By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA, SBA
Our pets have been adjusting to us being home more since the pandemic started (and some may be loving it!). We are a long way off from normalcy, but what can we do to help our pets to adjust when we start leaving the house more? Individual dogs may vary in their reactions, but change in general is very challenging for most pets. A dramatic shift in routine could cause stress and in some cases, fear and anxiety.
If you have been working from home and your normal is an eight hour day at the office, we want to ease your dog into that adjustment. It will be hard for your dog to understand if you go from being home all day to suddenly being gone for a third of the day. Here are a few strategies you can start implementing now:
1. Be patient with your pet.
Change is hard for everyone and your pet is no exception. As we have learned to look at our world and interactions differently, it is important to look at our pets differently as well. Instead of getting frustrated, ask yourself why your pet may exhibiting a certain behavior. If we address the root cause of the behavior, then we can find success. For example, Fluffy is stressed over your leaving the home so she chews the couch cushions. If we only train her to not chew the couch, we don’t address the stress she feels over you leaving. She will still be distressed and often find another outlet for that stress. We would train her to be more comfortable in your absence.
2. Start working back toward your normal routine.
As I mentioned above, we don’t want to go from home-all-day to gone for eight hours. Starting now, leave your pets alone for part of the day. This could be in another room away from you or in the house while you go for a walk or a drive. If you plan on crating them when you are at work, have them in the crate for this separation. If you plan on having them in a certain room when you are gone, they should be in that room while you are away.
Go at your dog’s pace while increasing time alone. This means that we will not be gone longer than they can handle. If your dog is extremely distressed when it hits the one hour mark, we should start with 30 minutes or less. Slowly work up to the time you would be gone in a day. Whenever you return, keep your greetings low-key (imagine you are at a spa and use that kind of zen-like greeting).
You also want to vary your departure cues. These are things you do before you leave (get your purse/keys, put on your shoes, put on “nice” clothes, etc.). Do some of these things and don’t go anywhere. For example, grab your keys and go to the kitchen. Or put on your shoes and sit down at your desk. Go to the door you normally leave out of and then go sit down again.
3. Keep a routine of physical exercise.
You may have been walking/playing outside more than normal. That’s great! However, start thinking of what your routine will be like once you go back to work. Will it go from four walks a day to one? Start weaning the walks down instead of abruptly cutting them off. You can do this by make the additional walks a little shorter until you start dropping them off one-by-one. It is important for your dog to continue to get physical exercise so find a routine that will work for your life.
4. Introduce mental enrichment.
If you are not already doing it, mental enrichment is key to a happy and tired dog! There are lots of ways to mentally enrich your dog, but the key take-aways are the following:
A. Mental enrichment should be novel. If we walk the same route every day or give our dog the same puzzle every day, it is not mentally enriching.
B. Mental enrichment should be species-specific. For dogs, this means using their most powerful sense (smell) and utilizing their foraging instincts. For cats, this means utilizing their hunting skills.
Here are a few ideas for mental enrichment for dogs:
- Food puzzles (purchased or made from household items-Google DIY Food Puzzles for some great ideas)
- Find It Games around the home with toys, treats and food
- Snuffle Mat
- Sniffing on walks/outside
- Trick training
- Nose Work
- Treat scatters in the grass
5. Work on basic manners using positive reinforcement training.
Having a strong foundation of manners can do wonders for a dog. Some basics that are helpful are: coming when called, leave it, auto-attention to handler, stay/wait, touch, active coping, recognition of their name and loose leash walking.