ST. LOUIS — The members of the household who you might not expect to be so excited about things "getting back to normal": our pets.
“You're doing your dog a service by getting out of the house, giving them some downtime,” said Sarah Hoth, a professional dog trainer and owner of The Persuaded Pooch. “If you feel guilty, I would say please don't, because your dog needs that rest to be a well-adjusted, healthy, behaviorally well dog.
That’s because Hoth says most adult dogs need about 16 hours of sleep every day; puppies need even more.
“So think about it: eight hours overnight when we're sleeping and then about eight hours when you're gone at work, too. So that's rest time that they really haven't been getting,” Hoth explained.
However, that doesn’t make it an easy transition for either pup or pet parent. That's why it's important to ease the dog back in to that time alone.
“For example, to split up your workday, go somewhere quiet in your home where your dog is not with you and work for your first four hours of the day, take your lunch break. Give your dog some love and get some lunch,” she said. “And then you're going to go back to work, in your home office, for example, away from your dog for another four hours for the rest of the day.”
For most pups, a good morning dose of exercise and a long-lasting chew treat will help pass the unsupervised time without issue. She also said it’s good to start leaving your dog at home even for a short time every day so they get used to you leaving.
“Make sure that your dog sees you coming and going, and that when you leave, you always come back and it's nothing to panic about,” she said. That means not riling your dog up at the door with an apologetic or frantic goodbye, or even an excited hello upon your return.
“We don't want to create a fuss. We don't want to create an anxious situation where one really didn't exist in the first place,” she said.
Sometimes it is anxiety, though, in which Hoth recommends consulting with a specialist or a veterinarian. Signs include prolonged whining or barking, pacing, drooling or panting, not eating food or treats, destructive behavior or hurting themselves.
Dr. Stacey Wallach, owner of Town and Country Veterinary Hospital, said a pro might use a combination of training, therapy, medication and other tools.
“Then they can talk through this process of desensitization and counter conditioning to start fresh and make this a little better experience for the dogs,” said Wallach.
Doggie daycares or dogwalkers are also helping ease the transition. Most kennels and daycares will let you and your dog come tour the facility to make sure it’s the right fit.
St. Louis shelters haven't seen it yet, but some rescues around the country are reporting a spike in pet surrenders as people spend more time away from home. This comes after the past last year, when people answered calls to "clear the shelters" during the pandemic lockdown.
“We’ve heard that this is happening in other parts of the country, but so far, we are not seeing an uptick in the number of returned animals this year,” said a Humane Society of Missouri spokesperson in an email. “However, we are working with folks to help them understand when they adopt that there are things they can do to help with the transition of coming home, and schedule changes as people return to the office, etc.”
The Humane Society of Missouri also offers a pet behavior training service through GoodPup, which they say is especially helpful during major transitions.
Hoth said it’s important to remember your furry best friend will still love you at the end of the day — just as dogs have since long before the pandemic, when they spent much more time by themselves.
“It’s absolutely OK,” she said. “In fact, it's required.”