taking care of someone else’s pet at the same time. Learning how to recognize high prey drive and pack mentality will only help you become a smarter, more savvy pet sitter or dog walker.