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Your Dog Is Fat: The Secret To Confronting A Client With Uncomfortable News

Here’s a wonderful question I received from a pet sitter.

It addresses something we all have to deal with at one time or another in our business: Confronting a client with an observation we think is not in the pet’s best interest.

Joshua, I have a question about how to handle a situation with a client.  The first time I sat for them in the spring, their dogs were healthy and large but not obese.

Sitting for them this past couple of days I’ve seen one dog extremely overweight and his collar was obviously too tight around his neck.

He coughs occasionally and I wonder if it’s the tightness of the collar. I loosened the collar one notch but he really needs a whole new collar to be comfortable. Also, it seems as if he is not getting the exercise he used to since the fat and skin flaps hanging from his collar just seem to me as cruel.

How do I tell this guy in the most tactful way possible about my concern for his dogs weight problem and snug collar? I’m not very good at delivering uncomfortable news and I’m asking you for some suggestions on how to approach this matter. I’d really appreciate anything you can give.

I really don’t want to loose this client.


Really good question. And one that many of us face in one way or another during the course of our pet sitting career.

Whether it’s having to tell a client that their feeding habits are less than ideal, a training method is more counter-productive than productive, the dog is not getting enough exercise, or the collar is on too tight.

Nobody likes confrontation. As the person put in a position to do the confronting, we start to play the worst case scenario in our heads and anticipate the other person getting defensive, lashing out and start screaming.

Nobody wants to be on the receiving on end of that. So more often than not, we’ll bite the bullet and simply say nothing at all.

First and foremost, please understand that it is our responsibility as the professional pet sitter to provide input and feedback to the pet owner if and when we see a glaring problem.

The worst case imaginable would be to say nothing and have what could have been prevented take a turn for the worse and harm the pet.

How Do You Approach The Conversation?

So, how can discuss with your pet sitting client something you see that does not aqppear to be in the best interest of their pet?

Approach The Topic Non-Threateningly

How we approach any conversation sets the tone for the entire talk. Instead of saying something like, “I think you have the collar way too tight around your dog and it doesn’t look good.” Try an approach like, “I noticed Pooches has outgrown his collar a bit. I tried loosening it one notch but really he’ll be much better off with a whole new collar. Do you mind if I pick one up for him?”

Your client will say one of two things.

A. “Oh, I didn’t notice that. I’ll get him a collar next time I’m out.”

B. “Oh, really? OK, sure, that would be great.”

Personally, I would much prefer him to say B so I am sure the collar gets purchased in a timely manner.

What about paying for it?

If your client does not say something like “OK, pick it up and I’ll repay you for it” I would still happily spend the money for a brand new collar for the dog you love and the client you appreciate.

Make sense?

What About The Overweight Issue?

Now about the dog’s weight issue.

In the same tone, open up another conversation with him about what he’s feeding (IE. “Has Pooches’ diet changed in the last few months? … It looks like he’s put on a few and as you know weight gain can become stressful on a dog.”)

Add some lighthearted dialogue to ease the tension you may feel.

For example, when beginning talks about the dogs weight, lower your voice or have it away from the dog’s ears, as if he’d be offended or embarrassed by the conversation you’re about to have!

IE. “You know, I don’t want to say anything in front of Pooches about this, but has his diet changed?”

This way both you and the client can chuckle up front and he’ll become less defensive.

If it helps, you can also send him an email, or print out an article about the dangers of weight gain in the specific breed.

“Thanks! This Means A Lot.”

Last but not least, make sure to thank him for being open-minded about all this and reassure him that your job will always remain keeping his Pooches happy and healthy.

Now, your turn… If you have had to have a confrontation with a pet sitting client, please let me know how it went, how you approached it, how your client reacted, and what it is was about.

We can all use a little motivation and encouragement when it comes to confronting clients. I truly believe that in this area practice makes perfect. In other words, the more often we can talk directly and honestly with our clients, the more often we see that they actually appreciate the dialogue.

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About Joshua Cary

Joshua Cary is an all around good guy. He is a filmmaker, web builder and business owner. He is a pet sitting business trainer, coach and instructor and has a passion for helping pet sitters build a strong business through a strong website. Joshua is also the co-founder of the Association of Pet Sitting Excellence (you should really check that out).

  • http://www.facebook.com/MaryNellum Mary Nellum

    Just to add, I would ALWAYS ask if the dog has been recently seen by his vet. Did they check his thyroid levels? Does he have heartworms? Those are just two things that can cause weight gain. When it’s been a while between visits, I’ve learned to ask what has changed since I was last there. Do they have the same number of animals, has any of them been sick, has diet and/or exercise habits changed, etc. 

    • Joshua Cary

      Those are great questions to ask, Mary.  Thanks for providing them.  Questions like that should show your client that you are genuinely interested and concerned for the dog’s well being.  No matter what questions you choose to ask, any conversation about it is a good step in the right direction.

  • http://www.mjthecrittersitter.com Maryjo

    I always let clients know of any concerns I have when it comes to their pet.  I was a veterinary technician for 8 years and have seen a lot of things working in small animal clinics.  Because I worked in small animal clinics I also have experience with educating clients regarding pet issues.  I feel like it’s my responsibility to let owners know of any concerns I might have.  A lot if times it seems like the owner is unaware of the problem.  We all have busy lives and sometimes the obvious things get passed us and it takes someone else to bring it to our attention.  I have had many pet owners thank me for bringing things to their attention.  I also believe that because of my education and working experience clients feel comfortable talking with me about concerns they have regarding their pet.  I don’t think we should be afraid to confront a client about a concern and  for the most part I think they will thank you and it will really show that you care. 

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