Many families adjusted to the pandemic with the addition of a family dog, affectionately known as a covid puppy. With the shift from office to home life, getting a dog finally made sense for so many homes. But what’s going to happen when we go back to work?
If you felt like your lifestyle couldn’t support a dog before, what will be different now?
If you got a dog, you made a commitment. They are a member of your family, so it’s your job to prepare them for life beyond the pandemic.
Dogs are social animals and find safety when they’re in a pack. In the wild, dogs live in groups that keep them safe from threats. For family dogs, you are their pack, and they feel secure and happy when you’re near. When they are home alone, they can feel vulnerable.
You don’t want to just abandon your dog for 8+ hours a day when the pandemic ends. Spend time now helping your dog feel safe and confident home alone to avoid problems later.
1) Prepare your dog to spend time alone
Even if you have no reason to ever leave your dog, one day soon you will! You don’t want your dog to be home barking or crying or destroying furniture because they are in distress.
You can prepare your dog by practicing leaving for short periods at a time. Gradually increase the time you leave them for so you don’t suddenly leave them for 8 hours.
2) Create a routine
Even if you’re home all day and can let your dog in and out of the house for bathroom breaks, create structure that mimics what a normal day will eventually look like. Let them out and walk them first thing in the morning, like you would before work.
Don’t give your dog attention at all times of the day. Make sure they have time when they have to entertain themselves or rest calmly. You won’t always be around all day, so make sure they are comfortable on their own.
Crate training can be a great tool for this. The crate can be a safe place for eating and sleeping that your dog can feel comfortable in. If they enjoy crate time, leave them in the crate for a few hours. It may seem cruel to us humans, but it actually mimics a den your dog might have in the wild.
A crate shouldn’t be a punishment, it should be a safe, happy space your dog enjoys being in.
3) Make coming and going no big deal
Does your job leap with excitement when you get home? Do you encourage that? Do you leap with excitement too because you are excited to see them? This tells your dog that it was a really big deal that you were away and can make them scared to be alone.
It validates their concerns.
Instead, walk in and leave like it is no big deal, like you do it all the time. Don’t fuss when you leave the house. You can give them a quick reassurance that you’ll be back soon, but don’t create a dramatic drawn-out exit.
When you return, you can say hello, but don’t let it be a dramatic reunion.
If your dog has no trouble being alone and you really enjoy your big exciting reunion, you can continue. This is just important if your dog is not doing well on their own.
4) Make alone time fun with special treats
You can make it exciting for your dog to be alone by giving them treats that they only get when you’re not home.
You could fill a kong with peanut butter, or leave special treats out for them to find around the house. Avoid leaving rawhide or bones that your dog could potentially choke on while you’re away. Some treats and toys should only be given to dogs when you are home to supervise.
Make sure treats are from trusted brands and made in America.
Also never give your dog cooked bones of any kind because these are too soft and can splinter in their digestive system.
5) Invest in a camera so you can see what your dog is up to
Try out a pet camera like furbo or just use any home camera system like Nest or Ring to see what your dog is up to when you leave. This can make you feel better and give you the confidence and comfort to stay out longer. It can also help you assess your dog’s limits and come back when and if you need to.
It’s normal for your dog to bark for a few minutes after you leave, but if the barking doesn’t stop, you have a more serious problem on your hands that needs intervention.
Excessive barking or behavioral problems are a symptom of separation anxiety that needs to be properly dealt with. It typically will not go away without a careful, purposeful training regimen.
6) Exercise your dog regularly
Tired dogs are more relaxed dogs. Before leaving your dog for long periods of time, take them for a big walk to get excess energy out of them.
Ideally your dog will spend their alone time snoozing on the couch or their cozy bed.
Getting back to normal
Unless you’ve been training your covid dog to be a registered service animal, chances are they are not going to be coming back to the office with you.
It’s important to prepare them for “real life” so they can become properly adjusted members of your home.
If your dog barks, whines, destroys furniture or has accidents when you leave, you probably already have an issue of co-dependency that you need to deal with.
True separation anxiety or isolation anxiety in dogs is like panic disorder in people. It’s serious and scary and should not be ignored.
Imagine that you had a deathly fear of the dark. If someone locked you in a dark room for 8 hours, would you get over it, or would you become more afraid? What if that fear was spiders? Would being in a room full of spiders help you get over that fear or would it make you more afraid?
Think about this when training your dog. Leaving them alone and hoping they will get used to it is called flooding. Would you use this approach if your fear was the dark or spiders? Probably not.
Most likely you would sleep with one light on, then use a lamp, then a nightlight, and gradually approach a dark room. If it were spiders, you’d look at pictures of spiders, then look at real spiders, then maybe hold one spider, but you wouldn’t just go straight for a tarantula.
Don’t subject your dog to their greatest fear all at once. Start with little interventions, just like you’d want.
You need to help your dog feel calm and safe in their environment so everyone can be happy. Even if your dog is registered as an emotional support animal, and has special permission to be in your home, barking or other property destruction are grounds for a neighbor to complain or a landlord to require removal of the animal.
Make sure you are proactively applying these training tips and your dog will be ready to take on a post covid world.
If not, you could always get more dogs for your pack.