Very reactive, anxious dog

Please only reply to this if you are experienced in this area. I don’t want opinion, just facts please. I am not looking to leave the sit.
I am sitting for a dog who is traumatised from their early life experience. I believe the dog was maltreated and this has resulted in significant anxiety and reactive behaviours which display as aggressive, confrontational and intimidating with lots of loud barking and lunging when other people and dogs are nearby. This is not something which passes quickly and involves every human and dog we encounter on walks, as well as towards animals in fields. This is not just a superficial lunge/bark indicating fear, dominance, uncertainty etc., these are significant episodes which only abate if we choose a different direction - not always an option - or pass the object of said dog’s attention. This is not easy as both options can include a level of firm commands and lead pulling which have little or no impact. There is simply no controlling the dog and his increased anxiety and reactiveness fuels the power of these reactions. I have apologised to many people and tried to explain the dog’s background, although understandably some people have looked uncomfortable and moved on quickly, some have expressed distinct unhappiness. The behaviour has to be observed to really understand the level of power which goes into these reactions/behaviours. Information I have received today from a third party who knows the dog suggests the dog should not be walked where there are people around and walking should be around 7 am and 9 pm. This is new information to me. The dog has been walked in a rural area, however people live nearby and there are walkers who also frequent the area. The owner is aware I have been undertaking 2 - 3 hour walks with the dog. The behaviour has been going on for at least 1 year. I would like feedback on the appropriateness of advertising this dog on the website and I wondered if there’s any guidance around this.
Again, I’d be grateful for feedback from people with distinct experience of this - whether it’s via TH sits or not - and not simply casual advice or references to training. It is clear this dog requires significant further training in a ‘safe’ environment before they can be exposed to training in a public area - this is down to the owner. I’m simply assessing the viability of this dog being left with sitters.
Thank you.

I’m on a sit with two dogs and one of them has behavior like this. He’s ok with people but other dogs send him into a frenzy with a shrieking, screaming bark. I don’t speak the language where I am but have memorized a few phrases like “he doesn’t like other dogs” but I usually offer no explanation - many folks know this dog already. The owner told me in advance about this behavior, and that a previous sitter had left the sit early.

One thing the owner told me she does is to scatter some treats on the ground when encountering another dog. That distraction helps. Far better to avoid other dogs by looking ahead and avoiding busy times and places. I’m in an urban area and it’s been a challenge to avoid other dogs. When an an encounter happens I retreat behind a parked car or change directions. Stopping to pet him and speak to him calmly helps but not always. The dog is small and I have found that if I pick him up he usually doesn’t start his fit or if it’s already underway it’s easier to calm him down.

I don’t like it but I’m ok with it since I knew what I was getting into. The owner discussed it in the listing and we talked about it before confirming the sit.

Speaking strictly to this, there’s only this snippet in the T&Cs about animal behavior:

5.2.11. not have any inherently dangerous pets (such as venomous snakes or constrictors, primates, wolves or wolf hybrids, non-domesticated cats, alligators), banned dog breeds, or any animal with a history of attacks on pets or people;

There are plenty of anxious/reactive dogs on this site. In fact, my dog is also dog-reactive and has done very well with THS sitters. I am very upfront about her reactivity my listing and discuss her specific behaviors/triggers/handling needs in a video call with a prospective sitter to make sure they are comfortable with her situation. Clarity is the key to keeping everyone safe.

If the owner of this dog is very clear about the dog’s needs, this could be successful. If the dog is large the owner may also need to filter for people who are physically capable of restraining the dog in the event of a reactive episode. This will probably limit their pool of interested sitters, but it’s more important to find the right sitter than just a sitter and they can always go back to other paid sitting services if this doesn’t work out.

It would help to offer some reliable way of walking/exercising the dog with minimal stress for both the sitter and dog. The idea of only walking at 7am and 9pm like you mentioned seems like a good start. Does the dog also like playing fetch or chasing a flirt pole? If the owner has a fenced backyard that could be a good option. If not, I’ll plug “SniffSpot” here, which is a site that lets you rent out someone’s backyard to get a private dog park. It has filters for places that are fully fenced and have no other dogs that are visible/audible.

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Hi there. As an owner of a reactive dog, I understand your stress about this and hope my feedback is helpful. I’ve worked extensively with two reactive dogs for years, with behavioral vets and trainers. So I’m not just giving idle advice…

I searched the forum for “reactive” before I joined here, and I do think leaving a reactive dog with sitters can be very viable. I just listed my home here, and was clear that walks are not required – my dog is happier playing in the backyard and doing other things for activity and stimulation. There are various techniques for managing and reducing reactivity but it’s a lot to ask a pet sitter to do! My dog’s reactivity has gotten MUCH better with work, and if someone is comfortable walking a reactive dog that’s an option I can discuss with them, but I don’t expect it.

