If there is a plus side to the coronavirus quarantine, it’s for our dogs, who are thrilled to have their people home 24/7. Thankfully for us humans, missing our offices, working remotely isn’t forever. Our dogs, however, are going to need some help readjusting to life home alone again.
“When our regular work and school routines commence again, your dog may be left confused (and lonely!) once everyone is rushing out the door instead of spending time at home,” says Pamela Reid, PhD, CAAB, vice president of the ASPCA Behavioral Sciences Team.
While for many, back-to-work dates are in flux, there are some things you can do now to help your dog adjust to you heading back to the office.
Steven Appelbaum, founder, president and CEO of Animal Behavior College, has some helpful steps to begin this process. If you have a dog that gets stressed when you leave, start with “fake departures.” This includes going through your normal routine – which may be more involved than even you realize.
“Everyone has a slightly different routine and many people aren’t aware of all the steps they take,” Steven says. “Write down everything you do. For example; some people will brush their hair, put on their jacket, make sure the lights are off in some rooms and on others, put on shoes, grab their keys, walk to the door and leave.”
In faking your dog out, do your routine, minus leaving. “Simply stay. Do this five or six times in a row twice a day. The purpose of this is to condition your pet not to associate departure when you go through the motions of it,” says Steven.
The next step is to leave the house and return after five minutes, Steven says. “Avoid emotional homecomings and departures. Simply leave without fanfare and come back the same way. Do this two to three times per day. If the dog shows no stress, no destruction etc., increase the time by two minutes each day, working up to 20 minutes. Generally, once your dog is comfortable with your being gone for 20 minutes, they will be fine with longer periods of time.”
Creating that structure works with a dog’s natural instincts. “They thrive on consistency and sudden scheduling changes can throw them for a loop,” says Pamela. “Try keeping your pet’s daily routine as intact as possible, even while the family is home by keeping walks and meals around the same time each day.”
For instance, even if you’re working from home, you can still simulate a workday by occasionally separating your pet for the same hours that you’d normally be gone.
There’s a bonus in that for you, too. Zoom meetings may be a little easier, if less hilarious when you aren’t interrupted by your dog’s zoomies
If you’ve adopted a puppy, Pamela has some additional advice for you. “Spending much of the day at home means plenty of time to bond with your puppy, but special steps need be taken to prepare them for when daily routines return to ‘normal.’” she says. “Owners should think about what their neighborhood and household is like under normal circumstances and find ways to get their pup familiar with that type of life, getting creative with socializing them to the world in and outside the home.”
What to do if your dog demonstrates anxiety
As you increase separation time for your dog, she may demonstrate some anxiety, which can manifest in several ways including excessive barking, escape behavior (including digging under or jumping over fences), chewing, digging or eliminating in the house.
“If you notice your pet becoming agitated as you prepare to leave for work or school, that can be a warning sign that your pet is anxious about being left alone,” Pamela says. “You can potentially prevent the problem from worsening by providing plenty of physical exercise before you leave. Take your dog for a brisk walk, interspersed with plenty of sniffing opportunities, before you leave for the day.”
Related: Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Consider hiring a trusted dog walker if the dog will be left alone for long periods of time once you’re back at work. For some pets, a visit midway through the day by a dog walker or sitter will provide the exercise and engagement they may be missing once their family is no longer at home all day.
After you’ve exercised your dog and are ready to start your work day, whether home or away, Pamela suggests following your departure with something your dog really enjoys – and keep some special toys for use only during these times. “Make sure to rotate toys and treats so your pet will remain interested in them day after day,” Pamela says.
Interactive toys are really helpful here as these are products dogs can keep themselves occupied with, agrees Steven.
Additionally, Pamela recommends providing your dog access to a room with a view to see what’s going on outside.
While our dogs have loved having us home non-stop, we know this, too, shall pass. The least we can do is make the transition easier on them for when we go back to morning commutes and meetings in actual pants instead of pajama bottoms.
Top photograph: ©mstroz | Getty Images.