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Do You Drop A Pet Sitting Client If The Dog Becomes Aggressive?

pear bite
Are all bites created equally? How do you handle them with pet sitting clients?
As a business owner, you are faced with dozens of decisions every single day.

Some are big… (“Do I take on that client even though I see some red flags?” “Do I hire that person or go back to the drawing board?” “Who do I pay to redesign my pet sitting website?”)

While other decisions are not so big. (“Should I send a text or email?” “Do I run to the bank today or tomorrow?”)

Regardless of size, your ability to simply MAKE decisions will play a big role in the overall success of your pet sitting career.

The Big Decision — When To Drop A Pet Sitting Client

When is it time to drop a pet sitting client because of an aggressive dog?

Is it when the dog draws blood? Or when the dog growls and does not show signs of letting up?

Or is it close to never so you don’t lose out on the money?

These are the general choices a pet sitter has when faced with this decision.

I received this question from a Facebook fan and it’s a dilemma she finds herself in:

The Message I Received: I have a dilemma that I was hoping you can help me out with. I’m a Pet Sitter and right now I’m working with a Tibetan Mastiff. The owners recently adopted her and she is 5. I started working with her back in April and everything was fine.

Recently the dog started exhibiting separation anxiety and started growling and barking at me when I come in for our daily visits. I let the owners know and we decided to have me come over again last night (with them there) to meet the dog…. again just so the dog sees that I’m ok.

She was fine with the owners there. She barked a little bit but then stopped. Today I went to come in and she was right at the door doing the same thing — barking and growling. When I opened the door a little more she bit my arm and drew blood. I’m totally ok and eventually I did get her to calm down so I could come in and do my thing.

My question is: When do you decide not to work with a dog anymore because it potentially could bite? I hate giving up the money (the owners wanted me to continue through out the summer and on an ongoing basis) but I’m afraid I could get bit again. Any advice is appreciated! -Julie Barcia

Wow, there is a lot here.

I completely understand Julie’s hesitation to give up the client because of the money.

However, what is your safety and well being worth? And what is your personal policy on this matter? If you do not have one, you will quickly see the need to develop one (IE. setting boundaries).

In the question, you phrase it “When do you decide not to work with a dog anymore because it potentially COULD bite?”

That’s an entirely different question! Your client’s dog DID bite. And it drew blood? Do you think this will be an isolated incident? Do you think next time, or the time after, could be even more serious?

Have you let the owners know of this initial bite? Personally, I would let the owners know of the incident, suggest some training, and graciously end the job.

Even if you do not end the job, a serious talk with the owners about introducing a trainer into the situation is needed.

To me, no amount of money is worth my safety, well being, or confidence (all which could be compromised at any time in this situation).

It’s certainly a difficult choice, especially when you had the guarantee of a long term, ongoing client.

What Do Other Pet Sitters Think?

Give us your personal opinion on this topic. The dog became aggressive, started displaying separation anxiety, and wound up biting and drawing blood.

Do you continue to pet sit?

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. . .

Josh Cary is a respected and well sought-after speaker and business consultant within the professional pet care industry. Since 2009, having grown his own pet sitting business, Josh provides his industry with the tools, support, and resources to build and maintain a thriving and respected pet business.

With a strong focus on digital marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and website development, Josh’s one mission is to help you Get Found First through a professional and effective website.

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. “When I opened the door a little more she bit my arm and drew blood.”

    My question is: When do you decide not to work with a dog anymore because it potentially could bite?

    Julie taken from your words the dog did bite, not potentially could bite. In my opinion the time to stop is now. And if they owners do not understand and are not concerned with your safety then there is even a larger problem.

    Let this client go and open yourself up for more and better clients. Trust me, they will come. Don’t let money take precedence over your safety.

    1. I’ve been pet sitting for about 1 1/2 years and have had pretty good dogs up to this point. I had a meet and greet with 2 dogs, one great, the other was growling and peeing in my house and I was told has a nipping problem. I also have a home-based business with clients coming and going all day. I’m thinking not a good fit but I’m trying to find the words to say no without offending the owners. Any suggestions? I just can take the risk with my clients or my family.

  2. I’m with Anthony. Unless you’re confident enough in your skills to Alpha roll this big boy, you really should talk to the pet parent and suggest they get a trainer/behaviorist to work with the them and the dog.

    If you feel strongly that you want to keep this client you may want to participate in the training when the trainer is there.

