5 On Your Side

5 on Your Side: Some 'pandemic puppies' headed back to shelter as owners return to work

Posted July 14, 2021 3:42 p.m. EDT
Updated July 15, 2021 1:58 p.m. EDT

— During the pandemic lockdown, many pets enjoyed the luxury of having their families home all day, every day. Shelter adoptions increased, with many people looking for companionship during the isolation.

But now, with people heading back to work after months of being at home, some of these pandemic puppies are beginning to suffer with anxiety and stress – especially if they've never had the experience of being left alone.

Dogs under stress can cause behavioral issues – and these behavior issues are causing people to return their pandemic puppies back to the shelter.

These problems go way deeper than just helping our pets with anxiety – too many people are deciding they can't handle their dog's problematic behaviors.

Last year, WRAL's 5 On Your Side explored strategies for preparing your pets for the end of quarantine. Now, we're diving deeper with strategies to help your dog as you head back to work.

"This is something that’s a big deal for a dog. If you have been around home most of the time, and now you’re going to go back and be gone 40, 50 hours a week," said Brian Hare, a dog behavior expert and Director of the Duke University Canine Cognition center.

Wondering why your lovable new pet is acting out?

The likely culprit: separation anxiety!

"Especially dogs that were puppies during the pandemic may have missed out on some experiences that might make them a little bit more relaxed for the rest of their lives," says Hare.

He says the period of eight to 24 weeks is a critical time for dogs to learn to be alone.

A puppy who missed that experience of learning to be alone may struggle with troublesome behaviors – chewing and scratching, damaging furniture and doors. They may use the bathroom inside the home, or whine, cry and howl.

Hare says these issues are causing many owners to give up and take their pandemic puppies back to shelters.

Other signs a dog is stressed: licking their lips or yawning.

To help your pup gradually learn how to be alone, try putting them in a crate in another room while you are home.

Start with five to ten minutes, several times a day, and increase that increment over several days.

As you're leaving them, don't make a big ceremony out of it – and when you return, don't make a big ceremony either, advises Hare.

Make it feel natural and normal, and gradually your pup will become reassured that you always return for them – easing their anxiety.

"Don’t just rip the Band-Aid off," says Hare. "Slowly introduce the idea that you’re going to be leaving, and then I think a lot of those types of behaviors might be reduced significantly."

If your pet is food motivated, you might try giving them a treat when you leave, so they associate saying goodbye with something positive.

You could also try setting up a camera to watch your pet and see how long it takes them to calm down – or if there are any triggering factors keeping them agitated.

If it goes on and on, you might need to see your vet. There are some medicines, supplements, and even garments that can help an anxious dog.

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