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After the Quarantine

We have all adjusted, no matter how reluctantly, to whatever this “new normal” has become over the last few months. COVID-19 has had many impacts on our social calendars, shopping habits, work environment, lifestyle, and routine. But let’s not forget the impact this has had on our furry family members as well. Their social calendars are also drastically different and their routines are shaped directly by us.

Some days, it may seem to our pets that we will be staying home forever, whether that means intruding on their afternoon naps or whether it means more treats and playtime than ever before. I know my Penny girl has happily adjusted to quieter days, longer walks, and much more awkward eye contact lately.

However you may be feeling about leaving the house again, this next phase will be yet another adjustment for our beloved pets. Jumping back into our Pre-COVID lives can be extremely detrimental to those we leave behind. As we return to work and/or school, it is critical to help ease this transition for our loyal companions. Here’s a few tips on preparing for the transition.

Begin the transition now: if you have lost track of your own routine during this season, start reestablishing your sleep schedule, feeding schedule, walk schedule, and so on. Include your pets in this routine building and start now. Being consistent and starting early can make all the difference in the way your pets respond when you must begin the next step of leaving the house.

Start small: even if your pets were perfectly trained for a long workday before, they will need your support re-adjusting to time in the crate, home alone, or away from you. Start by stepping out of the house for an hour at a time, and then working your way up to a full day away from them. Visit a friend, take a drive, shop at a local business, and find new ways to take care of yourself so that this transition back into the world is smooth for both you and your pets. According to Janelle Metiva, behavior specialist at Best Friends Animal Society, this prep work is extremely important to mitigate separation anxiety.

Be patient: dogs and cats can respond in a variety of ways when adjusting to being left home alone. You may notice behavioral changes from your bored or lonely pets, including chewing, scratching, urinating or eliminating in the house, escape attempts, barking/whining, drooling, or showing other various symptoms of restlessness and anxiety. Recognize that these are not signs of a bad dog, but rather a dog in need. Instead of disciplining your dog, go back to basics with their training and routines (see above), or establish a new positive association with the things that are most triggering for them. For example, Metiva told TODAY that simple things like wearing shoes even when not leaving the house can prevent negative associations and relieve some of the anxiety for your pets.

Remember the basics: when considering a return to work or school after such a long time in the house, the basics are key. As you adjust to post-COVID life remember the essentials of pet care from life before quarantine. Your dog needs to be exercised before being left alone or settling into bed. Your evening rituals are all cues to your pets about what to expect. It is important to keep your pets stimulated, maintain a regular feeding schedule, and never neglect these beloved companions just because you are FINALLY able to get out of the house again. This leads us to our final point…

Give your pets (and you) something to look forward to: As the community begins to re-open, find ways to make new memories with your pets, whether that means a road trip with them, finding them a new toy from the local pet store, or sharing a fun new park. This could also be the time to evaluate your pet’s weekday enrichment activities. Do they have enough activities at home? Do you want to invest in a dog walker or doggy day care? Do you have plans for a fun evening with them? Remember why you brought them into your home in the first place and enjoy the richness they can bring to your life in all seasons!

Our pets are looking to us as we transition to our new lives, and whatever we can do to ease this transition will help them (and us) live happier lives as we come out of this pandemic. And if this pandemic hasn’t helped you see the value in some normalcy yet, perhaps you can see the value of normalcy through your pets’ eyes. When I look at the world through my Penny girl’s eyes, I am rarely disappointed.

***Also published in Flagstaff Sedona Dog Magazine August/September Issue, 2020***

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