    I know it’s hard to walk away from that promise of income but there are plenty of potential clients out there that you’ll be better able to serve.

  3. Wow – nothing about this situation is ok – you and others are at serious risk of being injured – What happens when the dog is in your care and bites someone else – This dog needs immediate training NOT AN ALPHA ROLL but working with a behaviorist / positive trainer at the clients home with owner and pet sitter if they want to continue with dog (paid for your time of course) But until this is arranged i would discontinue service immediately – you can be injured to the point were you may be unable to perform your job (im not kidding) i have seen this happen – you loose your livleyhood – no money in the world worth this
    Good luck and looking forward to hearing the outcome

  4. “When do you decide not to work with a dog anymore because it potentially could bite? I hate giving up the money (the owners wanted me to continue through out the summer and on an ongoing basis) but I’m afraid I could get bit again. Any advice is appreciated! -Julie Barcia”

    You should of never entered the house once aggression was shown again and the owner should of been called immediately to let them know what was going on.

    I would of given up that client the moment any aggression started. Unless you are trained to handle behavior issues it is not a risk you should be taking. You are lucky the Mastiff didn’t do more damage.

    I have had a friend in your similar situation didn’t want to give up the money and upset the client…I kept telling her to drop the client before something happens…I get a phone call…the dog attacked her from behind while she was walking out the door..bit her head and dragged her down by her hair..once he had her down he proceeded to attack..she fought like crazy but not without getting some serious bite marks and the fear of big dogs now…the dog almost tore her hands to shreds since it was winter she was wearing heavy clothing and a heavy coat and a scarf which all protected her from getting severely ripped to shreds.

    I would much rather lose the money from that one client than lose my business and have no income due to severe injuries or being scared of dogs attacking me.

    I have had a few try and attack me after years of care or no signs of aggression during the meet and greet. I immediately called the client and had the aggressive dog removed so I could continue with the other non-aggressive pets.

    Do you really want to put yourself in potentially physical harm every time you enter the home just to make $20-30…when your medical bills are going to way more than what this client will be paying you???

  5. I met a potential client and dog-mastiff/pit mix. Boyfriend’s dog and it was gifted to the girlfriend for her security. The dog was still in training by the boyfriend who was a fan of Cesar Milan. Additionally, the dog was being trained in another language which is not my first language. I spent about 1 1/2 hours with the potential client and the dog and his behavior varied from sweet to aggressive. I ended the M & G with her stating that I did not feel comfortable with the dog and had safety issues based on his varying behavior. No amount of money is worth putting yourself in jeopardy. The dog could not be around other dogs, small animals or people. I also knew that in an aggressive situation, I would never remember his cues in the language the owner was using.

    I have one client going on three years and one of the two dogs is reactive. At one point when I said I would no longer come because of the one dog’s behavior they did get a trainer in who specializes in behavioral issues. It’s not perfect but much better.

  6. I had a similar situation. this particular dog was a 140 lb great dane. He was wonderful and sweet when I first met him with his owner. But when I came to do my thing by myself total different dog. He would growl/ bark showed fearful aggression signs. I hung in for awhile as this to was an ongoing thing. He got better but if there was a long period of time where I wasn’t needed it would go right back to square one even lunging at the door when I would try to let him out. I did tell the owner and she told me that I needed to be more dominant with him…..Ummmmmm that is a serious injury waiting to happen. I did suggest allowing me to come more regularly when she was there and when she wasn’t there and also working with a behaviorist. She felt that wasn’t needed, and that was when I decided to politely bow out. With a big dog like that, it is just not worth it, very serious bodily harm could come out of that. No amount of money is worth risking yourself over.

    1. “Being dominant” is in reality being aggressive. Aggression breeds more aggression. Dog retaliate – if not now, later. This theory does not match up to actual reality.

  7. I’m in this situation now. I’m boarding a dog who checked out fine. A 3 yo female rescue lab. She initially showed a little uneasiness upon meeting my 11 yo female golden but the lab mellowed and they were fine. This happens to be a personal friend of mine who I’m helping and the first time I’m caring for their dog. They’ve had her for a year or so and she’s stayed with others and never showed aggression. After several days of everything going great she all of sudden attacked my golden, Unprovoked, nothing around, no toys/bones nothing. I pulled her off. No blood or bites thank goodness but nasty snarls. No idea what caused her to do this. Later this same day the lab was standing near me, my golden casually walked into the room and the lab’s hair stood up, she sneered and made a low grrr. I prevented anything from happening and walked the lab away. It’s total separation until they pick her up today. I have no clue why the change of heart and demeanor toward her. She is the mellowest and most gentle golden. Yes, we’re friends, but their dog will not be coming back and our dog will not be going to their home either. Safety comes first!

