For people still working at home during this summer of pandemic, one bright spot for many has been hours spent with beloved dogs. More walks, more cuddling, more time together.
Some day — soon, we all hope — that will end as humans return to workplaces away from home or young people go back to in-person school. But where will that leave the dogs so used to company?
A complete return to whatever the new normal will be is weeks, perhaps months away. Still, now is the time begin weaning animals from constant human company.
Separation anxiety is real, and when the months of togetherness end, many dogs will be unsettled. A dog that acts out when left alone can be destructive, his fright displayed by chewing on pillows and furniture, and having accidents all over the house.
As much as humans and the dogs they love have enjoyed this time together, setting new patterns will prepare creatures for days spent alone. The key, say animal experts, is to begin establishing routines that resemble what life was like before stay-at-home orders. That means walking and feeding dogs at the same time daily, with early walks a way to tire out animals before the humans leave for the day. It’s important to allow pets time by themselves so they become used to being alone and are prepared what will be an abrupt change.
Over a period of weeks, humans can increase the time they spend away from dogs, so that when the eight-hour work day returns, there will be less of a wrench. Help dogs enjoy their time alone with toys and places to play so that they look forward to the experiences. Even in smaller houses, a dog gate can provide separation so animals have solitude.
One idea from the experts is to make the backyard more fun, whether by adding a digging pit, extra toys or a kennel. Dogs can’t destroy a house if they’re busy digging and playing with a favorite toy.
Having plenty of water and shade is always essential during hot months; fun might be in the house if the return to a more regular way of life occurs during the winter months.
Some pets enjoy music — it’s calming, and will help distract them when humans leave. Others can be crate trained, spending at least part of the day in a safe space. People can come home on breaks to let them out or find dog walkers to give pets an outing so the day doesn’t stretch out, lonely hour after lonely hour. For some animals, it will be back to doggy day care, a way for them to socialize and exercise.
Life during a pandemic has been a series of adjustments. For companion animals, humans have been a constant presence these past months. It is time to prepare them for the coming separation. This will help humans, too. They will begin returning to a set routine, getting up at the same time, walking the dogs and otherwise preparing to leave the house and take on the world.