Are you and your pet ready for life after quarantine?
With most businesses shuttered for weeks because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, most of us have been staying at home more than we ever have in our lives.
All that time at home has come with at least one great benefit: more quality time with our pets. But it also has presented some surprising problems for pets as well as people.
With stay-at-home orders phasing out around the country, addressing those problems now will ensure a smoother transition — and a less-stressed pet — when you return to work and regular life after quarantine.
The New Normal
As a pet sitter, I have found that routine is my watchword. It’s my job to go into your pet’s environment when you are away and continue feedings, attention and other needs on the same schedule your pet is used to.
Quarantine and the COVID-19 pandemic have wreaked havoc with this routine:
- Either your pet sees you all day, every day, and has almost constant companionship…
- Or your pet sees you far less than usual because you are working long hours as an essential employee.
As someone who steps in not just while pet parents are at work but also while they are away, I can give you an idea of some of the stress behaviors that my clients’ pets manifest when their routine changes:
- Loss of appetite
- Anxiety (which can manifest as excessive vocalization, an inability to settle, wariness, etc.)
Discuss this with your veterinarian, but if your pet is exhibiting any of these behaviors and you can’t figure out why, it could be simple: Their routine has changed, and it’s stress-inducing.
Do your best to maintain your pet’s “regular” routine — the routine they will have when you return to work. Feed at the same times. Let them out, take them for a walk and interact with them at the same times.
Most important, if you have somewhere to go, such as to the grocery store or to run errands, let your pet be home alone.
Getting Your Pet Used to Life After Quarantine
Now that states are reopening, let’s talk about how your pet is going to cope with another big change: What happens when you go back to work?
You may find that your pet who previously handled long workdays like a champ is now manifesting some strange behaviors.
If left unaddressed, separation anxiety can manifest as destructiveness, aggression, timidity and other behavioral changes that will cause stress for you and your pet.
I spoke with Ann Greene — a Certified Professional Trainer, American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen test evaluator, and AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy evaluator — about ways to help pets through separation anxiety generated by the pandemic.
“So many dogs have found new homes during the COVID-19 crisis. That is the good news,” says Greene.
“The bad news is that many people are now getting ready to go back to work and may not have properly prepared Fido how to be alone and to accept separation,” she says.
“The best place to begin is with fundamental obedience training. That gives owners a way to clearly communicate with their dog.”
Being in isolation provides a perfect opportunity to get on top of those basic commands that have slipped over time. Be sure to use reward-based methods during frequent, short sessions.
Great skills to teach your dog include sit, stay, look, down and recall. And for the dog who can already do those things, work on how long they can sit still or train them to stay when you’re out of sight.
Not only will learning these important skills improve their general behavior, but it could also save their life when walks go back to normal.
Seek the Help of a Professional Trainer
At the top of Greene’s list of recommendations: “Find a great trainer, and let them help you.”
Research trainers carefully, especially if you’re home and self-quarantining. You can call around to local trainers and do a phone interview, ask friends and family who they use, check references and more.
Some trainers, like Greene, are doing video and online training courses for their clients.
Green also advises crate training. “One of the best things owners can do right out of the gate is to crate train their dog,” she says.
“Do not look at the crate as a jail, but rather a man cave or a she shed. You want to make the crate a happy place, where good things happen. Feed meals and treats in there. Crates keep your dog — and your home — safe.”
Keep Things Calm
“Make coming and going non-eventful,” says Greene.
“Too many people get their dogs highly adrenalized when they leave and then when they come home. While it makes the human feel great to see that tail wagging out of control, these times are not when you want your dog adrenalized. You want them calm when you come and go.
“If you come home and immediately let your dog out of the crate and begin to pat them when they are in this highly excited state, you are rewarding that state of mind. That is not what you want to do.
“Come home, put your things down, wait a bit and then go take your dog out — calmly. Do not give attention when you come or go. Do not say, ‘Mommy’s leaving; I’ll be back soon’ or ‘Daddy’s home!’ If you’re looking to create separation anxiety, that is part of the recipe right there.”
That’s a tough one. We’re as excited to see our pets as they are to see us, but ultimately we want our pets to be calm when interacting with us or other people.
As a pet sitter, I see pets all the time who completely lose it when I walk in the door to take them for a walk or take care of them — and I’ve been knocked down by a few excited dogs. Calm is the keyword.
“When you are first preparing your dog for you to leave, just begin in small sessions,” says Greene.
“Crate your dog and walk out the door. Come back in. Don’t say a word. Sometimes grab your keys, bag, etc., and don’t go anywhere. Mix it up. Randomly have your dog in the crate during the day while you are home.”
Other Tips for Lonely Pets
You can use a radio or sound machine to help stave off the sound of silence when you’re not home.
“I prefer classical music or a sound machine with rain sounds when I leave my dogs,” says Greene. “Also, remember to leave a light on if it will be dark when you get home.”
Many people use interactive toys to help engage their pet while they’re out. Just make sure whatever toy you choose is safe.
- For dogs, KONGs are a great option, especially for food-motivated dogs. Fill it with almond butter, or mix things up by stuffing it with some dog-safe fruit and veggie pieces.
- For cats, you can find a variety of self-directed interactive toys online, and be sure to check out our exercise tips for cats.
Reach out for help when you need it. “Consider hiring a trusted dog walker if the dog will be left alone for long periods of time once you’re back at work,” suggests Elizabeth Anderson Lopez, who wrote on this topic for Dogster.
“For some pets,” Lopez says, “a visit midway through the day by a dog walker or pet sitter will provide the exercise and engagement they may be missing once their family is no longer at home all day.”
There are some great tips in this video on getting your pet ready for life after COVID-19 quarantine:
Final Thoughts on Life After Quarantine
Make sure your pet is getting plenty of exercise — both now and when you return to work.
Exercise helps tone the body and engage the mind, both of which are great at helping to combat anxiety in people and pets.
Go for a walk, play in the backyard, run their favorite toy around the house — whatever fun activity you and your pet prefer. You’ll both be healthier, happier and less stressed for it.
Be sure your pet spends time every day in their own company, in a separate room. This decreases the risk of them getting so used to your company during the quarantine that they struggle to cope alone when you return to work.
It’s tough to know what’s going to happen next. It seems like this pandemic has simultaneously dragged on forever and changed by the minute. You can’t change what’s happening out in the world, but you can keep your world calm for you and your pet.
Most of all, stay safe and stay healthy!
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Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, contributed to this article.
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