  8. Having been in business for 12 years I’ve run into a variety of situations that involved dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs. My guiding policy has always been not to put myself in danger for the sake of money, customer service, sympathy for the client, or a belief that I have the skill to handle/rehab the dog. I had to learn this prudence dramatically during my years of rescuing livestock guarding dogs. Certain I could rehab a dog that had suffered known abuse, I was doing fine until the day he attacked and went for my throat. No matter how much we love and want the best for animals, we can’t risk our safety for them, even if we only suspect there *could* be danger. Better safe than sorry.

  9. I was bitten at a consult in December. I was literally in the home for 5 seconds. The home owner was mortified, but I was OUTTA there! Why do people assume we are dog whisperers and why on earth would a home owner risk legal issues with an aggressive dog having a sitter/walker? I am going through a bit of stress now due to a woman who called this week claiming her dog “would make you fear for your life” I told her I wasn’t sure it was the best fit and since she wouldn’t STOP talking I got her email. Emailed her and this AM and now she’s calling me! Yikes! Sorry, but pet sitting isn’t for every dog! We have to stay safe.

  10. I was bitten at a consult in December. I was literally in the home for 5 seconds. The home owner was mortified, but I was OUTTA there! Why do people assume we are dog whisperers and why on earth would a home owner risk legal issues with an aggressive dog having a sitter/walker? I am going through a bit of stress now due to a woman who called this week claiming her dog “would make you fear for your life” I told her I wasn’t sure it was the best fit and since she wouldn’t STOP talking I got her email. Emailed her and this AM and now she’s calling me! Yikes! Sorry, but pet sitting isn’t for every dog! We have to stay safe.

  11. I specialize in caring for pets with behavioral issues. I get all the crap other pet sitters dont want! LOL I’m usually a pet owners last resort when they have a pet that is aggressive or bites. As long as the pet owner acknowledges there is an issue and is willing to work to correct it, or find a work around I’m in!
    I would NOT Recommend this for most pet sitters! I have worked with dogs since I was 13 and owned my own dog walking business, I’ve worked in the veterinary field, and with several behavioralists. I DO NOT claim to be a trainer or behaviorlist. What I claim is I will do everything in my power to work with your pet so that you are able to go out of town and not worry! When I work with a pet the main thing I do is ask myself – Why does this pet exhibit this behavior? Animals don’t act aggressive for no reason. There is a method behind the madness! I use different tools & tricks. Slip leads, baby gates, treats, trail visits, towels, etc. I OBSERVE what the animal is doing as well and their body language.
    I do currently have a pet sitting client who has 2 dogs and the young one who is about a year old is getting more aggressive. He was an issue when they first came to me around Christmas of last year. But I don’t deter easily.
    A lot the issue I observed is the dog is never disciplined or trained to do anything! Not even walk on a leash! It wasn’t socialized either! So they sent me an email about a month ago telling me that the dog behavior has gotten so bad they can’t have people over anymore and they can’t bring him around other dogs. He si aggressive and charges. I told him good for acknowledging there was an issue & working to resolve it. I referred him to a behavioralist I knew who ended up referring him out to a veterinary behavioralist. When I spoke with my trainer she told me this dog was WAY beyond the need of a normal dog trainer. There was a lot of issues that needed to be resolved quick! My affiliate pet sitter went in to let the dogs a out a couple weeks ago – the dog charged her! She is used to dealing with my “Special needs dogs” and has also sat for these dogs before. But it was enough to shake her up that she said she may not want to watch the dogs again. I told her if they call and they are not getting professional help for the dogs and working with them we will not care for them anymore,. She saw the owner today walking the dog down the street on a leash! 🙂 Obviously they are getting some sort of help because you couldn’t even put a leash on that dog before let alone take him for a walk!
    I say talk to the pet owner about a behavioral issue, and suggest help and training.
    I have had one client in the past who had 2 herding dogs, a 8 year old sheltie & an Australian shepherd puppy. The Australian Shepherd was insane on a leash! Running out into the street, all over and behaved horribly in the house. When I worked with the dog one on one doing basic obedience on a 4-6 ft leash she rocked it! So I talked to the owner about it and how well she did. I recommended her for agility to burn off energy and work! The owner claimed she doesn’t have the time always to walk the dog so just lets her go out in the yard. I gave her my trainers name & # that did behavior, reg training & agility. I told my trainer to let me know if she called her. About a month later the owner emailed me asking me to watch the dogs. I politely replied asking her if she has gotten in touch with a trainer or gotten the dog enrolled in agility or some sort of exercise program. The owner replied she had not. I politely replied to the owner and explained that until the dog was in training, agility or some sort of activity that would help modify her behavior that I could not pet sit for them.
    I work with any dog – but it’s a 2 way street. The owners have to show they are also willing to work with the dog and modify the bad behavior. I will not tolerate bad behavior due to owner laziness because its disrespectful to anybody else that comes in contact with the dog. And 99.9% its not the dogs fault! 😉

