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Prep your new dog for an empty home


It’s one of the feel-good trends during the coronavirus outbreak: People have adopted and fostered dogs at unprecedented rates.

“We haven’t seen people abandoning their pets; we’ve seen people taking in pets, which is really heartwarming,” said Dr. M. Leanne Lilly, assistant professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at Ohio State.

But the spike in dogs being welcomed into homes — where their new owners follow stay-at-home orders — may be followed by something more concerning.

As states re-open and people return to offices and schools, many of these dogs may begin to experience separation-related anxieties and problems.

“We know that dogs adopted or re-homed through shelter rescues seem to be more predisposed to this, possibly from having that initial attachment broken,” Lilly said.

It’s possible the dog you’ve had for years may experience increased or first-time separation problems once you head back to work. According to Lilly, up to half of all dogs will exhibit some form of separation-related problem at some point in their lives.

So what do you do to help them prepare for this transition?

  • Practice: In the weeks leading up to your return to the office, leave your dog home alone a bit each day at the same time you’d likely be headed to work.
  • Start small: Make absences short at first. Maybe take a walk or a trip to the grocery store. Then add more time as you can. And adhere to a regular departure pattern, meaning if you are likely to give them medications or supplements before you leave, stick with that.
  • Will your work schedule change? Say your dog was fine with your old schedule but that is about to change from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. for some reason. That may be enough to throw off some dogs. So gradually move back your practice departures 5 to 15 minutes.
  • Spy on them: Seriously, use a camera and record what your dog is doing while you’re gone. Are you seeing signs of stress?
  • What signs? Oh, right. Basically, any out-of-context or odd behaviors, which often include lip-licking without food, pacing, cowering, urination or defecation, drooling or panting when it’s not hot, yawning or the inability to eat treats while you’re out. If you see any of these signs, not only should you begin acclimating your dog to being home alone, but consider contacting your veterinarian or a positive reinforcement trainer.

For more detail on this process, information on managing pet separation anxiety is available here, and the College of Veterinary Medicine also has an online resource with details on caring for pets during COVID-19.