Many people adopted a new pet when family members began spending most of their time at home. Young animals who are accustomed to having their people around all the time can develop behavioral issues if they are expected to suddenly spend several hours per day by themselves. Separation anxiety is easier to prevent than solve once it develops. Part of your transition back to reuniting on campus should include making sure your furry family members are prepared as well.
Basic obedience training helps dogs become comfortable with maintaining self-control. If your dog typically spends the day sleeping next to your desk, start transitioning him or her now to where they need to be in the fall. If you close your pet out, does he/she object? Whine, bark, scratch? Sleep in the hallway? Go find someone else to be near? Can you tell her to lie down and stay, then leave the room? Many dogs know “down” but “stay” is more challenging. If you need to work on this, start now and build up the time in small increments. The goal is always to come back and reward your dog before she breaks the stay and comes looking for you. If that happens, you asked for too long or there was some other factor at play (doorbell, other person, or animal, etc.). Cut the time in half and work back up. Eventually, add in distractions.
If you have a crate, fantastic! Dogs who were crate trained young will remember that even if they have not used it in a while. Use a high value treat like a frozen peanut butter filled toy to keep him occupied and remove it when you let him out. Leave the door open and see if he chooses to nap in there on his own. If so, praise!
Perhaps you’d rather keep Fluffy in the kitchen or a specific room while you are at work, but don’t have a crate. This can work just as well. Give her a place to be (bed, blanket) and a long-lasting chew toy, close the door or baby gate and test how long she stays quiet. Back up from that baseline and work to extend it over time. Plan a good long walk or a session of fetch before leaving her alone. Tired dogs are good dogs.
Once you have worked up to a couple of hours with your dog by themselves with you in the house, do some test runs. Plan a family outing, or just take everyone to the grocery store. Your dog knows when the house is empty and that can be enough of a difference for some dogs to get anxious. Look for accidents or signs of inappropriate chewing when you return. Make adjustments to the space if possible (put things away, reduce access, provide a pee pad) and come home sooner next time. Stay mellow when you return- do not make a fuss over him right away. Put the groceries away, then say hello when he is calm. Follow that up with a training session so he starts to expect to do some work and burn energy when you get home.
What sort of schedule will be possible when school starts in the fall? Can you stagger leave and return times among family members to reduce the length of time your pet will be alone? If not, can someone come home at lunch? Most adult dogs can go 8 -9 hours between bathroom breaks if they are accustomed to it, but 12 hours is asking a lot and 14 hours is unfair. Puppies and older dogs need more frequent outings. If you need to find a qualified dog walker for a midday break, start researching now. You can try here https://www.petsit.com/pet-sitters-madison-wi or use NextDoor for your area. Talk to the neighbors and see if a local retiree can help.
Doggy day care can also be a great option but may not be convenient or affordable for every day. Also, if your pandemic pup grew up without socialization to other dogs, a group setting may be too stressful and generate other problems. Extremely nervous dogs may benefit from a prescription for the first few weeks of home alone. See your vet for options. Calming supplements are also available but do not always work for every pet.
Provide a safe space for your dog to be alone, give him exercise and attention before you leave, treat him to a toy to keep him occupied, and train him to be okay by himself for a while. Knowing that you have set him up for success will make coming home that much sweeter.
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