Are you one of the many people who opened their homes and hearts to a shelter dog during this time of ‘social distancing?’ Woohoo – good for you! But once the party’s over, what is life going to look like for your four-legged friend? Let’s take a deep dive into how you need to prepare yourself and your newly adopted dog for life outside of quarantine…
Hold on – even if you’re not a new dog parent, your own dog has most likely seen an increase in YOU these past weeks. You may also see some behavioral changes. So stick around and we’ll all work through this together…
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According to many major news reports like this one from CNBC “In Chicago, an animal shelter said it ran out of adoptable animals for the first time ever on Tuesday.”
“It’s something we’ve never thought we’d say,” Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC) wrote in a Facebook post thanking the community. “We’re so happy to bring you this news. But, we are still scheduling intake from the public, and our officers are still rescuing animals in the field, so we’ll probably have more again in the coming days.”
And while all of this is a sweet as a Hallmark movie, there are still a few bumps in the road ahead. Shelters and rescues are addressing things like unvetted foster dogs who will still require spays and neuters. And the likelihood of some adopted pets being returned to shelters due to economic downturn. These are big issues that loom ahead and we’ll save that conversation for another day.
For now, let’s shift our focus on what we can do to help adjust our newly adopted dog to life outside of quarantine.
If you’ve been out of work or simply working from home, your newly adopted dog has a kind of skewed view of what life with you and your family is really going to be like. After all, he’s seen you 24/7. You’ve had plenty of time to love him, spoil him and spend time playing ball, going for walks and handing out belly rubs. As far as he’s concerned, he’s won the lottery!
Maybe you’ve been super stressed and anxious. Can’t blame you there. Your new dog has been exposed to all those emotions and may be a bit anxious, too.
Didn’t adopt a new friend but still have a dog at home? Your dog’s in the same boat. It’s probably felt like The Endless Summer to her and she’s going to have some adjustment to go through, especially when everyone is back to work and back to school.
Shelter Dogs 101
It’s not easy to be a shelter dog. Even if the shelter or rescue has a pretty good idea of a dog’s background and history, spending time in even the most well-kept facilities can be overwhelming and stressful for any canine.
Did you know that it takes a dog some time to adjust and decompress from their shelter and/or foster experience? Think about it: your dog did not ask for a new home and a whole new set of circumstances. It’s not fair of us to expect rescue dogs to happily leap into a brand new experience and fit right in. True, some of them do and luckily dogs are very adaptable. But like humans, each dog is an individual. Let’s take a look at that…
Have you heard of the 3-3-3 Rule? Many rescue organizations and shelters educate their new adopters to help them understand this rule of thumb. In a nutshell, your new dog or puppy will go through 3 separate times of adjustment.
- The first 3 days are spent learning the ropes of their new home; working through the stresses of a new environment.
- After 3 weeks comes the settling in period, where your dog is beginning to understand and work out their place in the family. They may test the waters of leadership. Their true colors might be showing itself for the first time.
- Finally, after 3 months your dog has come to understand they are home; this is their place where they belong.
So where are you at right now? Still in the honeymoon stage where you are totally 100% over the moon with your new dog? Still helping him settle into his new home?
Most of you are well on your way through the first 3 weeks by now. And if you haven’t already, it’s definitely time to kick yourself into gear and get out of your quarantine routine! Your newly adopted dog needs structure for life outside of quarantine. And your dog needs to begin settling in to the day-to-day life going forward.
Things You’ll Need to Consider…
Take several minutes to sit back and sketch out what your normal daily routine looks like. We may not know for certain yet how things are going to resume, but getting yourself back to a work schedule gradually rather than in one fell swoop will pay off.
- How long will I be at work each day?
- Will I now be working from home instead of driving to my place of employment?
- Do I need to arrange for daycare or a dog walker to come once or twice a day?
- Have I tested my new dog to see if he barks while I’m away? How are his house manners when no one is there? Does he have separation anxiety?
- Do I have a family veterinarian?
- Is my dog spayed or neutered? If not, when can I schedule and will it need to take place before daycare can be arranged?
- Are vaccines/titers up-to-date?
- How early will I need to get up each morning to walk my dog before work?
- How much time in the evening do I have to walk/train/play with my dog?
Now sketch out what your new daily routine is going to look like with your four-legged friend in the picture.
Dogs thrive best with a solid routine in place. They are less anxious when they know what to expect and when to expect it. You pretty much like to know when you get up, what time to expect dinner and when you need to leave the house. Your pupper likes to know what’s happening, too.
Now is a great time to start practicing with them – especially if you’ve been sleeping in late, staying up past midnight and hanging out with your dog all day. Begin adjusting your day-to-day routine now, before you return to work or school.
Create routines for getting up in the morning, going for walks, eating, pottying, and going to bed.
You’ve probably been home with your dog most of the time. So you may not be certain how she’s going to react when you’re absent for longer periods.
Many people will find they’ll be working from home in some capacity from now on. As unrestricted as that may sound, you will need a schedule to keep yourself on track. And you don’t want to be constantly hounded by your dog to play or snuggle whenever they want. Crate training is a perfect way to help ease that worry. It’s an essential skill all dogs need to master. Getting your new dog used to spending time in her crate happily and quietly just makes life easier for both of you.
Some dogs take easily to crate training; others are a little more challenging.
The most important point is to make your dog’s crate a place he WANTS to be. Only good things happen there. Second most important point? Your dog’s crate should not be used for extended periods of time. Dogs should not be left crated (especially without supervision) for longer than 3 hours (4 hrs MAX) at a time. Keep in mind – it’s a training tool, not a dog sitter.
