Three years ago, I got my first dog.
Let’s be clear. I grew up on a farm and have had many pets – including dogs. There was Milo, Otis, Odie, Bud, Charlie, Sheila, Sparky, Babe and Maddy among a barrage of barn cats, chickens, bottle calves and one lonely Beta fish named Gus. But most of them belonged to the family, were cared for by my dad and eventually retired to a small pet cemetery on my grandparents’ homestead.
Yes, Ogilvy T. Rex Von Hambone is my first dog. He lives in my house, surfs my counters, steals my dinner and hogs my bed. Our typical week consists of him strategically dropping toys on the floor throughout the house and me cleaning them up. When things are really good, we enjoy cartoon movies on Netflix or head out for a day of sprinting around the farm.
When I chose to invite a Great Dane into my life, I never once considered the mechanics of how we’d actually survive together. Giant dog. Itty bitty living space. We’ve evolved — he has his own spaces and I have mine. And, our understanding of each other’s moods and actions helps us get through relatively easily.
Of course, when I travel, it doesn’t stay that simple. He gets anxious, most people haven’t seen a dog his size – let alone lived with one – so, he can be a lot to manage even for the most outgoing of dog people. Over time, I’ve learned some exceptional tricks for getting us both through it in one piece.
Use dog sitters.
I know – when I first considered hiring a dog sitter, I also thought I was insane. I mean, everyone I knew either dropped their pups at boarders or swapped stays with friends. Why couldn’t we just do that?
First, Ogilvy is massive. Transporting him requires an SUV to be handy – you know, in case of emergency runs to the vet. Plus, because most people don’t typically accommodate a dog his size, we have to take pretty much all of his gear along – a super XL kennel (which he’ll Houdini out of by the way), a fenced yard or long lead, an enormous dog bed with walls, a blanket that smells like home, up to 50 lbs of food, oversized bowls, etc.
Second, Danes are, by nature, afraid of the world. Combine new territory with the anxiety of missing his human and sending him away from home becomes wildly unhealthy. He paces. He stresses out other dogs. He begs for attention.
It’s all a ton easier if he doesn’t leave our house – so, instead, we’ve found amazing people that come to him. He has all of his stuff and all of his space. He can protect our territory and go about his day as usual. Plus, he knows he will be there when I come home.
My friend Andi once tried to haul him across town to her place for a weekend in the middle of a trip. He already knew her dogs, house and family – got along with them all great. Bonus points: they’re Dane people so adding them into their day-to-day shouldn’t have been too cumbersome either. But, none of us expected that the stress of leaving our home while missing me would be more than any of us could handle. When she brought him back that same evening, he curled up on the sofa, went to sleep and continued waiting for my return. We haven’t tested the theory since.
Write an owner’s manual.
Like I mentioned, Ogi is huge and there are a lot of idiosyncrasies to how the two of us get along in our tiny little house. Before I leave town, I always update his owner’s manual: How to Have a Really Great Time with Ogilvy.
We tried a lot of things before the manual. I still do a walk-through of the house with the sitters and show them some of his commands and routines – that’s always been a constant. One time, I covered the house in Post-Its to give tips for what he might be looking for in certain areas. That just seemed like overkill. I made short YouTube videos showing how we do things. Also overkill. The manual – while it might be too much – gives me wild peace of mind that the sitters can easily ignore. It includes:
- relevant contact information – me, my itinerary, the vet, family phone numbers, local friends and other sitters
- house details – wifi password, smart devices, trash day, maintenance people
- Ogi’s habits – commands, routines, feeding times, begging, sickness, walks, kenneling, etc.
- local boarding forms – in case he needs to be kenneled for a personal emergency
- proof of vaccination and city registration
- signed “this person has the power to make decisions about my dog” in case I can’t be reached in an emergency
Deliver everything with Amazon.
We can anticipate a lot of what Ogi will need – food, treats, dog bags, etc. What isn’t stock piled in the house already is scheduled to be delivered throughout the month. When I’m away, the sitters intercept the deliveries and keep business running as usual.
In those crazy times that we run into something that they need, I take advantage of my 2-day Prime shipping to get it to them. This saves the sitters from having to run out to a store, spend their own cash on things for my house or dog and generally works out overwhelmingly well.
My 30-day trip through Italy was one of the first experiments in extended travel with Ogi at home. Trying to tamper his anxiety while also anticipating the supplies the sitters needed was made 1000 times easier by Amazon – I’m not even exaggerating. I ordered extra food, treat bribes, new toys to distract him, a new bed so he didn’t try to climb in with them. Plus, I use Amazon Smile so one of the local animal shelters gets a donation from every purchase too! It felt awesome to be able to offer a physical solution to many of their problems – even while I was half a world away.
Chip and track.
One of the many benefits of being a super nerd is my tech addiction. Ogi is micro-chipped in case of escape, but he also wears a Whistle tracker when I’m away. Each of the sitters are invited to the Whistle app so they can see his location. While he’s never made a break for it (knock on wood), if he were to escape the yard, a geofence immediately alerts the phone and starts tracking his position.
True story, I’ve been pinged while roaming in Nashville and started tracking Ogi within seconds. I sent a text to the sitter and watched him as I waited for a reply. Minutes later, she let me know that they were on a walk and all was going great.
Whistle has plenty of flaws in the hardware – it’s bulky, doesn’t always charge well and has a few syncing issues (but I hear the newer versions are better). Regardless of that, it has an amazing app interface for managing multiple dog sitters. When we have to hop between multiple sitters in one trip, they can easily log when he was last fed, when he walked, how he’s acting or post photos for the next sitter (and me!) to see! It’s been even better than text messages for keeping track of who is jumping in and when. Plus, I have a constant feed of amazing puppy shots.
Take advantage of video chat.
When Ogi was a pup, he was constantly waiting in the living room window for myself or my then-boyfriend to come home from work. When either of us was traveling for long, he would whine and stress as the 5 o’clock hour passed. It was then that we discovered the power of video chat for this dog. We’d call, turn on the camera and let him see our faces. We’d just talk to him or each other and let him relax onto the sofa knowing the other still existed.
I all but hate my very old iPad so I rarely use it anymore. It is, though, the perfect tool for a human-missing mutt. For his birthday, Ogi got his very own iPad stand that now sits in the office next to his bed. When I can assume he’s probably laying there, I give him a Skype call without even needing to bother the sitter.
Yup, you can go ahead and call me a crazy dog lady – but hey, it all works beautifully!