These are exciting times! The world is opening back up and soon life will be back to more-or-less normal. Unfortunately, your dog may not be as happy about this news as you are.
This past year, every dog had a great day almost every day
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our dogs got to have something most of them have always wanted: you, home with the dog, 24 hours a day. While most of our dogs didn’t actually have panic attacks when we left for work back in 2019, they certainly had no objection to spending all day at our feet (and sometimes videobombing our online meetings) in 2020. Unfortunately, this initially unexpected treat has now become the new normal for our dogs, which means our dogs are about to go through an abrupt, and likely unwelcome, change in 2021.
What can you do to help prepare your dog?
If you haven’t already started going back to the office, now is the time to prepare your dog for the changes ahead. Here’s what you can do:
1. Leave your house at least once a day for about five minutes.
If your dog will have to be entirely alone some of the time, take your whole household with you when you leave. You can set up a video camera to monitor your dog (or even Zoom call your phone from your computer) to watch what happens.
2. Once you’ve left, pay attention to the video stream.
As long as your dog doesn’t go into a frantic panic, stay out for the planned five minutes and then come back in.
NOTE: Be nonchalant as you leave and come back. A casual “See you later, Fido,” as you depart and “Fido, we’re home” (with a quick scratch under the dog’s chin) when you re-enter helps remind you and your dog that your leaving isn’t that big a deal.
3. Assuming all of that went well, you can try leaving for a little longer the next day.
Try seven or eight or even ten minutes and see how that goes.
4. If that goes well, go back to five minutes the following day.
Going back to a shorter duration helps prevent your dog from starting to panic about things getting harder and harder each day. You can do a longer stretch – say 11, 12, or 14 minutes – the day after that.
5. Over the following few days, do some shorter absences and some longer absences.
Try not to fall into a pattern (dogs identify patterns pretty quickly), and be sure not to simply alternate short and long absence – your dog will be onto that within a few days.
6. Build up to the point where you are out for at least 30 minutes and your dog stays calm.
Most dogs who do OK for 30 minutes alone will also be fine for longer absences, but there are always exceptions, so you may want to continue video streaming during your absences just in case.
A few more tips:
1. If your dog has a history of separation anxiety, consult a certified professional dog trainer or certified dog behavior consultant before you start practicing absences.
2. If your dog is having trouble with even brief absences, consult a certified professional dog trainer or certified dog behavior consultant right away.
3. If you want to give your dog chews or food toys to help keep him occupied while you are out, make sure your dog gets those on a regular basis throughout the day. If you only give the dog these items right before you leave, your dog will quickly connect the dots and realize that getting a chew or food toy means you are about to leave – and dogs who are stressed by your absence may start panicking as soon as you hand them the item.
4. If you will be out all day at work, make sure your dog gets a walk or a visit from someone at least once every four hours. This both provides a potty opportunity and breaks up what can otherwise be a long, boring day.
- Now is the time to prepare your dog to be comfortable alone.
- If your dog has a history of separation anxiety, consult a certified separation anxiety trainer (CSAT), certified professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA or CPDT-KSA), or certified dog behavior consultant (CBCC-KA or CDBC) before you try any alone-time training.
- If your dog has trouble as you work through the steps described above, consult one of the professionals mentioned above for help.
Need additional tips? Contact me anytime!