How to begin separating from your pandemic dog

How to begin separating from your pandemic dog
File photo

By Kim Gilliam

Single and multiple pet adoptions rose to an all-time high during the pandemic, as both individuals and families looked for a bright side to being stuck at home.

Usually when you get a puppy, you have a checklist of 100 things you want to expose them to in their first 100 days to help ensure they are confident and well-socialized. This includes a ringing doorbell, meeting people of all different races, ages and heights, walking on different types of surfaces and greeting neighborhood dogs. The necessity of you going to work or social events forces you to work on crate training and leaving them home alone.

Now, imagine a pandemic year where instead they haven’t had a single guest in their home, haven’t been within 6 feet of a stranger, haven’t visited new and various locations or been on puppy playdates – a year where you were always home so you and your pup were always together.

As people get ready to head back to the office and kids return to school, the focus has been on how these dogs are going to handle the separation, as it will be a huge adjustment for dogs and their owners alike. But it’s more than that; many of these dogs have missed key milestones and owners are now trying to figure out what to do. Dog trainers are completely overwhelmed by the influx of requests for help.

Quotient recently released findings about the pandemic pet adoption boom. In a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. cat and dog owners ages 18 and up, 33% indicated they adopted a pet during the pandemic. Millennials were the most likely to have adopted, and made up 43% of those that adopted during the pandemic. Data also revealed that as people settled into working from home with their new pets, dog control products – such as bark collars, harnesses and gentle leaders – had a 113% increase in sales compared to pre-COVID-19. There is now a similar boom happening in training and pet care services, and the industry is having trouble keeping up with demand.

So how can you best prepare your dog for your return to work?

Dogs are creatures of routine – they take comfort in a consistent daily schedule. The pandemic reduced our inclination to stick to a structured day. You have likely been sleeping later than you would if you had a commute and taking your dog out at random times of the day. It’s time to alter that. Set a fixed time for different activities, including play, exercise, walks and meals. Develop the routine you will follow once you return to work, and start making those adjustments now so that it’s not such a shock when you head back to the office.

And as much as it might pain you, you have to start leaving your pup home alone. Start with short departures. Balance absences with exercise and quality time, such as obedience training, long walks, find-it games, fetch or tug. Leave a treat-filled Kong when you depart to help keep them busy and distract them with noise from the TV or music. Take the time to focus on crate training if you haven’t yet, using it as a place where your pup can be safe and can settle down while you are gone. It will help ensure they aren’t tearing up the couch or barking at neighbors they see out the window while you are gone.

Slowly increase your absences from a couple of minutes a couple of times a day to 20 minutes three times a day, then up to an hour or two twice a day. A pet camera is a good way to monitor that your pup is calm while you are gone. These can even be sound activated to ping your cell phone if they are barking or howling while you are out. And when you return, make sure your greetings are very calm; then be sure to praise them for their good behavior and remind them you will always come home.

Remember, your pets are highly observant. If you are stressed about impending schedule changes or leaving them home alone, they will pick up on it. Be sure to remain calm and patient during this process, and as you find you need a trainer’s help, don’t wait to find one.

It will take time to address any issues you are having, time that may be hard to find once the world opens back up. If you anticipate using dog walkers or dog daycares, find one you like and start using their services before you actually need them. Help your dog get used to what their new life will look like once you are back in the office and out of the house.

The writer co-owns Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in Alexandria, with her husband, Kevin Gilliam.