Pandemic Puppies

Pets — like their humans — had to adjust during the pandemic. As dog trainers, we have seen a stream of dog owners call us for training advice for what we call panic pandemic puppies. Many of these dog owners had plenty of time on their hands over the last year and now they are getting ready to go back to work and all of the sudden they need to do something with their dog to make sure they are safe in their home, or shall we say, the home stays safe from destructive tendencies. On today’s show, we are going to talk all about how pets need to return to a new normal routine that may include you being away from home most of the day.

Prefer to listen? Check out the Dog Works Radio podcast below and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts 

Our dogs, and other pets, got used to people being at home most of the time, just as people learned how to juggle caring for their pets while also doing their jobs remotely.

But now, with Covid-19 vaccinations picking up, if you have a pet, it’s time to prepare them for your return to normal — whatever that may look like post-pandemic.

And, according to some animal experts, it’s going to take time for them to adjust.

Remember, they had to make adjustments too: Some pets had to make a real adjustment to the sudden 24/7 intimacy of people being home all day, especially in households with small children.

Others were adopted during the pandemic.

“The overall percentage of US households owning pets notched up to 56% in 2020, with 44% of households owning dogs, 25% owning cats, and 12% owning other pets (including fish, birds, small mammals, and reptiles/amphibians),” according to Packaged Facts, a market research firm.

“Among current pet-owning households, 35% adopted pets in the 12-month period ending February 2021,” Packaged Facts said.

That means millions of pets have no sense of what “normal” life looked like.

Humans need pets as much as pets need humans, experts say. Patches agrees.

Start leaving them alone for a few hours at a time: So, if you’re planning a return to the office, Dr. Douglas Kratt, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, recommends you start by leaving your pet for two or three hours at a time daily, so they aren’t caught off guard when you’re gone for eight or more hours a day.

… but don’t fully change routines just yet: While you may be changing your routine, Kratt told CNN it’s helpful to keep pets as close to their routine as possible and make sure that “you’re not forgetting things because you’re into a new routine.”

Dr. Dana Varble, chief veterinary officer for the North American Veterinary Community, suggests pet owners keep some of the habits formed during the pandemic, such as taking their dogs for a walk during their lunch breaks.

Consider a pet sitter or dog walker: If your new normal doesn’t include time for that, Varble said it may be time to re-hire the dog walker or pet sitter you had before the pandemic, which can then give your pet some familiarity.

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Consider Day Training: Many pet owners do not know that there is an option for day training your dog while you are at work. It is sort of like a pet sitter, where you trainer comes to your home a couple times a week and instead of going on a walk the trainer works with your dog on obedience commands. The added bonus to this is not only does your dog get out and get some exercise during the day but they get to learn some new skills along the way. In fact, our company, Alaska Dog Works is working on starting a day training program in the very new future. Head over to Alaska Dog to check it out.

Keep up the good habits formed during the pandemic, such as taking more walks with your dog. Petey loves walks — as long as there are no other dogs nearby.

“In the last several years we’ve done a lot of research that’s shown that a lot of animals have a much more significant and longer-lasting memory than we thought that they did,” Varble said.

Realize that readjustment times will vary: Pets will need about four weeks to adjust to a new routine, Varble said — but noted that different animals are more adaptable than others.

Cats, for example, she said, need longer and may show signs of stress for up to six months.

“Although they’re a lot more independent, I think that they really, really thrive on routine.”

Regardless, if you see unwelcomed behavior in your pet — including vocalizing or shredding of toys — Varble said “it’s really important” to stick with your routine. But, if you notice more harmful behavior, it’s OK to correct it, she said.

Leave some distractions around: I would suggest dog owners find fun distractions for their dogs while they’re gone, such as leaving dog videos or easy listening music on. In fact, we have an entire playlist on our Youtube channel called Music for Dogs

Get your dog a new toy or food puzzle to keep them entertained as they adjust to less human interaction. These distractions can give your pet the comfort to be able to control access to all their basic needs. We urge you to understand the importance for dogs to have as much consistency as possible and that small environmental changes can cause them to stress.

Have you seen the new pet dispensers and monitors? Our favorite is the NPET Smart Pet Camera Dog Treat Dispenser, WiFi Pet Monitor Indoor with 2-Way Audio, 1080P Night Vision, App Control Compatible, and with Alexa for Dogs & Cats. This nifty device has a Fun Pet Treat Dispenser: From the NPET dog camera App, treats at varying distances, which keeps your pet entertained for hours. Just fill it with your pets’ favorite treats, play a game of fun and reward them for good behavior. Compatible with a variety of dry, crunchy dog and cat treats. There is a link to buy in our show notes.

Keep an eye on any behavioral changes: Watch out for signs of separation anxiety. Watch out for sudden changes in your dog’s normal eating routine and even destructive behavior while you are gone.

Remember your bond with your pet: Some of the changes of returning to in-person work and school will stress us out just as much as it stresses our pets.

That’s why experts say it’s important to remember you need your pet as much as your pet needs you.

“Pets can help us manage our stress and keep our calm,” Varble said. “I think it’s still important you celebrate your bond with your pet, your human-animal bond, as a great source of stress relief in your life.”