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ARF‘s Bob Lutz with Kirk, a pit bull terrier mix.

This past year, while we’ve all spent more time at home, our canine companions have been by our sides and given us love and support. After all this togetherness, they might forget—or not know—what 
a full-time work schedule looks like. And unfortunately, the transition to a new routine might cause them to develop separation-related problem behaviors.

“Whether your dog is new to your family, or they’ve lived with you for years, practice and preparation are extremely important,” says Bob Lutz, the animal programs director at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) in Walnut Creek.

Lutz—who has over a decade of experience in animal welfare—
offers tips on how to prepare dogs for post-pandemic life.

For more information, advice, and resources, visit arflife.org.

1) Notice signs of stress and anxiety.

Stress-related behaviors include panting, restlessness, and 
whining. Some dogs may become destructive while you’re gone, and/or display extreme excitement upon your return. The best way to determine what is going on is to film your dog, so you can review the footage and observe your dog’s behaviors; if necessary, share your observations with professionals who may assist with guidance and treatment. Puppies who have never been alone may have a harder time adjusting, and seniors who have hearing, visibility, or physical impairments may develop anxiety.

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No matter the breed or age, all canine companions will need a period of adjustment following the end of COVID-19 restrictions.

2) Practice alone time.

It’s important for a dog to be taught that being alone can be enjoyable. Set up activities for them to do on their own—you can utilize a baby gate or exercise pen, or close them in a safe room. Also, crate training can be a way to help them feel comfortable when confined. If you think your dog may bark while you’re away, work on getting them used to your comings and goings during daytime hours. (If you live in an apartment, work on this slowly. You’ll need to prevent barking to avoid disturbing your neighbors.)

3) Be calm during departures and arrivals.

Ignoring your dog isn’t necessary. A simple “see you later” could 
replace excitable talk as you leave. And when you return, speak calmly, and ask them to sit, shake, or go to a specified spot before giving them attention.

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4) Provide games and treats while away.

Enrichment activities give an appropriate outlet for species-normal behaviors, such as chewing, digging, and foraging. Your dog may chew furniture, when they could chomp on a long-duration toy. Your dog may snoop in the trash can, when they could have meals in food puzzles or snuffle mats. Providing mental and physical exercise will build your dog’s confidence and help them relax.

5) Hire a trusted pet sitter/dog walker.

Even if the person only visits a couple of times a week, a walk or play time in the backyard can help reduce the length of time your dog is left alone. Introduce your helper to your dog now, so your canine companion isn’t concerned about a stranger.