We’ve all dealt with the anxious, clingy behavior of “nervous Nelly” pet parents, but this is an especially big issue in house call. Learning to manage these anxious owners so that you can do your job, and still give them peace of mind is an art unto itself; one that must be learned with practice and a few simple tricks to get this type of owner to do what you need them to do.
Confidence is Key!
Showing a concerned pet parent that you are a confident and capable professional through your words, and body language can quickly put their minds at ease. To show confidence in your speech, speak at a comfortable rate without mumbling or using “um”s. Clear, concise speech shows that you know what you are talking about and believe what you say.
Body language is a huge part of our industry when dealing with dogs, and whether we know it or not it is with our 2-legged clients too! Confident body language is a large topic that I plan to discuss further, but for now here are some basic tips:
- Give direct eye contact to your client when speaking (as long as it is safe for you to do)
- Smile as you speak and work
- Have good posture with your shoulders back and a comfortably wide stance (when not grooming)
- Do not fidget while talking with your customer (this shows insecurity)
All these behaviors express confidence to our customers.
Read Your Client’s Body Language & Speech
Most nervous owners are that way for a reason. Whether it’s because they have insecurities about someone handling their “baby”, have an extreme attachment to their pet and become fearful if it is out of their sight, or any other number of issues; body language and the way they speak can tell you much more upfront than you may realize. Once you know how they are feeling, it is much easier to put them at ease.
Fearful/insecure pet parents usually have a nervous, hurried tone to their voice and speak quickly. If they are not clinging to their pet (which is extremely common), then they may be fidgety. People feeling this way often attempt to avoid direct eye contact. (Sounding familiar? Like a fearful submissive dog perhaps? Human and dog body language intersect more often that many realize!) Their body language is often closed, with legs crossed (if sitting), arms folded, hands in pockets or held together, and their body angled away from you.
For owners feeling these emotions, a calm reassuring tone of voice, eye contact when they allow you to make it, open body language, and lots of smiling can put them at ease. A gentle touch to the shoulder or arm, if you deem appropriate, can also be very reassuring. Open body language is the opposite of closed. Face your client directly, with a wide stance if standing, or legs mildly open if sitting, arms at your side, leaning forward slightly if sitting. When talking to these clients, focus on the positive as much as possible. “Fluffy is going to have a wonderful time being pampered today, and you are welcome to watch,” with a nice smile can go a long way for these people. If you’re concerned about the dog picking up on the owner’s energy, remember that your energy when in direct contact with the dog will have more of an impact (from my experience). So as long as you are confident and the owner isn’t nervously talking to the dog, you can make it work. As always though, if you do not feel comfortable with a nervous owner staying in the room, politely ask them to remain out of the pet’s line of sight.
Using these techniques, I hope you now have the confidence to handle “nervous Nellys” with finesse.