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How to Assess Aggression Issues at the Meet & Greet
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This is an Excerpt from our Meet & Greet Course
Our meet & greet course covers 27 questions you should ask at every meet & greet.
Let’s dive right in.
In the lesson you will learn:
- How to screen for aggression issues using a simple and effective method that we call “Setting up the door”
- Why it is important to take this step during your meet & greets to screen for “Jekyll and Hyde” behavior
- I’m also going to share a personal story of a time, early in our company, before we implemented the “setting up the door” technique and I wound up in a dangerous situation and it led to me getting bit by a humongous dog.
Setting Up The Door For Dogs
Setting up the door is a simple and effective method for creating a situation similar to how it will be when you try to enter the client’s home later on at the visits.
Most dogs will let you into their home when the client is not around, but some dogs might become territorial or even aggressive.
Why is this, you might ask? Here’s what is going on.
Dogs often rely on their people to handle stressful situations, such as a strange human entering their territory. When a dog is with their parents, the dog knows they are protected. But when a dog is left on their own, they can feel more vulnerable.
The fear of being vulnerable often presents itself in one of two ways.
A dog might act protective around their parents, and then act shy and aloof when their parents are not around.
Or, a dog might act confident and happy when their parents are around, and then be aggressive when left without the protection of their parents.
We call this Jekyll and Hyde behavior because some dogs tend to act one way around their parents and may act in a completely different way when on their own.
It is important to screen for this type of Jekyll and Hyde behavior at the meet & greet. Don’t take the client’s word that everything will be fine. Remember, the dogs feel confident around their parents, so your client may never see the Jekyll and Hyde behavior. But ask any pet sitter, and they know this is something to watch out for.
Sometimes it will surprise you which dogs will present Hyde behavior. So, I recommend taking the time to “Set up the door” at every dog meet & greet.
But you will especially want to set up the door in the following cases:
- Any of the pets show any signs of aggression or fear
- The client mentions their pets have some reactivity
- You get a feeling the pets might be territorial of the home
Most of the time, setting up the door is for dog visits, but the same method will work for cats too.
The Procedure of "Setting up the door"
Let’s take a few moments to cover the basic procedure. The goal here is to set up the door in a similar way to how it will look and feel for the pets when the pet sitter or dog walker comes into the home for visits.
- First, all human go outside (You and the client)
- All pets stay inside
- Humans stay outside for 60-90 seconds
- Try to stay out of sight and talk quietly so the dogs can’t hear the owners’ voices
- This is a good time to talk about how to access the client’s home (Lockboxes, keys, garage code)
- The pet sitters go back inside the house while the clients stay outside I recommend entering the house through the same entrance you will use later on at the visits.
- Then once you are in the house start evaluating the pet’s behavior right away.
When you get inside the house with the dog (or cat), start assessing the pet’s behavior right away. Be sure not to approach a dog showing signs of aggression. If anything looks off, just back away and leave the house. Of course, if the dog is showing signs of aggression, don’t bring that client on.
If the dog is showing signs of being friendly but nervous, you can start by giving the dog a few treats. Ask yourself, does the dog feel comfortable taking these treats? Do I feel comfortable giving the treats? If things are looking good up to this point, go through the following procedure and see how the pet acts. A dog who will not give you problems will pass these tests easily. The dog will:
- Let you put their harness or leash on without fear or aggression
- Let you pet them along their back
- Tolerate you touching their face
- Have happy body language (beware of slow cautious body language, the dog looking at you from the side)
- Not growling or show fearful behaviors
If you have a bad gut feeling about a dog, it is best to voice your concerns now. Otherwise, you may need to sort out alternative care for the dog after the client has already left town.
The Importance of Setting Up The Door
In the early days of my company, before I implemented the procedure of ‘Setting Up The Door’ in our meet & greets, I had a major problem with a Mastiff Mix at a pet sitting visit. During the meet & greet, the dog acted fine: not excited to see me, but not fearful either. The client and I took a tour, we covered all of the details of the visit, and everything looked good.
However, I didn’t interact with the dog during the meet & greet. The dog didn’t really seem to want to, so I thought I wouldn’t push it. I figured every other dog I had ever met liked me. This would be no different. Turns out I was wrong.
You see, by not interacting with the dog, I did not give the dog a chance to get to know me. I also did not get a chance to assess the dog’s behavior and potential reactivity. If I had, I likely would not have accepted this client.
A few days after the meet & greet, the client went out of state, and I started with a mid-day visit. I had a key on file for the client. So I tried to unlock their door with their key, but the lock was a bit stuck. I was able to open their screen door just fine, but then I fussed with the lock to the main door for about 20 seconds before I was able to get it open. I heard the dog barking on the other side of the door, but I thought nothing of it. No matter, just fence fighting, I thought.
I opened the door with my right hand on the door knob, and before the door was open any more than six inches, BAM! The dog bit the side of my right hand. I reacted instinctively, though not wisely, and tried to push the dog away by pushing on the door. Instead of pushing the dog away I pushed the door wide open. When I saw 70 lbs of dog standing and snarling at me, I jumped back and slammed the screen door shut.
I stood there for a moment, looking at this huge snarling dog and then I looked at my bleeding hand. I wondered how this could have happed.
Once I regained my composure and wrapped my hand with supplies from my first aid kit, I went back to the front door. The dog was just as amped as ever, snarling and barking behind the flimsy screen door. This dog was not going to let me anywhere close to him.
I called the client and explained what happened. The client was at first worried about me and my hand, but quickly became more concerned about who was going to take care of his dog. Obviously, I was not going to be able to pet sit for him. The client was frustrated, and I was frustrated with myself for not assessing a dog’s behavior correctly.
Eventually, the client was able to get his brother to come from a few hours away and pick up the dog. A few days later, the client emailed me asking for a refund. At first I thought, how could he ask for a refund, I’m the one with a bandaged hand! He could have told me his dog was aggressive! In reality, I was the professional and it was my responsibility to assess the dog’s behavior. My own lack of good processes put me in a dangerous situation, and led to the client having to make last minute arrangements.
So, I refunded the visits entirely, and was happy to be done with the situation without a bad review.
The reason I tell this story is to drive home the importance of setting up the door. Since we have implemented this procedure, we have not had another problem with dog aggression at a visit. Setting up the door helps us identify signs of aggressive behavior at the meet & greet, so we can turn the client away before it becomes our problem.