Returning to work outside of the home? Start preparing your dog for this change now

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Written by Drs. Kelly Ballantyne, Kristin Kuntz, and Margaret Drewno

Dogs benefit from predictability in their routines, and for many dogs, this predictability has been disrupted by changes in our lifestyles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While many dogs likely enjoyed the extra walks, playtime, and time with their humans during shelter-in-place, with states and regions opening businesses back up many of us will return to working outside of the home and once again our dogs will experience a significant change in routine—more time home alone, fewer walks, and fewer one-on-one interactions. This change may cause some dogs significant distress, especially those with a history of anxiety or those who were adopted during shelter-in-place and are unaccustomed to being home alone. In order to help your dogs cope with your return to work or increased time out of the house, we suggest the following:

1) Attempt to keep your dog’s routine (meal times, walk times, play time, and rest time) as similar as possible to her normal routine. If you know you won’t be able to maintain your current walk schedule, start gradually decreasing the number and duration of walks now.

2) Provide mental enrichment through self-play toys or nose work challenges (e.g. hiding treats in snuffle mat or under cups or boxes). For more great ideas, take Instinct Dog Training’s free online course on Dog Enrichment

3) Start leaving the home without your dog for short (~10 minute) periods NOW. This could involve taking a walk around the neighborhood, taking a trip to the grocery store, taking a short drive, or reading a book outside without your dog.  For best results, introduce these absences when your dog is calm and relaxed.

  • When you leave the house, keep your departure and return as uneventful as possible. For example, do not give your dog direct attention (petting, play, feeding walks) for 15 minutes before leaving the house. And when you return, wait until your dog is calm before greeting her.

  • Offer your dog a long-lasting food-stuffed toy (e.g. a Kong filled with peanut butter) as you leave your home. This food-stuffed toy can distract her from your departure and help her to associate your departure with a pleasant event.

  • Before you return to work, practice gradually increasing the length of your absences rather than suddenly transitioning from constant contact to several hours of separation per day.

4) If you suspect your dog may struggle with the transition, read our article “How to tell if your dog has separation anxiety and 5 things to do if she does” for more information.

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