“My biggest personal and professional concern is that if the new pet has one single issue or one difficulty, back to the pound they go.”
It’s the dark reversal of fortune for dogs and cats adopted through the ‘Empty the Shelter’ movement, one that dog trainer and behavioral consultant Lisa Moore is anxious to prevent. Pet lovers suddenly stuck at home thanks to Shelter in Place directives added new pets to their families and spent nearly every waking hour with them. As more people are returning to work, those animals will be home alone, possibly for the first time in their lives. The sudden change could unsettle some pets until they adjust to their ‘new normal.’
Cat behaviorist and author Marilyn Krieger agrees. “Cats definitely can miss their people! You don’t just go to work and leave them alone” as if they’re impervious to loneliness.
For decades, Moore and Krieger have helped dogs and cats and their
owners develop strong bonds and work through issues by using positive, force-free training methods. In this special consult with The Living Series Magazines, they’re sharing their best strategies so you can help your pet adapt, and thrive.
It’s mostly up to you:Your dog’s success “depends on your willingness to help him work through problems,” says Moore. In Naughty No More! Change Unwanted Behaviors Through Positive Reinforcement, Krieger says owners have the power to ‘provide an acceptable alternative then reward [the cat]…instead of having the relationship become strained and tense.’1
The Power of the P’s: “To be emotionally complete, dogs need to be able to be alone,” says Moore. Practice calm alone time while you’re still home by putting the dog in a separate area. Start with short periods then build up to longer durations.Preparethe dog and his environment before you leave by a short period of vigorous aerobic exercise to “drain the batteries.” Create Positive associations by preloading the crate with a favorite chewie or high-value treat he’ll only get when he’s staying on his own.
Cats too benefit from an enriched environment, says Krieger. Preparethe house with a ‘Treasure Hunt:’ hide individual bits of dry food or treats throughout the house or in paper bags (cut the handles off first.) Practicethe cycle of hunt-eat-sleep by tossing the bits down stairs or across the floor for your cat to chase. A short session will tire most cats. Create a Positiveassociation by imbuing a hand towel or small clothing item with your scent and leaving it in kitty’s favorite nap area.
The Gang’s All Here: Company can be good, Moore and Krieger agree, depending on the individual pet. Moore says while some dogs thrive on the non-stop action of a playgroup, other dogs prefer to lounge in peace until their family returns.
Whether your resident cat will appreciate a new ‘buddy’ depends on the individual, Krieger parallels Moore. If you’re thinking of introducing a cat to your resident feline, take it very slow, Krieger cautions.
Both experts say home visits by a trusted pet sitter can break up the tedium. Soothing music or television playing in the background can help too.
Be Boring on Purpose:Make leaving and returning a ‘non-event’ so otherwise calm pets don’t feed off your emotions and become over-stimulated.
Take a Breath Then Call For Help:Signs your pet is distressed include soiling, destructive behavior, or repetitive licking or grooming to the point of injury. Moore reminds pet owners your pet isn’t doing this to punish you. “This is the only way he can express his fear and anxiety.” Immediate management can include staggering work schedules among family members so the animal spends fewer hours alone; a pet sitter; day care. Then get professional guidance. Through the combination of medication, behavior modification, and training—both pet and family!—separation anxiety can usually be successfully managed. “You want to help him and advocate for him,” Moore says. An owner’s commitment can be the difference between life and death for the animal, Krieger writes.2
‘Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be,’ wrote poet Robert Browning. Moore and Krieger are both working to ensure that in the challenging times ahead, every owner has the resources to ensure she and her pets can live a life that’s better, together.
Suggested resources and references:
Dog Training by Kikopup series:
-videos for the pet owner, presented by trainer Emily Larlham
book and video specialist retailer focused on positive reinforcement techniques. Many resources available under $10.
–1, 2: Naughty No More! Change Unwanted Behaviors Through Positive Reinforcement, Marilyn Krieger. CompanionHouse Books, 2011. Available in print and digital formats.