Occasionally I look after 4 chihuahuas. 3 of them are always 100% fine, but the 1 dog is timid/anxious/fearful. When the owner is there, she is ok though still timid/shy, but as soon as the owner is away, she stays practically glued to her bed and hardly eats, and usually won't go out, and I can't touch her since she'll try to snap/bite me. I can sit or stand near her though. She is not very food/treat motivated though I have tried winning her over softly softly that way and by sitting near her and avoiding eye contact etc. She's often not interested in a treat at all. When her owner returns she is like normal and far happier again, as if she just instantly snaps out of it again.

When the owner leaves, she does not bark or get visibly anxious or whine like a typical dog with separation anxiety, strangely she'll "accept" that, but then soon goes to her bed where she stays.

Any ideas for what I can try except telling the owner to get a trainer? All I can think of so far is to try to experiment with getting her more comfortable with me when the owner is still at home, when she might be feeling more safe or trusting. - and possibly to suggest trying a thundershirt, anti-anxiety medication or these dog relaxation pheromone sprays.

  • How often or how many times have you looked after the dog?
    – UIO
    Jun 26, 2018 at 9:37
  • @Owen Hughes It's been about 5 or 6 times now.
    – Droopy
    Jun 27, 2018 at 9:53
  • Do you know the owner well or is it in a dog sit/professional capacity?
    – UIO
    Jun 27, 2018 at 9:55
  • It is in a dogsitting/professional capacity so we don't know each other otherwise but are friendly when talking to each other etc.
    – Droopy
    Jun 28, 2018 at 10:47

1 Answer 1


You need to recondition the way the dog feels about you and your home.

The first time the dog stayed over it will more than likely have been in an alien environment with lots of different scents and been really nervous and anxious. This feeling will only have replicated the more you look after it because it associates your house with those feelings now. The more you look after the dog while its feeling this, the more it reinforces those feelings and behaviour to you and your home.

Firstly, introduce yourself to the dog in its own environment, i.e. the owners house, alot, so the dog is more relaxed. Give it alot of fuss, play and attention this will make the dog feel excited. Keep doing this so the dog knows every time it sees you, it gets the same excited feeling, the same one it gets when a dogs owner picks up their lead for example.

Secondly, I would do that for a while, then look at taking the dog for a walk, with the owner and then eventually without. This is to build the dogs trust in you.

Then eventually build up to taking it to your (with the owner at first) house and doing the exact same thing you did in the owners house. Giving it fuss will make it excited, hopefully the trust you will have built up with the dog as well as the excitement will make the dog focus more on you and less on the anxiety.

While looking after it, have its own toys, bones, beds, crates and food, anything that its in its routine or play to have familiar scents to make it feel more relaxed.

This is assuming that you didn't do this before agreeing to look after the dogs. Some may just take longer than others.

  • Hi, thanks so much for the advice. Just to clarify, when I dogsit this dog it is where the dog actually lives at the owner's house. Even when the owner is at home when the dog is feeling a bit safer, she is still very timid and nervous when I get close to her to give her attention so I'm a bit worried about being too "forward" or enthusiastic about giving her attention etc since I think she's clearly a bit uitrusting still. I will take into account your advice and try to apply this thanks!
    – Droopy
    Jun 28, 2018 at 11:00
  • If it is in their home just apply what is above, ignore the in your home bit. Find out what she will come to you with, treats, toys etc and use those as tools. Maybe get the owner to do this next to you, and get closer, join in and eventually take over. Hope this helps.
    – UIO
    Jun 28, 2018 at 11:10
  • Ok thank you very much, I see the dog again soon so I'll continue trying to do these things.
    – Droopy
    Jul 1, 2018 at 15:07

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