How to Prepare Your Dog to Be Left at Home Alone (Again)

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

Source: The New York Times -

Whether your dog is new or old, these tips will help ease its transition from lockdown to normal life. Did you get a new dog during the coronavirus lockdown? Or has your long-time four-legged companion gotten used to having you home?

“Dogs are highly social, which is why we get along with them so well,” said Patricia B. McConnell, certified applied animal behaviorist and author of “The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs.” “If all the sudden, they go from ‘everybody home all the time’ to ‘nobody home all day long,’ it can lead to some serious behavioral problems.”

This can mean accidents in the house, chewing on the furniture when you are away, or worse.

Want to avoid that? Here’s how to transition to a new normal, for both of you.

Start Leaving

The members of your household probably haven’t left the house for an extended period of time for what, weeks? Months? The 17 years this quarantine has felt like? So, start transitioning as cities and states reopen by leaving a little bit at a time. But not for too long.

Start “unbelievably slow,” said Dr. McConnell. Leave a handful of treats on the ground and, while the dog is eating them, “everybody walks out the door,” she said. Come back in five seconds. Next time, leave for 10 seconds, then walk to the mailbox and back, then take a longer walk or a long drive.

Make sure you are mimicking the routine you’ll have when you go back to work: Get your wallet and keys, leave through the door you’ll go through. This way, the dog gets used to the cues that mean you are leaving — and coming back in through the same spot.

Give Your Dog a Safe Space

Make sure your dog is left in a safe space that it knows — and don’t lock it in a room that’s unfamiliar. That safe space might be a crate, though not all dogs like being in a crate. (My first dog, a Jack Russell terrier, loved her crate; the dog I have now, a cattle dog mix, couldn’t be bothered.) Other dogs are just fine being left to lie wherever in the house they want.

The best space for your dog may not be one with a view either, said Sarah Wilson, dog trainer and author of “My Smart Puppy: Fun, Effective and Easy Puppy Training,” especially if your dog barks a lot. “When they’re screaming out the window at everyone who’s going by, their brains are flooded with all of this confusing and upsetting brain chemistry, which doesn’t go away on its own instantly,” she said. “It’s not a game for them when they’re barking hysterically out the window.” If a crate doesn’t work for that dog, it may work to use a baby gate to keep it in a room it likes, but without access to a window.

Make a New Plan for Entertaining Your Dog

If your dog has gotten used to walks every four or five hours, what’s going to happen when that’s not an easy option? Can you come home to walk the dog? Will you hire a dog walker, or take your dog to a doggie daycare?

Dr. McConnell suggests you figure out how you’re going to engage your dogs’ brain if the level of physical exercise you are currently providing it is not an option. You can teach them new tricks, or try new walking routes, which engages their brains because dogs will work to analyze new smells.

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