Animal Training and Pet Sitting Module 8

Handling And Getting Around With Your Pet

Handling pets is at the core of what you do as a pet sitter or dog walker. How you handle pets can “make or break” your business and efficiency. Proper, safe handling is always a must and basic guidelines should be followed in every circumstance.

8.1 Usual handling equipment and restraints you’ll need

8.2 Approaching a nervous animal

8.3 Predicting unpredictable behaviour

8.4 How to handle cats and dogs correctly

8.5 How to transport pets safely

8.1 Usual handling equipment and restraints you’ll need

Being able to properly restrain one or more dogs while out on a walk is the most important aspect of your job. There is just a little bit of material between you and your charge’s escape – so it is important to be prepared.

Typical handling equipment includes a leash, collar or harness.

The Collar

Collars must be made of a sturdy material such as flat nylon or leather. There should be a sturdy metal loop onto which you can snap your lead or leash. This ring should not be bent, excessively worn or corroded. The collar needs to be secured snugly around the dog’s neck, allowing only two finger’s breadth between the skin and collar material. Many owners keep collars on their dog too loose, making it easy for them to slip out of it when a leash is attached. Check every single collar, every single time, before every single walk!Owners can often loosen up the collar once you have returned the dog home. Collars are excellent for leading a dog and you can make quick adjustments and lead effectively with one.

The Harness

Harnesses are more secure than collars, as they wrap around the dog’s chest. They can provide less control than a collar and leash combo, but this is not typically the case for an experienced dog walker. Harnesses are also made of a sturdy material such as flat nylon or leather. Always check buckles and the rings for wear and corrosion.

The Leash or Lead Shank

Module 2 covered in great detail what to look for in a leash. For a quick refresher:

Leash Selection: Keep it simple

Style: Simple flat lead or leash

Material: Leather or woven nylon (no ‘bungee’ material)

Optimum size: “Traffic length” – 6 feet long and 5/8 inch wide (about 2 m long and 1.5 cm wide)

Heavy-duty steel or brass snap, or ‘bull snap’ for large and giant breeds

AVOID: Retractable leashes Keep a “slip lead” or two handy for emergency use, or to use as a muzzle

Additional Equipment


Muzzles may be necessary for certain situations. Have on hand a solid, woven fabric muzzle in each size available – XS to XXL. These are sturdy and easily cleaned. They can also keep nervous dogs or cats “honest.” Always remember that an animal can still bite you through the muzzle!

8.2 Approaching a nervous animal

This section will focus mainly on approaching a nervous dog. Similar principles can also be used with cats.

The initial approach needs to be made after you evaluate the dog’s body language. Information from the owner can also clue you in to a fearful or shy dog. Many people make the mistake of going up to the dog and into their “personal space” too quickly. Don’t approach a nervous dog from the front and avoid eye contact.

Approach the dog from the side, as if you are “sliding” up to him with your side to his side. If the dog is loose in its own house, he may run away and try to hide. Continue to come close to the dog and offer treats. Many dogs will quickly be won over to good food. If you back away from a nervous or fearful dog, be sure to keep your eye on him. Many fearful dogs will bite you in the butt as you turn away!

If you have a nervous dog leashed and he won’t walk with you. Keep these pointers in mind: You can try to “bribe” him forward with food, but some are too nervous to eat or aren’t hungry. Walk like you are leading him somewhere and verbally encourage him to come along. Don’t drag him, but gently encourage by putting pressure on the leash. Walk fast enough that the dog realizes you are trying to take him somewhere. A “leisurely” pace can be confusing to nervous dogs

8.3 Predicting unpredictable behaviour

Most dogs don’t act aggressively out of nowhere. These dogs do exist but most of the time, there are warning signs. It is important to learn the body language of dogs and how to read it properly. If something doesn’t seem right – it probably isn’t, and taking precautions to keep yourself safe.

Body language to be aware of include:

  • Cowering
  • Licking lips
  • Furrowed brow
  • Panting
  • Ears to the side or back
  • Walking slowly
  • Crouching to the floor when walking
  • Yawning
  • Pacing
  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Whining

Dogs can get “out of control” even if they are not aggressive can still cause problems. If they lunge or jump on the leash towards other dogs or in response to a loud noise, they can become loose.

They can also struggle against the leash, causing injury to their neck and airway. If you notice a sudden change in the dog you are with, and he becomes excited, pulling or whining, change your direction and keep the leash short. Distract the dog from whatever is agitating him by talking and offering treats as you walk along.

8.4 How to handle cats and dogs correctly

Handling dogs and cats inside the home is quite different from handing them outdoors and on the leash. It is recommended to use a leash when handling dogs indoors or at a minimum, a well-fitting collar. The collar or harness acts as an “anchor” point of control. Keep the pet close to you at all times when handling indoors. Too much slack can mean too little control and the pet can have leverage for pulling against the leash.

Using your body to guide his movement can be extremely helpful. If you need the dog to move to the side, you should use a leash attached to the collar. Don’t pull the dog’s head in the direction you want him to move, gently but firmly put pressure in that direction and also step towards the dog and even into his side. A little pressure from your leg on his body can help him understand that you need to move in that direction. Care needs to be taken performing this maneuver with nervous dogs, as this can be a violation of their “personal space” and may frighten them.

NEVER: Pull a collar so tight the animal turns blue

NEVER: Tie a dog to a tree, post or crate and leave it unattended – strangulation or escape can occur quickly!

“Scruffing” a cat is to firmly grasp the loose skin at the base of the cat’s neck as a means of restraint. “Scruffing” is an appropriate method of restraint for cats if it is done correctly. It is best done when the cat is on a flat surface and is used to keep the cat still. Cats are quick and sometimes “scruffing” can make them more fractious.

NEVER: “Scruff” a cat and carry it from one location to the other.

8.5 How to transport pets safely

In this section, the term “transport” will be used mainly in reference to personal car travel. Many pet caregivers provide taxi services for their clients to and from the veterinarian, the dog park and from walks or play dates with other dogs. Pet safety in the car is important and even regulated in certain locations. Pets are easily injured or killed in even the most minor traffic accident – so follow these recommendations closely. Pets are often thrown from the vehicle, injuring or killing them and possibly others if not properly restrained. Even if you have to “slam on the brakes” to stop suddenly, this action could throw around a pet and cause injury.

Crates are a good option for small and large dogs. Many dogs are happy to get into a crate in the car and may be more at ease inside a structure that supports them as they move down the road. Crates may not be practical for large breed dogs, especially if you have several to transport on a play-date. For several large dogs, individual seat restraint devices are a better option.

Dog walkers enjoy using larger vehicles such as vans for transporting many dogs at once. A separate option for restraint, which would help prevent pets from being thrown from the vehicle in an accident is a wire covering for the inside of the windows and behind the passenger seats. These “partitions” or “pet barriers” keep the pets securely in the cargo area and should stay in place if a dog is thrown up against a window.

Well Done!