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How to prepare your dog for your return to work
TORONTO -- When Ashley Payette returns to work in the coming months, she’s worried her 12-week-old puppy will have a hard time adjusting to her absence.
The Toronto-based lawyer and her husband have been working remotely since they welcomed the little Manchester Terrier named Hans into their home in early May.
“It’s a definite concern since we’ve literally not left him alone for more than five to 10 minutes at this point,” she told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview on Thursday.
On one of those occasions, Payette said she returned to hear the puppy barking on the other side of the front door of their apartment.
“I don’t want to be a terrible neighbour. It’s definitely worrisome,” she said.
The couple has another dog, a 15-month-old Samoyed named Mila, who was destructive when she was left alone for the first few times as a puppy. Payette said she’s hoping that won’t be the case for their new puppy when they eventually head back to the office.
In anticipation of their return to work, Payette said they plan to start leaving Hans alone in the home for longer stretches of time. She also said they have a dog walker who will take both of their dogs out during the day when they’re at work.
“We might even bring the dog walker in soon to get them used to it as dog walkers are going back to work soon and I just want to support them,” she said.
Payette isn’t the only dog owner in this predicament as quarantine measures ease across the country and Canadians begin to head back to work. To ensure the transition is a smooth one for both owners and their pets, dog experts share their top tips on how to prepare for new routine.
Identify signs of anxiety or stress
Andrew Perkins, a founding member of the Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers (CAPDT), said it’s important to distinguish between normal dog behaviour and more serious separation anxiety.
“They were designed to be animals that want to be with people,” he told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview on Thursday. “We selectively bred them for thousands of years for wanting to be with people. So when they complain they’re not, that's kind of appropriate.”
The key, however, is identifying if that discomfort is severe enough that it needs to be addressed, he explained.
Perkins said indicators of severe distress in dogs can include the inability to settle down, whining, crying, barking that spirals upwards and is uninterrupted and doesn’t recover, self-harm -- such as licking or chewing at their own body that causes injuries, wounds, and sores- - or destruction of property in the house, particularly around the exits.
If the dog whines, cries, howls, or barks for a short period after its owner leaves and then entertains itself or goes to sleep, Perkins said the pet will probably be able to adjust to that person being away for an extended period of time.
Try mock departures
In order to see how well their dog fares in their absence, Perkins said owners can attempt mock departures in the weeks leading up to their return to work.
“If you’ve been home a lot, it’s a good idea to do some short-run tests. So leave for five minutes, leave for 10 minutes, leave for half an hour, vary it, don’t just keep increasing it, go up and down in times,” he said.
To find out how the dog behaved during these trial runs, Perkins said owners can set up a webcam or video recorder where the animal is most likely to be or near the exit.
Perkins said another good way to tell how well the dog is coping with these mock departures is to provide it with activities. He said owners should consider leaving out a favourite chew toy or a hollowed-out toy with treats in it for the dog before they leave.
“Show your dog that they’re there before you go, leave without a fuss and when you come back, if the items have been played with, you’re probably going to see that puppy played with them or your dog played with them and then settled down somewhere,” he said.
If the items have not been touched, Perkins said the owner should go looking around the home for any potential destruction or damage the dog may have done while they were away.
Create a new routine
Chirag Patel, a dog trainer and behaviour specialist based in the U.K., said owners may want to consider creating a new routine with their dogs that will be similar to what they can expect when they return to work.
For example, if the owner plans to leave for work shortly before 9 a.m. every day, they should begin a routine during lockdown where they take the dog out to relieve itself and for exercise before then.
Then the owner can attempt those mock departures around the time when they would typically leave for work so the dog gets used to their absence at that time every day.
“Go and sit in your car for a little while, or go for a little walk for your exercise, so your pet can start to be at home by themselves,” he told CTV News Vancouver on Wednesday.
Patel said owners should ensure their dog has been exercised before they leave for work for the day to prevent the animal from going stir-crazy when it’s alone inside. He also said dogs should be left with activities and things to do so they don’t get bored and start whining and barking or chewing furniture in the home.
The dog trainer suggested leaving out chew toys or toys that can be stuffed with treats so the dog has to play with them in order to access the food. He also said people can use scents to entertain their pets by leaving a little bit of dry ginger powder, cinnamon, or other non-toxic food smells around the house so the dog is kept busy sniffing them out.
“They can be looking around and sniffing things because a large part of the dog's frontal lobe in their brain is taken up with the olfactory system and if we can tire them out using their nose, that's a great way to mentally stimulate a dog,” he said.
Perkins said if the dog doesn’t already have a favourite chew toy or activity, owners should try to find one before they return to work so they know the dog already has something to do when it’s alone.
Designate a space for them
Finally, Perkins said it’s useful for dogs to have a designated or favourite place in the home where they can spend a long time by themselves.
“If your dog already spends prolonged periods of each day on a given sofa or given chair or their dog bed or in their crate, even voluntarily, then they've already got a place of comfort and they can return to that when they need comfort when you’re out,” he explained.
If the dog doesn’t already have that space, Perkins said owners can encourage their pet to spend time in a particular spot by leaving treats or toys in that one location on a regular basis.
“So your dog keeps finding stuff there and starts hanging out there waiting for those deliveries and that becomes a favorite spot,” he said.