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Going back to Work: 5 Steps to Prepare Your Dog

If your dog is currently loving your work-from-home lifestyle, your return to the office may not be
as much of a relief to them as it is to you. In this article, we’ll look at some of the steps you can
take to make this transition as positive as possible for your pooch.

Finally having their humans to themselves all day long, pets are some of the few members
of the population who don’t mind the coronavirus lockdown. Sooner or later, though, we
will be expected to leave the house during the day again, and while you’re hopefully
enjoying the extra time you have with your pets right now, it might be time to think about
helping your dog to adjust to a return to normal. There’s no time like the present to start
preparing!

Our dogs have been living in the lap of luxury for the last year, lavished with attention and
all the extra walks they could dream of. Things are about to change, and it’s our job as
owners to make sure that this change isn’t distressing to our pets. With a little research and
guidance you can train your pup yourself, or you can contact a dog trainer or puppy
training school.

Preparing Your Dog

A great first step in this preparation is to set up a special area for your dog to spend time
when you’re away from home. This might be a specific part of the house, their bed or an
exercise pen. While you’re still spending all day at home, you can start getting your dog
used to entertaining themselves in this area. Remove attention for a period of time and
give them a puzzle or a chew toy to enjoy instead. You can stay in the same room at this
stage.

It is widely accepted that the most effective and dog-friendly option is reward-based
training which includes the positive reinforcement of “good” behaviours by setting the
dog up to succeed and then rewarding with a treat, toy or pets. You can learn all about
this rewards-based dog training in The Essential Guide to Dog Training from
Perfect-Pets Books.

Puzzle toys are a great way to build your dog’s problem-solving skills while providing
stimulation in your absence. Today, there are hundreds of great puzzle and enrichment
toys for dogs on the market. Your next step is to leave your dog alone to rest or play with a
toy while you step out of the room for a short time. You can start making “fake departures”
to get your dog used to the idea of you leaving the house.

It’s best to avoid increasing frustration by making the puzzles too tricky at first, but you can
get your dog to become very invested in their puzzles by using the toys to dispense some
meals. Many dogs don’t have enough access to things they can chew on, so be sure to
provide plenty of safe chew toys too – chewing releases feel-good chemicals in a dog’s
brain. A selection of safe and interesting toys is a great way to keep your dog occupied
while you’re out of the house.

It can also help to follow the old – and still true – saying, “a tired dog is a happy dog”. A
good amount of high-quality exercise is very important to your dog’s overall wellbeing. The
goal here is to tire your dog out so that they can sleep when they get home. Dogs love to sniff, and encouraging them to do so is a good idea as it will keep excitement levels down
while stimulating their brain.

Building It Up

Increase the time you are separate very gradually to build up their resilience. These fake
departures work best if you incorporate every part of your normal leaving routine – things
like putting on your coat, drinking a quick glass of water and grabbing your keys.
You can start making short trips outside the house once you’re able to leave them alone in
a room for 20-30 minutes without issue. Go for a little walk around the block, step out to
pull a few weeds in the garden or take a short phone call in your car. Look for any evidence
of distress when you return (housetraining accidents, damaged furniture, reports of
barking, excessive drooling, etc, or monitor your dog via video.

Your dog is likely to find your absence especially difficult at first – dogs often experience
separation anxiety when away from their owners, and this year they’ve grown accustomed
to more or less having our undivided attention. This is the ideal time to begin positively
reinforcing “good” behaviour by rewarding your pup for behaviours that you want to keep.
While going from spending extended amounts of time with your dog to spending only part
of the day together won’t automatically cause separation anxiety, the way in which you
handle this transition could create a problem.

The key to being able to leave your dog alone for longer periods is to build up slowly from
shorter periods of alone time, giving them plenty of time to adjust. You can help your dog
to understand that you may sometimes leave – but will always come back – by leaving them
alone while you do short activities like popping to the supermarket, taking your rubbish out
or going for a 5 minute walk alone.

You can start stretching out your absences gradually (while respecting lockdown
restrictions), provided your dog doesn’t show signs of distress. You may need to progress
through the stages of this training very slowly for some dogs, and even move backwards to
easier stages. If your dog shows any signs of distress or separation anxiety, it’s best to
return to them and slow down the training.

Pay Attention to Your Dog

What your dog does when you leave is one of the most important things to monitor when
you’re trying to figure out if they have separation anxiety or struggle to be left alone. When
you’re out of the house, is your dog having fun? Are they making themselves feeling better
by destructively chewing everything in sight, or are they exploring and playing? Is your dog
crying or whining, or are they quietly content?

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