Typically, the last person to give Toby a pat on the head and shut the door on him for the day leaves the house around 9 a.m. Someone drops in around lunchtime to curb the dog and give him a little love. Everyone gets home around dinnertime, and all is right with Toby’s world. In the meantime, the terrier mix likely sleeps his way through the day or maybe throws pet parties, as played out in the animated film, “The Secret Life of Pets.” His people will never know.
But ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Toby’s people never seem to leave home. While that may have been his greatest dream, the chaos of constant activity, attention and even admonishment could take its toll. Toby needs a timeout.
People are not the only ones affected by the pandemic.
“Some people are able to maintain a sense of regularity in their dog’s day, while others, not so much,” said pet therapist Adrienne Herman of Carmel. “My kids don’t think their dog is having a hard time, but with two tiny children at home, he doesn’t get a break. He looks at me beseechingly. A lot of dogs are just trying to find a space without people.”
Herman has a client who complained that her dog has started barking, nonstop, now that everyone’s home. Or, Herman considered, perhaps the dog has always barked incessantly, but no one was home to hear it.
Moreover, with people feeling cooped up from COVID-19, dogs are generally getting longer walks more often. How many is too much? Hence the recent cartoon of the dog hiding his leash to avoid any more walks.
“Dogs don’t know why things have changed and everyone’s home,” Herman said. “Dogs like consistency and structure. The closer you can keep your dog to his normal routine, the more stable and confident he’ll feel.”
Because of the traumas and disruptions caused by COVID-19 and the wildfires, it’s good, says Herman, that most people have spent more time at home with their pets. Yet issues will arise, she says, when everyone leaves home, returning to work or school, social engagements or travel, and the dogs go back to being alone.
“Dogs don’t realize that having everyone home is not forever,” said dog trainer Andee Burleigh of Divine K-9. “There’s going to be a problem among dogs that can’t cope with being left behind. I visited a client with a 5-month-old puppy. Every time the dog barked, they ran and got it, afraid of disturbing the kids’ Zoom sessions. So, the puppy is now a barking maniac. They aren’t learning to cope, and they aren’t teaching the puppy to cope.”
But Burleigh is.
In addition to maintaining routines, there are steps we can take, says Herman, to prepare pets to go from adjusting to the chaos during COVID-19 to standing the silence when we leave.
“Try leaving your dog at home during different times of the day,” she said. “Maybe you used to go out for a meal or a movie. Leave your dog behind and schedule a little outdoor dining. If you used to take your dog in the car when you ran errands, put him in the car, if only to take a drive. Plug in the parts you can from your old routine.”
Think about preparing your dog — and your cat — she says, for the future.
Dog and people training
Historically, it has not felt safe to open the door to a person wearing a mask. And yet now, we all are. Or should be. Stranger danger is a real syndrome for dogs who guard their home. And, because fewer people are visiting one another these days, fewer people feel familiar to Fido. When someone does show up at the door, wearing a mask, the dog might feel more aggressive.
“Dogs are keen observers and pay attention to people’s facial expressions,” Burleigh said. “But now, they’re having to recognize faces behind a mask. I’ve had to help my dog adjust to people coming at him with a mask on.”
Burleigh, who has been training dogs for more than 26 years, has been called to guide several families sheltering in place, through private, one-on-one sessions. Dog training, she says, is organic and must be in person, where she can show instead of telling people what to do.
“Many people I work with, because they’re home so much, are realizing their dog’s behavior isn’t tolerable,” Burleigh said. “We have to teach the dog to stop begging for treats and attention, and how to be alone, even when their people are home. Maybe it means putting them in a different part of the house. Just because we’re home doesn’t mean our pets have total access to us.”
A lot of people are applying Burleigh’s training techniques to teaching their children the same boundaries.
So many people have adopted pets, primarily to fill a social and emotional void while sheltering in place, it has become a trend. A survey posted by TD Ameritrade reported that 33% of Americans have considered fostering or adopting a furry friend now that social distancing is the norm. Across generations, that rate is highest among millennials, who came in at 50%, versus Generation X, at 33%, and baby boomers, 25%.
Lauren Cesare, who divides her time between homes in San Jose and Carmel, had been considering adopting a puppy ever since she lost her 10-year-old golden retriever to cancer in 2019. But, with both daughters away at college, and both parents navigating busy law careers, the idea had become more of a pipedream than a plan.
Until COVID-19 kicked her kids out of college and sent them home to languish in front of a computer in her living room. It took only five minutes for the female members of the family to decide to adopt an 8-week-old yellow Labrador retriever. Dad wasn’t completely down with the idea until he met “Truckee,” the family’s pandemic puppy.
By his second morning at home, the puppy believed he belonged to Dad. That was good because, after four months of cradling Truckee, both daughters returned to college, leaving Mom and Dad on puppy patrol.
“Truckee misses his playmates terribly,” said Cesare. “In the absence of our girls playing on the floor with him, he’s worn out all his toys. He’s now a 70-pound puppy, and it’s just plain hard on our joints to play with him the way our athletic daughters did.”
Herman, the pet therapist, has enjoyed seeing many people with puppies during this pandemic, yet she encourages people to consider adopting an older dog.
“Puppies, of course, are adorable,” she said. “But older dogs are really special and also need a loving home.”
During the past seven months, adoptions have been higher than ever before at Peace of Mind Dog Rescue. Based in Pacific Grove, the nonprofit organization which works primarily with senior dogs has seen just as many long-term dogs and those with medical needs being adopted as the 8-year-old healthy dog.
“We’ve seen an increase in adoptions because people are home, they have time for a dog, and they’re lonely,” said Peace of Mind Dog Rescue co-founder and Executive Director Carie Broecker. “We are concerned about possible separation anxiety for the dogs when their people go back to work. We also worry about people finding they no longer have time to care for their dog and surrendering them to shelters. We are bracing for this.”
Broecker also wonders what will happen if the moratorium on evicting people during the pandemic expires at the end of the year, as projected. Will people who have not been able to keep up with their rent lose their housing and have to give up their pets? Although Broecker lives with what she calls “anticipatory concerns,” she is more focused on the blessing of bringing home a pet.
“In a time when life in this country and the world is in a precarious place,” she said, “people want to do something good. I believe our volunteering is up, and adopting is up because life with an animal makes us feel like there’s humanity left in the world.”
Fortunately, in a time when COVID-19 is disconnecting society, pets require no social distance.