Many of us dog lovers and dog parents have been thankful to have our SideKicks with us while working from home and while staying home in quarantine; and most of our dogs have been excited to have their playmates home all day, every day!
With the Safer at Home order here in Wisconsin coming to an end (ideally) near the end of this month, it's important to put some thought into what "normal" will look like soon. A lot of us will likely be returning to a work schedule away from the home; kids will be returning to school or child care; and your SideKicks will be home alone much more often and for longer than they are currently. This change can be jarring and stressful to a SideKick that's become used to having their family home so much - even if it's a change back to the previous schedule. There are a variety of behaviors you might see or watch for to determine if your SideKick is experiencing some stress or anxiety with the transition:
Barking, howling, or whining when you leave
Escape behaviors like scratching or chewing at the crate/kennel or doors and windows of the house
Destructive behaviors that do not occur when people are home like chewing furniture or found items (shoes, for example) or destroying household items (couch cushions or pillows, for example)
Excessive grooming or other self-harm or obsessive behaviors (pacing, for example)
Changes in appetite
Lack of interest in toys or food (like a stuffed Kong) when left alone
The good news is that you don't have to wait until you see or hear those things to do something about your SideKick's stress with the transition; there are several things you can do now to help both of you ease through this transition!
1) Put time into crate/kennel training with your dog.
If it is not already, work on making the crate/kennel a safe, comfortable place for your dog to be (such as with some kennel games) - with you in the home or for peaceful, relaxing alone time while you're away from the home. Even if your SideKick has utilized the crate or kennel a lot in the past, it's a good idea to revisit some crate/kennel training if they haven't used it much during quarantine. Having an established place to be and hang out will make the transition a little easier when you're back to a regular schedule away from the home. If you've attempted crate or kennel training in the past and your dog is not a fan (no worries; it's not for everyone), you may choose to use a specific room in a quiet part of the home.
2) Spend some time separated from your dog.
Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, work on spending some time apart from each other in the home; help your dog learn some independence, learn to enjoy time alone, and learn to find things to do on their own (that are also appropriate). Set up a specific nap time each day for your dog to spend a dedicated chunk of time in the kennel each day (even if you're home). Or give your dog a safe, solo activity to do in a separate room - a stuffed Kong, a puzzle toy, a special chew, etc. Make being alone for a couple hours a day (at least) a normal and comfortable thing.
3) Leave the house without your dog. Before returning to your "normal" schedule, practice leaving the house without your dog for short periods of time; maybe you take a quick trip to the store for some essentials or maybe take a walk or family bike ride. If your dog shows signs of stress or anxiety about your absence, decrease the amount of time that you leave and work your way up to longer lengths of time. (If you're not sure what your dog is doing when you're gone, a camera or "nanny cam" can be helpful! I have a camera that I like on my Recommended Products page that is affordable, but with excellent quality.) Note: If your dog has trouble being alone for even brief periods of time, I highly recommend enlisting the assistance of a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT); there are a couple folks in our state, who are specifically certified to work with this concern and I'm happy to provide their contact info if you need help!
4) Make time away from you an ok thing (even a great thing!).
As you're practicing separation from your dog while you're home or you're taking short trips away from the house, make sure that these absences from your side are good, positive, and rewarding experiences for your dog! Provide them with enrichment opportunities that can be enjoyed solo (as mentioned above). The biggest and easiest example of enrichment you can provide is a stuffed Kong (which you can stuff with all kinds of tasty things)!
5) Establish and practice a routine with your dog. When I was a kid, my parents had us go to bed early and get up early for the few days at the end of Summer vacation, so that we would be prepared for the new school year and the new schedule that came with it. Along the same vein with your SideKick, if you have an idea of what your schedule will look like after quarantine ends, use that knowledge to set a non-quarantine schedule and routine for your SideKick. By taking steps now to prepare your SideKick for your future schedule, you can help prevent a lot of stress for both you and your SideKick!