According to a press release from the Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers, those with dogs spending more time at home due to COVID-19 may have noticed their dogs’ behaviour initially changed when people were present 24/7. Coronavirus may have reduced the number of quiet daytime naps, while sleepy streets meant less to bark at, but, now that many dogs have become at ease with the new routine, it’s changing again as more people return to work.
“There will be yet another adjustment for dogs as families slowly return to work,” said Helen Prinold, Chair of the Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers (CAPDT) and behaviour consultant at Dog Friendship Training Academy in Guelph, Ontario.
The CAPDT press release also relates the following:
People may see an increase in house-soiling (as dogs are not let out on demand) and see more signs of boredom. Fun-seeking can include increases in monotonous barking, destruction of couches (or other chewables), and getting into the garbage. For these issues, a dog walker may be a good option.
Boredom can also be managed by increasing exercise before going to work and removing what the dog can get into (such as trash cans or food on the counter).
Rather than punishing dog behaviour (which serves only to increase stress), trainers recommend using tactics proven to create calm. Leave dogs with low volume classical or light pop music playing in the background, plenty of strong rubber food-filled toys to keep them entertained, and a pheromone diffuser.
Pet stores may also sell anti-anxiety treats. Trainers suggest you begin giving food-filled toys and treats at least two weeks prior to your full return to work, so dogs don’t associate them with departures and an empty house. Look for products containing science-backed ingredients like L-theanine, omega-3 fatty acids and milk proteins.
•Keep an eye out for separation anxiety or isolation distress:
Separation anxiety is a dog’s full-out panicked response to being left alone. Genetics, incomplete socialization and weaning, previous anxiety disorders and multiple rehoming when young can all contribute to the development of the problem.
“Think of nature as a gun,” says Prinold, “with environment pulling the trigger.”
Signs of separation anxiety and isolation distress include:
- pacing and refusing to settle or eat,
- high pitched barking and whining,
- destruction aimed at scratching or digging around doors and windows in order to escape.
For these dogs, confinement in a small room or crate tends only to make the problem worse.
If your dog has not had separation issues in the past (but you have recently noticed clingy “Velcro dog” behaviour) or you have a pup who has never been alone before, now is a good time to check with your veterinarian to ask if there might be a significant problem.
You can also check for isolation distress with the following procedure:
•Start by practicing short departures of less than five minutes for a day or two.
•Then set up an in-home videocam that captures the area your dog usually sleeps in (add another camera near the door if the two areas are separate).
•At least two hours after a meal, hide 3 – 4 handfuls of dog kibble mixed with a few dry treats in easily-found locations, press record and head out for about 20 – 30 minutes.
•Review the video on your return.
If your dog has devoured the kibble, barked or explored the house for a bit and settled for a nap afterwards, there is unlikely to be a significant problem. However, if Fido paces, becomes more frantic and refuses to eat, it’s important to consult with a specialist as soon as possible.
A directory of training professionals (including specialists in treating problem dog behaviour) committed to a strong professional code of ethics and humane training methods can be found at www.capdt.ca.
And, in a related press release, this one from PetPR.com, Kristen Levine, a nationally-known pet parenting expert, pet advocate and creator of Pet Living, partnered with Great Pet Care, an online publication for expert-sourced pet health information, to create The Pet Parent’s Back to Work Guide, a free online guide for pet parents returning to work after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Last month I started hearing from my friends and Pet Living readers that they were concerned about how their pets would react to them leaving the house for work and other activities once social distancing ends,” said Levine. “That’s what sparked the idea to create a guide to help all pet parents with that same concern.”
The guide, divided into sections for dog and cat parents, includes advice from veterinary and training experts. Topics include:
- Re-establishing a routine by implementing back-to-work schedules,
- Providing distractions for your pets like toys for independent playtime or a safe space to relax,
- Trying anxiety-reducing practices and calming products to see what works best for your pet.
“Our pets have provided endless love and comfort during this stressful time of quarantine and social distancing, and it’s important that we return the favor and make sure they don’t feel anxious as we go back to working outside of our homes,” said Deidre Grieves, Director of Content for Great Pet Care.
To learn more, visit The Pet Parent’s Back to Work Guide at www.kristenlevine.com/back-to-work.