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Your Pet: Separation After the Pandemic

My dog has been acting a little strange lately, has yours? Sometimes I chalk it up to his age. He’s…

Has your pet been in the pandemic bubble?

My dog has been acting a little strange lately, has yours? Sometimes I chalk it up to his age. He’s no spring chicken. But I am seeing signs that make me believe he is reacting to the “bubble” that he has been in since the pandemic work-at-home directive. My once outgoing, very adaptable little guy is showing signs that 1) He is not at all interested in leaving the security of his immediate territory, and 2) He feels some apprehension when I leave without him – even for a quick trip to the grocery store. This is unusual for Rex. He was never like that before the pandemic.

For some of us, working from home has been a huge adjustment. It was one that many of our pets welcomed. Our pets have relished in our company 24-7. And I must admit, I have totally enjoyed having my little boy nearby all day too. It will be another big change for our pets when we return to work and they are suddenly left alone for 8 – 10 hours. I cannot help but think about all the people who got new pets during the pandemic. Having their owners at home all day is the “norm” for them. How will they respond when their owner leaves the house in the morning and doesn’t come back all day? That will certainly be very stressful for these little ones. Separation anxiety is a possibility.

What happens when our pet steps out of their “bubble”?

When we would leave the house prior to the pandemic, Rex could hardly wait till we were out the door before he would be heading to his favorite bed for a nap. It was kind of comical. We would be at the door preparing to leave and he would be walking through the house towards the bedroom and glancing over his back at us as if to say, “Aren’t you gone yet?” Now, if we leave the house – even for a quick trip to the grocery store – he sits at the front door, eyes wide, watching every move we make. And when we close the door to leave, he is still sitting there with that wide-eyed somewhat panicked look in his eyes. That is not like him. Why is he doing that all the sudden?

I have read some articles lately by animal experts that warn pet owners of our dog’s and cat’s adverse reaction to our eventual separation when we all return to work. I feel that Rex is showing some of the signs described by these experts. Rex has grown accustomed to life in his bubble. He’s comfortable there. It’s predictable. Pets like routine so it suits him just fine. Deviating from his “new” norm, particularly my absence, is upsetting for him.

Last week I thought Rex would enjoy a nice walk outside of the neighborhood. I figured he would welcome the new sights and smells. As we got further away from our neighborhood and things began looking unfamiliar to him, he became very agitated. He began pulling on the leash like he wanted to go somewhere but didn’t know where. He had nervous diarrhea twice before I could get him home (sorry to be so gross). When we returned home, I checked him over thoroughly. I was afraid that maybe he was hurting in some way, but he was fine. He was immediately calm and content. It was as if nothing had happened. Had he been reacting to his reluctance of venturing outside of his comfortable, familiar bubble? Maybe so.

When should we begin preparing our dog for our absence?

It may be another few months before the pandemic has leveled-out and we can all return to work, but experts are urging us to begin preparing for that separation from our pets now. It is going to hurt. It hurts when we see our dog’s pleading eyes, and it obviously hurts them. But for their wellbeing, we need to begin leaving them home alone now and then, gradually working up to a routine that will be similar to what their schedule will be like when things return to normal. This can help reduce their anxiety.

How to help your pet adjust back to the “real world”

If your pet’s schedule has changed during your time at home, take steps towards getting them back to the schedule you had them on before you started working at home. At first they may be a little confused, but if your old work schedule was something like – walking them when you first wake up, feeding them, getting yourself ready for work, then giving them a treat before you leave – then that’s the schedule you should return to. Most well-adjusted dogs will catch on pretty quickly, but in all fairness, don’t spring it on them.

Crating Your Pet Again

If your dog previously stayed in a crate while you were at work, it may be more difficult to get them to return to their crate for long periods of time. Start by putting them in their crate for short naps, then slowly increase their time spent in the crate. Remember, the crate should be a happy place, and if it was introduced and managed in that respect, your dog should respond agreeably.

For newer pets that have known nothing but having you at home all day, helping them to adjust will take time. You need to teach them how to be alone, even when you are still at home. Establish an area for them, whether it be a crate or just a confined area of your home, that they can consider “their place”. Put their bed, their toys, maybe even feed them in their place. Have them stay there while you go about your business at home. After they are comfortable and content in their place, plan time away from the home so that they can acclimate to just being alone – maybe for the first time in their little lives!

Cats will not be happy about it either

Cat owners are not off the hook. In fact, a study from last year indicates that cats probably bond to their humans even more than dogs. As aloof as they appear at times, cats have a very deep connection with their people. Plus, cats are notorious for despising change. We need to gently reestablish their new “old” schedule in order for our cat to adjust smoothly.

How to prepare your pet for when you go back to work

You never know when you might get the call to come back to work, right? If it suddenly happens to you, with no time to prepare your pet for your separation, what can you do to make the transition easier on your pet? Here are eight ideas to help your dog prepare for separation:

• Wear them out! Take your dog on a long walk early in the morning before work. Then he/she will be ready to rest when you leave the house.
• Come home and check on them at lunch time if at all possible.
• Leave the TV or radio on to keep the house from being so quiet.
• Bring them to Holiday Barn Pet Resorts for Daycare, a nice grooming, or a staycation with play times or enrichment activities.
• Provide puzzle toys to occupy their mind when you are not home, being careful not to leave anything out that could possibly be a choking hazard.
• If you have been thinking about training for your dog, this would be a great time to enroll them in Professional Dog Training at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. Our trainers will not only work with them on basic obedience and socialization but will calmly reintegrate them into their new norm. It will be like a “reset”.
• Perhaps you have a neighbor that can check in on your pet the first few days of you being away.
• Before you walk out the door, cheerfully tell them good-bye and that you’ll be back. No drama. I’m convinced that they understand.

Pet Separation Anxiety: it is a real concern

Experts are concerned that our pets will experience separation anxiety when we return to work. After all, they have savored the comfort and security we have provided them for months now. Separation anxiety is a condition in which a dog becomes extremely distressed when separated from their owners. It can manifest itself in many ways, none of which are pleasant. They may destroy items in the home, bark incessantly, fling themselves against the door, or soil their home. They may pant, whine, or cry. It’s so sad. These poor pups are genuinely in agony. If your dog exhibits extreme distress at your departure, please contact our Professional Dog Trainer’s for help.

The thing is, all pets are different… just like us. Some pets will be perfectly okay with the family returning to work. With everyone at home, the environment could even be a little overstimulating and they may welcome some peace and quiet. If our pet was very flexible and resilient before the pandemic, we cannot automatically assume that they will be fine when we flip-the-switch. Even the most adaptable pets, like Rex, may have a hard time with the adjustment.

Let us help. Please call our Professional Dog Trainers for help acclimating your dog back into their new normalcy. In Glen Allen, call 672-2200, and in Midlothian, call 794-5400.

Originally published 1-4-21

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