Dogs are the clear winners in the global pandemic. While people have been forced to stay at home as schools and businesses closed or workers adapted to working from home, dogs celebrated spending extra time with their humans.
But now that things are opening up again, it’s time to get your dog ready for the change, so being home alone isn’t a complete shock to their systems.
“The shelter-in-place rules have been in place long enough that your pet has become accustomed to your company all the time,” says Dr. Katherine Houpt, professor emeritus of behavior medicine at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
“While we are all eager to return to our pre-quarantine life, there may be a downside: dogs may be anxious when you leave the house without them. They may express this anxiety by barking, by destroying things and by eliminating.”
To ease that transition, there are several steps you can take now to get your dog ready to be home alone.
Re-establish your routine
If you had a dog before the pandemic, you simply need to reintroduce your former work routine. In many ways, it’ll be similar to getting your dogs and kids back in a routine after summer vacation.
If, however, you adopted a dog or puppy during your time at home and this will be new to them, so you need to create a routine.
The good news is dogs like structure. They thrive when they know what is expected of them. That means establishing times to get up, eat, go for walks, and go to bed.
Start by leaving them for a few minutes or a couple of hours. You can confine your pup to one area of your home while you go to another, or you can leave and take a walk around the block or take a quick drive. Your dog must know that you will come back, and the separation isn’t permanent.
If you previously had a dog, follow your former routine. Grab your car keys, wallet, briefcase, and anything else the dog associates with you going to work, and leave at the time you used to leave. It won’t matter if you aren’t gone for eight or 10 hours like you used to be, your dog will enthusiastically greet you when you return home.
Create a safe dog home alone space
If your puppy or dog is crate trained, you can use the crate as a safe space when you leave. Just remember not to use the crate as punishment or leave your dog in it for too many hours.
If you don’t want to crate your dog, consider confining the dog to a smaller space. Your pup doesn’t need to have the full run of your house. You can restrict your dog to a small room like a bathroom by shutting the door. Or you can use puppy gates to block off stairs.
If you’re new to using a crate, you can choose between hard-sided plastic crates with one or two doors, collapsible crates, wire crates, or soft crates. Your goal is to help your puppy or dog understand their crate is their special place.
Entertain your dog
Help entertain your dog when she’s home alone. Consider using chew toys, interactive feeders, or puzzle toys to keep your dog occupied. Another option, fill a Kong toy with tasty treats to keep him busy.
Several of these options give your dog treats and much-needed mental stimulation.
To help ease the strain of being home alone, consider giving your dog something to listen to. Leave the TV or radio on. Music especially can help keep dogs calm, according to a study by Colorado State University researchers.
The researchers discovered music helped soothe shelter dogs. But understand that the type of music is vital. Loud, heavy metal music increased anxiety, while classical music was more soothing and lulled the dogs to sleep.
Experiment with your dog and find what sounds work best for your pup.
Exercise, exercise, exercise
A tired dog is a good dog, and one of the best ways to help reduce the risk of separation anxiety when you leave your dog home alone is to tire her out first. Take a brisk walk or play a game of fetch before you go.
Another option, work in a quick training session. Training is both physically and mentally taxing for your dog.
To determine how much exercise your dog needs, consider her age, breed, and overall health.
In general, puppies and younger dogs need more exercise than older dogs. The good news is they also tire out quicker.
Active breeds like Labrador retrievers, Australian shepherds, and Border Collies, need more exercise than couch potato pups like Yorkies, Cocker Spaniels, Great Danes, and Bernese Mountain dogs.
If your dog is suffering from a degenerative disease like arthritis or hip dysplasia, is overweight, or suffers from heart disease or cancer, you’ll need to limit both the length and intensity of your walks.
Watch for bad behavior
Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety show a variety of signs. Some revert back to their pre-potty-training days. Others bark incessantly, chew, or dig or scratch.
If your dog’s showing poor behavior, don’t scold or punish your dog; instead, look for solutions to address the problem.
If you’re tiring your dog out before you leave, and are providing appropriate distractions, talk to your vet.
If your dog continues to struggle and working from home isn’t an option for you, consider getting some help to take care of your dog.
Your dog may benefit from spending full or half-days at doggy daycare, or you may need to hire a dog walker to give your pooch a break.
If you have a friend with a dog, and if both are well-behaved and play well together, schedule a puppy play date.
Your dog loves spending time with you, and an abrupt change in your schedule likely will cause distress.
Prepare your dog to spend time home alone by establishing a schedule, creating a safe space, entertaining your dog when she’s home alone, and exercising your dog before you leave.
If your dog struggles to adjust, consider getting help, or medicating your dog to smooth out the rough patch. Chances are good that will only need to be a temporary solution as your dog gets reoriented to spending more time on her own.
Sara B. Hansen has spent the past 20-plus years as a professional editor and writer. She’s also the author of The Complete Guide to Cocker Spaniels. She decided to create her dream job by launching Dog’s Best Life. Sara grew up with family dogs, and since she bought her first house, she’s had a furry companion or two to help make it a home. She shares her heart and home with Nutmeg, Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy. Her previous dogs: Sydney (September 2008-April 2020), Finley (November 1993-January 2008), and Browning (May 1993-November 2007). You can reach Sara @ [email protected].