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Speaking of Pets: If you’re spending less time at home, here’s how to help your dog with the transition

By Joan Merriam
Special to the Daily
Dogs are very routine-oriented: if you're all of a sudden spending less time at home, he or she could be feeling anxious.
Special to the Daily

These days, many of us are spending a little less time cooped up at home, possibly back to work or school, or participating in outside activities.

You may be feeling some semblance of relief at these changes … but what about your dogs?

Change is hard

Dogs aren’t huge fans of change: when their daily routines shift drastically, dogs tend to feel anxious and confused. For instance, when you stopped leaving every day back in March, your dog was probably initially excited, but later may have become a little unsettled because his or her peaceful world had turned chaotic with people being home all the time.

Now he or she has to adapt to being alone again as he or she tries to figure out what’s going on and whether he did something wrong to precipitate the sudden abandonment.

Fear and isolation

Many dogs struggle with isolation, and your disappearance after months of togetherness can create uncertainty: “Will my human ever come home again?”

They remember the pre-COVID days when every time your keys jingled, you’d be leaving them alone. That provokes fear and separation anxiety: whining and whimpering, slinking to their beds, barking or howling or piddling on the floor, and sometimes even chewing the door, the walls, the furniture.

Helping your dog

Help ease this transition to being alone by using some desensitization ploys. If your dog cringes when you pick up your keys, pick them up, hold them for a second or two, then set them down. If he comes apart when you reach for the doorknob, try walking to the door, then coming back and sitting down. Gradually move to actually going out, waiting a few seconds, then coming back inside. Increase the time you’re gone until he understands you will be back.

No one knows how long it will be before we return to whatever “normal” is. In the meantime, make this time of transition—and any that lie ahead—easier for your dog by adding structure to his days and taking time to reassure him that somehow, his world will be okay.

Joan Merriam lives in northern California with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at joan@joanmerriam.com.


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