  12. I had one dog that I was told was a fear biter. I did a meet and greet with the owner present and the dog appeared to be fine… no growling, no stress, nothing that showed he was even afraid…. well I wanted to let the dog get used to me in his own time so I let him be and sat down on the couch…. The dog lunged at me and bit me in the chest (drew blood). I was shocked and it had never happened before…. The owner automatically put the dog into an aggressive hold-down. The dog was then put into a crate for the rest of my visit. Of course, I wondered do I really want to go back and deal with this dog on a regular basis?? I visited again maybe twice more with the dog in the crate and the owner there. I did end up regularly pet sitting this pet and having no additional problems. I have pictures of myself and the dog snuggling in the bed together… of course, this did not happen overnight but I was never bit again and the money was regular and very good as many visits were overnight visits. I have not seen the dog now in one year and it lives in a new home. I will be visiting him this week and I’ll see how he reacts. I don’t expect to see any aggression but I will be hesitant at first. A dog will always sense your fear and I always try to stay relaxed and calm. I was lucky b/c he turned out to be a very very sweet dog and I became a very important person when my client went out of town.

  13. What I find distressing here is the apparent indifference of the owners concerning the safety of the pet sitter. They were perfectly happy to put her at risk again – and a dog that size (and that mean) could easily kill. (In fact, this breed has killed innocent people before.)

  14. I just spoke to my homeowner’s/auto insurance agent about this very subject not long ago. If the insurance co. discover’s the homeowner is holding on to the dog, they have every right drop the homeowner’s insurance (as they should), that is until the dog is permanently removed from the residence.

    My contract and website state, as clearly as possible, I will drop any pet owner, without prior notice. It little matters whether it’s a long term assignment or one who calls on occasion. Furthermore, villages in my area, will/can demand the pet be put down.

    Money is the primary reason for running one’s own business, but safety has been and will always be held far above the almighty dollar.

    1. Perfectly said, Anna. I like that you “cover your a$$” by putting your policies clearly in your agreements and websites. That’s a good step.

  15. I am in my first year of owning my own business and yesterday I was so happy that I bought insurance. While it seemed a great expense at first, today it paid for its self times three with just one incident. One of my dogs attacked another and the wound was so big and deep that the dog had to undergo surgery.

    I was also injured in the process, hardly able to walk due to deep gashes on my knees and shins.

    This dog had not exhibited signs of aggression before.

    This dog is also a third of My income and clearly I don’t want to lose that money. But like many commenters have said, my safety and my other client’s dog’s safety is more important. I put in writing that I would be ending services, effective immediately. Good luck.

  16. This week was my first job, an intact 7mo old pitty, whose prior owners had to give away because of “allergies”. The current owners have had him for a month. Dog has issues, but I wasn’t afraid for myself until today. apparently having someone else in the room (both times it was friends also visiting to help) made the dog want to attack me. so in the morning, it’s mouth was around my upper arm, pressing hard. I had a jacket on. In the afternoon, again with one other person in the room, I am lunged at over and over, and whether it was a bite of just claws I don’t know, but I got the dog in the crate because luckily it was only a couple feet away. I got a bruise on my arm. Since it might have been caused by the dog’s mouth, I didn’t want to go back and see what would happen a third or fourth time. Here it is my third day on the first assignment of my business and I texted the client that I wasn’t coming back. He acted like I had done something wrong. I am glad to see this thread. It makes me feel less alone about what happened. Tomorrow I have to give the client back his key and I think he is going to try to make ME feel bad!!! Because he says the dog didn’t bite the friends who were also coming by to take care of the dog.

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