And be sure and check out our post about how to crate train your new puppy.
It may not yet be apparent whether or not your new dog has some issues to deal with. Separation anxiety, fear aggression, prey drive, excessive barking, adjusting to new people and new animals, etc. may be things you haven’t come across yet.
Now is a great time to have your new dog evaluated by a highly-knowledgeable dog behavior specialist or trainer. They can help you identify any issues and get a handle on them before your new dog take the train too far down the Trouble Tracks.
No matter whether your dog is heaven-sent or a lil’ devil, your dog needs training. Of course taking time off from normalcy and staying home , you miiiiight have been a little lax in that department.
Never too late to start!
Begin with your basic obedience commands or as I like to think of them, your dog’s house manners. Sit, down, stay, come, leave it will serve all dogs well for life outside of quarantine.
If you’ve never trained a dog before, join a class! And if large gatherings still aren’t happening in your area, consider a virtual class offered by a local trainer. Also take a look at all the online classes and videos available. You can do this! Your dog will thank you later.
A word about separation anxiety/isolation distress…
I don’t have proof, but my gut instinct is telling me we’re going to be seeing a LOT of dogs and owners dealing with this behavior issue in the coming months. Our dogs have been spending lots of time with their families. They are pack animals, after all. And being with their pack is ingrained. For some dogs, the sudden change in their routines will be enough to skyrocket their distress.
What are signs of separation anxiety?
Pacing, whining, drooling, barking, chewing or scratching at doors, windows, etc.
Difference between separation anxiety and isolation anxiety? Separation anxiety occurs when a dog is bonded to one particular person. Isolation anxiety occurs when a dog is separated from ANYONE.
I’m just gonna lay it out here: a dog with separation anxiety is not ‘sweet’ or ‘cute’ or showing you ‘how much he loves you.’ He’s exhibiting a real fear in an unhealthy way. It doesn’t feel good to him and it won’t feel good to you when you come home to a destroyed livingroom.
Before you and your dog take on life outside of quarantine, test your new rescue dog to see how he handles the absence of people in the house.
Technology like a Furbo Pet Camera can help you monitor your dog’s behavior from the comfort of your driveway. If she exhibits any separation behaviors, it’s time to address them now.
- Begin slowly, one step at a time. Prepare your dog by going through your ‘getting ready to leave’ routine. Your attitude should be one of No Big Deal. Grab keys, your handbag, etc. But you’re not going to leave. By doing this, you are diffusing your dog’s cues of “Uh-oh, they’re getting ready to leave me!” Do this a few times per day without actually leaving.
- Change it up. Next time, go through your routine but this time, walk out the door for just 30 seconds and come back in. Vary the time you stand outside the door or sit in the car… or don’t leave the house at all.
- Mix up your routine. Do each cue in a different order. Shower, then walk the dog, then eat. Next day, do your routine in the opposite order.
- Most dogs who are well tired out are less anxious than those that have a lot of energy.
- Many dogs do well with being distracted by a yummy frozen Kong treat. Have some on hand. Give your dog his Kong a few minutes before you actually depart. She may be so busy working on it she won’t notice you left.
- Consider using a calming spray or pheromone dispensers.
- Some dogs also appreciate a TV or radio being on while you’re away.
Don’t hesitate to contact a trainer to help with this if it is a serious issue. Our neighbor’s beagle chewed through their BATHROOM WALL!!!
What about YOU???
Let’s keep it real here. You’ve got some adjusting to do, too. You’re going to have some emotions that bubble up to the surface when you’re no longer housebound.
- Are you the guilt-ridden dog parent? Wracked with guilt for leaving your new dog when you go back to work? You’ve bonded so much in the past few weeks. It can feel like you’re betraying that bond.
- Maybe you’re suddenly starting to feel overwhelmed? Adding a new dog to the family while you’re home and life is on pause is one thing. Now you’ve got responsibilities and new routines to figure out and work around.
- And getting really real here – maybe you are questioning your decision in adopting a new dog at this time? Dogs bring lots of love but they also bring lots of work. Cheeky individuals! They don’t always act like you think they will. Plus now you might be feeling a bit tied-down…
No judgment here. These are all valid and normal feelings given the unprecedented times we are living.
Give yourself some grace. And do not think twice about reaching out for some help.
Guilty dog-mom syndrome hits us all sometimes. Guess what? It’s also normal for new baby parents, too. Your dog will be fine. He loves you and will continue to love you as long as you both spend time together when you can. Your dog can be a top priority as well as career and family.
Overwhelment takes all of us at one time or another. You can do this! Having a new dog in the mix adds a few more steps. But with extra planning it is totally do-able. Take it one step at a time while you get your footing. You can adjust along the way.
And if you’re doubting yourself and your newly adopted dog, I can tell you that’s also a normal feeling. “OMG – what have I gotten myself into?!?” Buyers remorse? Except we’re dealing with a living, breathing, feeling creature who is investing a lot of trust in you. Your job as the human is to make the best decision for both of you.
A professional trainer can help work you and your dog through any behavioral issues. You’ve got help only a phone call away.
Quarantine was a novel experience. Probably one we never want to repeat! Staying home and spending the day with a dog to love helped our stress levels for sure. Now we’ll be embarking on a life outside of home. That’s what your dog’s ‘new normal’ will be. Whatever you can do now to help ease the transition for both you and your dog will pay off enormously in the long run. Your newly adopted dog will love life outside of quarantine.
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