The easiest management techniques are: 1) other kinds of physical and mental exercise besides walks. Not every dog needs to go on standard “dog walks.” This was from my behavioral veterinarian – obviously it’s much easier if you have a fenced yard or access to controlled dog sport classes/activities. 2) as the neighbors suggested, taking the dog out when and where you are least likely to encounter people.

You’re right that the struggle to pull a dog back when it is reacting and lunging only increases everyone’s anxiety and reactivity. And when you can’t go in another direction to avoid a trigger, you are stuck in the bad situation till the trigger is gone. If you want to DM me, I can share a few emergency tips and techniques I’ve learned that might help.

My main general feedback is: if people look at you disapprovingly, let them, and try to not let it get to you. Easier said than done, but you are in a situation where you are doing your best. Period. The dog is who it is. It’s hard, but oh well. I know it gets your adrenaline going to have a lunging snarling dog at the end of the leash… try to breathe as soon as you remember to…!

Also, while I think house sitting for a reactive dog is certainly viable, I think it is irresponsible and unfair to the sitter and the dog to not address this specifically in the listing and with the sitter. If the owner has no clue about managing or addressing the dog’s reactivity and it’s as severe as you say, then I would say no, leaving that dog with an uninformed sitter is not right. Just my opinion.


Thank you. It’s the level of reaction which is excessive and it is next to impossible to get his attention or distract him. I’m familiar with distraction techniques, being consistent etc. This is a real challenge.

We cared for a wonderful, lovely, cuddly dog while at home and alone on walks, that turned extremely reactive at even the slightest glimpse of another dog. The dog was also a rescue and who knows what sad trauma it had suffered before being adopted.

Not sure I am being helpful, but I am able to relate to your situation.

When we could, we walked the dog together, so one could be the “scout” and the other could keep full attention on the dog. This of course did not always happen and our spidey senses became very alert, glancing front, back sideways, between cars, across the street, etc. at all times. Changing direction became commonplace, as did hiding behind or between cars, etc.

The problem was picking up poo when walking the dog alone, and having to take our eyes off our surroundings, while the dog had the opportunity to glance around freely. Picture bending down to pick up poo, then suddenly being jerked whichever way said reactive dog was lunging. Not a pretty sight.

To calm the dog when it did become reactive, we took to straddling the dog between our legs and bending down and speaking calmly to the dog to try and reassure it. A last resort was scooping up the dog and walking away quickly. Again, picture scooping up a reactive dog, medium size and quite muscular, and trying to walk away while it’s still being reactive. Like picking up a child that’s having a tantrum!

I failed to mention this sit was in an apartment in a major city in a densely populated area where many people had dogs. Early, early morning and late, late night became normal walking times, along with a quick dash out for a mid-day pee.

Excellent experience, yes, but now that we know about reactive dogs, we always ask during our due diligence process if the dog is at all reactive and in future would insist going on a walk with the HOs to observe how they deal with reactive encounters.


There’s variation of intensity of reactive dogs and some can improve over time. The short answer is: Yes, some reactive dogs should NOT be listed on THS, and it takes honesty and judgment to recognize that. Some pet owners simply aren’t good and/or realistic with those kind of decisions. Some wishful think their way into getting care for their dogs simply so they can travel. That’s not OK to inflict on a random sitter.

I say all the above as someone with a rescue dog with such reactive intensity that my husband and I would never advertise him on THS. We don’t even hire paid random sitters to watch him. If one of us can’t care for him while the other travels, we’ve paid professionals like his trainer or someone who worked at the shelter where we got him, who knew him from all the time he sat there unwanted. That care costs a crapload more than normal dog care, but we do it, because it’s the right thing for him. If we couldn’t afford it, we either wouldn’t travel together or we’d not have a dog like this. Dogs like this shouldn’t be owned by everyone, because some folks simply can’t provide what they need, no matter how much love they have. Those folks should get a normal pet, not one with such special needs.

We’ve done all sorts of things, like get our dog behavioral therapy, professional training, CBD and dog Prozac (not at the same time and with professional prescriptions). We don’t walk him where and when many folks will be. Like if it’s a nice, sunny day and many folks will be at parks, we will take him to school grounds or office parks with a lot of landscaping (and of course we pick up after him and don’t let him damage landscaping), because there won’t be people or other animals around. We stay situationally aware whenever we take him out. We make a conscious decision to care for a dog like this and to help set him up for success. That includes not randomly imposing him on unsuspecting or unqualified sitters.

Note: At one point, the dog behavioral therapist told us to simply not walk our dog, to exercise him in our yard, to work with him and get him to a point where walks wouldn’t be nearly as stressful for us and, more importantly, for him.

If you ended up getting a sit with a dog with an unreasonable level of reactivity for a normal THS sitter, I suggest that you write the review factually and report the host to THS, so they can help make sure that another unsuspecting or unqualified person doesn’t end up sitting the dog. It’s not fair to the person or the dog for such a sit to happen.