There has been an increase of “pandemic puppies” during this pandemic, where people have been adopting dogs seeking companionship due to social distancing. There are also many dogs that have been part of our families since before the pandemic started. So how do we prepare our dogs for the day when some of us finally head back to the workplace and leave them home alone?
This situation is similar to dropping your child off at school for the first several times. Without preparing your child, in advance, it could prove to be really difficult on your child to have a huge, sudden change thrusted upon the child. Similarly, just as you need to prepare your child for big changes, many dogs, “pandemic dogs,” who have been adopted during this pandemic, have been home with their human companions for over a year now, and they do not know life with their human companions any other way. Dogs are creatures of routine, like children, and they have likely gotten very accustomed to having their humans around the house all day during the pandemic. As a result of the pandemic and the introduction of vaccines, some people may be working from home for a really long time, and others will transition back to work at some point. Therefore we need to prepare our dogs for this new routine. Below are some ideas that might help you make this transition with your dog, if you must return to the office.
Slowly introduce workday routines — Schedule waking up, feeding and walking as you might for your expected workday routine, then introduce a consistent departure schedule that builds on that routine.
Practice departures — Practice short departures on a daily basis and gradually extend the time you are gone. Give a small treat just as you walk out the door to condition the dog to find it rewarding when you leave. If signs of anxiety — such as destructive activity — occur, do not punish your dog. Instead, shorten the time away and slowly build up to longer periods. Stay calm when leaving or returning home.
Exercise and play time — Before leaving, engage in play and activity. Burning energy can help keep dogs calm and relaxed.
Consider a dog walker or doggie day care — Most of our dogs have been used to being let outside by their humans for potty numerous times a day during this pandemic. So, if you introduce a new person for care of your dog, you will need to make sure that you and your dog feels comfortable and safe with this new person providing care. And, while the risk of dogs becoming infected with COVID-19 is believed to be low, as a precaution, if you intend to have a dog walker or send your dog to daycare while at work, treat your dog as you would a human family member to protect them from possible infection with COVID-19.
Keep them engaged — Long-lasting treats, food puzzles, and automatic feeders can help keep dogs occupied during the day while you are not home.
Create a safe space — If you have typically used a crate when you were gone but have not been crating your dog while at home, now is a good time to either explore not using a crate while you are away (gradually increasing the length of time you are away) or reintroduce crating while you are still working from home by making it rewarding for the dog to go into the crate for short periods of time.
Look for signs of stress — Excessive barking or whining, agitation, destructive behavior, and inappropriate urination/defecation can all be signs of stress. You may need to consult your veterinarian to figure out how to best help your dog with his/her anxiety.