While many humans have struggled with isolation and working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, one demographic has been living its best life over the past few weeks, and that demographic is dogs.
Whether you adopted a new four-legged pal for companionship during This Unprecedented Time or are a longtime dog owner, it’s likely you’ve been spending a lot of time with your pup as of late. But as Manitoba slowly gets back to normal and people starting heading back to the office, you might be wondering how your dog will handle the transition.
Ashley Reid-Oyemade is the owner of Tess’s Dog Training — named for her childhood dog, Tess — and has been professionally training dogs in and around Winnipeg for almost 15 years. “I’m pretty much a dog nerd,” she says with a laugh.
She points out that the way a dog will deal with being left home alone again post-lockdown depends on the dog.
“I’ve been slowly getting back into teaching, and I tell my clients: when you start going back to normal life and going back to work, your dogs are going have that same shock, they same way they were shocked that you were suddenly home,” she says.
“Some dogs are OK with it. Some dogs that are more spoiled or more needy, they might struggle with it because they are used to having you and now you’re gone. You know your dog. If your dog follows you to the bathroom, then you should probably be a little bit worried when you go back to work.”
Indeed, a dog’s behaviour can offer insight into whether or not they might have a more difficult time with you being around less, Reid-Oyemade says, offering some examples.
“The dogs that get over-excited or anxious whenever you come home or come in from a different room, depending on their excitement level. The dogs that literally follow you everywhere and have to touch you all the time, the dogs that have trouble relaxing unless you’re relaxing — so if you’re moving around and doing stuff, they’re always kind of watching you instead of going and settling. Dogs that if you kennel or crate-train them, they panic, they don’t like being in their crate, they’re vocal.”
Reid-Oyemade says that in her experience, dogs who become stressed when their owners leave and even engage in destructive behaviour — such as tearing up the throw pillows or urinating in the house — aren’t necessarily suffering from separation anxiety.
“I find, a lot of the time, it’s boredom, frustration, lack of exercise, or lack of mental stimulation more than true separation anxiety,” she says. “A lot of the signs are very much the same — so the dog is wanting to get out of the kennel, or is whining, or being destructive — so it can kind of mimic (separation anxiety).
“But when you start fulfilling the needs of the dog, those signs start to go away, whereas with separation anxiety, sometimes the dog has to be medicated or requires more behavioural work.”
So what can you do to help ease the transition?
“My suggestion for people is, if they have two or three weeks’ notice of, ‘OK, we’re going to get you back to work,’ whenever that change is going to be, start getting them back into the routine you had — or the routine that you want — once you start work,” Reid-Oyemade says.
“So, start kennelling them, or waking up at a certain time to go for a walk, feeding them, and then giving that alone time,” she says, adding that a lot of people choose to kennel or crate their dogs when they leave them unattended, especially young dogs.
“Get them into the routine you will have once you get back to work. And start it now. Don’t wait until a couple days before.”
If your dog has gotten used to getting more exercise and stimulation during quarantine, your new routine may include hitting the dog park a couple times a week, hiring a dog walker during the day, or sending your pup to doggy daycare.
And then — and this is the big one — start leaving your house without your dog.
“Even if it’s just to go for a drive, or you’re going to see a friend, or whatever it is, just leave your dog home alone, and go out,” Reid-Oyemade says.
From there, you can work your way up to longer periods of time so your dog gets used to the idea of you leaving, as well as to kennelling and crating if that’s what you normally do.
“This is what I tell all my clients: if you want to make sure your dog has a smooth transition, make sure you’re fulfilling all their needs,” Reid-Oyemade says. “As long as you fulfil the needs of your dog, the transition back to work should be less stressful for both of you.”
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper’s local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.