But with vaccinations being rolled out and cases decreasing, I know we are all hopeful for a return to normalcy soon.
Well, almost all of us. Our furry companions might not be as excited about this change.
Most animals have grown accustomed to having their people around a lot, and more Americans than ever are new pet parents. So, as we prepare to return to the office and other activities, we must also prepare our loyal companions.
Adjusting to your increased absence could cause your pet stress and bring out undesirable behaviors. The behavior experts at ARF recommend training your pet to get accustomed to spending more time by themselves.
Help you pet now
Here are four easy things to start now:
Low-key departures and arrivals. During the 10-15 minutes before you leave home or upon arrival, strive for a calm, neutral atmosphere. Avoid hugging, kissing, high-energy play or anything that will cause your dog to get excited. It is best to either ignore your pet or offer soothing talk that will reinforce calm behavior.
Enrichment and games. To provide appropriate outlets for your pet’s energy, experiment with long-lasting treats and creative feeding methods for mealtime. You’ll want to test these out before you leave your pet alone with them to allow time to evaluate that your pet can safely use them without you. It will also help you find which treats your pet especially loves. Once you find their favorites, only give them one before departing the home. This will keep it extra special and help your pet look forward to being left alone. Some ideas: food dispensing toys, food puzzles, interactive feeding mats and hiding kibble/treats in cardboard or paper products that your pet can tear apart (assuming they don’t eat paper).
Practice alone time. Identify a comfortable, safe area for their alone time. This might be in a room, an area separated by a baby gate or a dog crate. At least once a day, set your pet up with a long-lasting treat or food puzzle, some of their favorite toys, a comfy bed and water. Begin by only leaving them alone for short periods, just 5-10 minutes. You can vary between leaving them completely alone and sitting nearby while not engaging. Change up the length of absences and time of day so it’s not predictable.
Crate training. Create a positive association with the crate by leaving the door open, or remove the door completely, during the beginning stages of training. Also consider the location of the crate. Some dogs prefer to rest in quiet spaces in the home, while others like spaces where they can see the action. Audition what might be best for your dog. As you advance in training, it’s important to help your dog keep a healthy relationship with the crate by maintaining their trust that they are in a safe space and they’re going to get out fairly soon.
Elena Bicker is the Executive Director of Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation. She can be reached at (925) 256-1ARF (1273).