10 Winning Ways to Gain a Dog’s Trust

Kelly Jones

Having a house sitter come to stay in their home, whilst their owner is away, can be a change that a dog needs to get used to. Some pooches will warm to you straight away, but some others might take a little longer. This guest post from Ripley at Doggy Dream Team, breaks down 10 winning ways to gain a dog's trust, to get you off to the best possible start with your house sitting furry friend.

Remember the expression: ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression’?

Well, this applies to meeting pets, just as much as to people.  

Starting out on the right paw and winning an unfamiliar dog’s trust, means a more relaxed, less stressed pet, so you can both have fun sooner. Whilst the owner has a special peace-of-mind, knowing their pet is settled and happy in your care.  

The Meet-and-Greet

It’s natural to want to make a good impression meeting someone for the first time, especially when you’re looking after that person’s fur-family and home. However, eagerness to impress is often at odds with the needs of a nervous or shy dog.

What Not to Do

Perhaps you’re eager to prove how much you love dogs. Their hound is hunkering in the corner, head lowered, and licking his lips. Determined to make friends you stride over, only to have the dog shrink away and growl.

Now you’re the one in a corner because your attempt to make friends has back-fired. That first meeting set the wrong tone…but things could so easily have been different. But how?

The Wait-and-See Approach

A much better plan is to ignore the dog completely and chat to the owner. This lets the dog gain confidence by seeing their pet parent accepts and likes you, which bolsters the 4-leggers paws-itive opinion.

Don’t worry about appearing cold or off hand with the dog, and instead be up front with the owner: Tell them you’re itching to make friends with the fur-family, but you’re giving him time and space to approach you in his own time. This way you impress not only the dog, but the owner with your knowledge of canine psychology.

OK, you get the idea, so let’s look at 10 ways to win an unfamiliar dog’s trust.

1. Time and Space

A dog finds the unfamiliar threatening. It's important to reassure him that the new person in his home is hugely friendly, and lots of fun. To establish this, give the dog the time and space he needs to suss you out and discover you’re great to be around. Avoid confrontation, such as striding over to befriend him, and where possible let him come to you, either because he’s curious or because you have something yummy like his supper.  

2. Avoid Direct Eye Contact

In dog language ‘staring’ is a challenge or threatening. Simply by avoiding direct eye contact, you help to keep things low key. You might even try yawning…yes yawning…as this is a canine calming signal that subconsciously reassures the dog.

3. Brush up on Body Language

The dog in our earlier scenario was cowering and licking his lips. These are both signs of canine stress or inner conflict. A dog showing signs needs time to get used to you. Where possible respect this and use other tactics like mental stimulation (point #8) to engage his interest.

Classic signs of dogged unease include:

  • Turning the head and diverting his gaze
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning
  • Raising a paw
  • Showing the belly
  • A lowered head and low ears
  • A worried expression

4. Reward Good Behaviour

You’ve done a grand job of ignoring the dog, and his curiosity piqued, he slinks towards you. This is a great time to reward his boldness by dropping a treat onto the floor. Let him begin to associate you with good things and gain confidence, before moving in with a full-scale fuss.

5. Keep in Routine

With his owner gone, if the dog’s breakfast and morning walk doesn’t happen then truly his world has been turned on its head which leads to feelings of insecurity. Dogs don’t like the unfamiliar, so be sure to keep the dog in routine. This provides a solid foundation on which he can learn to trust you.

6. Engage his Interest

Make yourself more interesting to the dog, so he wants to investigate and be friends. Try lying on the floor whilst watching TV, and let the come to you. Also, try crawling around as this will engage his curiosity and encourage him to follow.

7. Exercise and Play

When the dog is well-exercised he has less energy to waste on feeling anxious. Of course, this might mean keeping the dog on a longline (for safety’s sake) and stick within his physical limitations.

Also there’s nothing quite like play for having fun and bonding, and it’s something you can do inside or out.

8. Mental Stimulation

A busy mind is one less likely to look for trouble. Have some strategies up your sleeve to keep the dog diverted, such as putting a favourite toy or treat inside a cardboard box. Then let the dog rip his way through the box to get the treat. See if the dog has puzzle feeders or chew toys like KONGS and make full use of them at mealtimes.

9. Train to Bond

Don’t overlook some fun training sessions as a means of bonding and building his confidence. Start small, such as asking the dog to sit for his food, and then teach simple commands. Keep the sessions short and use reward-based methods, as the object is to build the dog’s confidence in you rather than have an impeccably behaved pet.

10. Avoid Accidental Reinforcement

It’s human nature to want to comfort an anxious animal. However, when you soothe or fuss a dog showing signs of fear or anxiety, you are inadvertently rewarding their behaviour and validate it.

A better policy is to quietly ignore their nervousness and divert their attention with a squeaky toy so you can praise their boldness.

And finally, ultimately know that dogs live in the moment. When you consistently show that you understand their needs and are there to cherish and care for them, you become a veritable Doctor Doolittle of pet sitters.

Ripley the dog knows all about how to gain a dogs trust. He is a chocolate labradoodle and lives in Surrey, UK. His time is shared between walks in the countryside, his pet family and his time as the lead editor for Doggy Dream Team, an online community for those who lap up all things canine. You’d be barking not to visit!

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