Our dogs and possibly our cats are quite happy to have their humans around so much more than Pre COVID-19. During this difficult time it’s also beneficial to us humans to have our animal companions around. We are optimistic that we will come out on the other side and return to our normal lives. For many that will mean the kids go back to school and adults return to their work routines. Such significant changes can affect our dogs in a possibly negative way. If your dog had alone challenges already this could mean a set back for them.
Not learning to be alone for substantial amounts of time is believed to be a trigger of separation related problems in dogs. While we can’t predict with any certainty if your dogs will struggle after the shelter at home ends, it is certainly a wise choice to keep up their alone-time skills and make sure they do not become excessively dependent on us now and struggle when their people return to work schedules.
There are a number of things you can be doing in your daily schedules to help your dogs maintain their ability to be comfortable being left alone in what ever arrangement you use. Some people use some type of confinement such as crate or room or xpen when no one is home. Safety is the best criteria for what arrangement you choose. Some dogs are able to be safe while free in the house when alone.
Here are some suggestions on ways you can maintain your dog’s home alone skills and ease separation anxiety.
1. Exercise is key for both dogs and humans. It’s not as hard to find time to take walks with your dogs. Consider taking walks with whatever family members you have at home and leave the dog home alone to have practice with that valuable skill.
2. There are lots of kibble and treat dispensing toys to give dogs enrichment activities for independent activity.
3. Include daily alone time for your dog. Put them in whatever situation they are used to when you leave for work. Try to enact the routine you had pre COVID-19 when leaving. You could go for a family walk (w/o dog) or depending on your situation go out to your car with your laptop where you may still have WIFi and work from you car for a couple hours. Be creative!
4. If you have recently added a puppy to your family this can be particularly challenging. Socializing puppies is vital for them to become familiar and comfortable with the sights, sounds, surfaces, peoples, and much more. While many places are closed there are some that are still available to us to have our puppies have safe exposure to the world they live in. Of course we need to comply with all the social distancing and take the recommended precautions when out exploring with your puppy. Pet Stores, Nursery and Garden stores, Home Improvement stores are open and have lots unique environments.
5. Adoptions have increased during this time. Helping your new adopted dog to be confident and comfortable with being alone is particularly important to your daily routine now to be sure you don’t have separation anxiety when our routines change with going back to work.
6. Food/Treat Puzzles and tendon chews are a great way to add enrichment and independence training. These can be enjoyed in their crate or what ever confinement set up you use for being home alone. If your dog is safe being free in the house when you are at work you can offer then leave the house or arrange to be separate from the dog for an hour or so.
Don’t know where to find enrichment toys? Check out Atlas’ store!
Author: Joey Iversen, CBATI, KPA CTP, UW-AAB, TAGteach Faculty, Service Dog and Canine Medical Detection Specialist
Professional Trainer & Behavior Counselor for People Who Live with & Love Dogs