PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – For many residents of the southland, one of the silver linings of the pandemic was new dog ownership, but as COVID-19 related safety protocols are being lifted and people are returning to work outside the home, many pups and their owners are experiencing separation anxiety.
"Dogs are very emotional creatures," Janine Pierce, a dog trainer and owner of J9's K9s in Canoga Park.
Pierce, who helps dog owners navigate the often complex relationship between pet and owner, said that she's been seeing approximately 200 dogs a week lately, with the past six weeks being the busiest she's ever been.
"Every single dog trainer that I know are swamped. All these dogs that people brought home during the pandemic are entering into adolescence," she said.
The Canoga Park trainer added that as more businesses open up and people head back to work, it's been really hard on the dogs and as a result their owners.
Some dog-owners have turned to crates as a way to protect their homes from a bored or anxious pooch alone with a houseful of chewable furniture, shoes and anything within reach. Pierce said that there is a right way and a wrong way to institute crate training.
"You never ever want to put a dog in any kind of confinement to punish them," she said. "We always want any kind of confinement to be really positive for dogs."
The best way to achieve this, according to Pierce, is to give dogs a lot of things to do while they're in the crate, like long-last chews or treats that make the confined space less like a prison and more like a safe, comfort zone.
"There were many dogs over the Fourth of July weekend that immediately went and laid down in their crates because they knew that was their safe place."
Pierce also had advice on how to get ahead of separation anxiety in dogs before it starts, which can be especially useful for those who have yet to return to the workplace, but know it's coming soon.
"Most dogs actually start to become anxious long before you really walk out the door, you know when they see you picking up your keys or getting ready to go," she said.
What works, Pierce said, is to pick up keys, put on shoes and perform other activities normally reserved for leaving the home randomly, throughout the day, but without actually leaving. Doing this regularly before actually leaving each day is a good way to desensitize anxiety-inducing behavior in dogs.
For bored or lonely dogs not in a crate, Pierce said she tells clients to have at least 20 toys for every dog that they have so that they can stay occupied while alone.
Among the most popular for dogs are food-delivery toys, where dogs have to work to get the food or treats inside of the toy.
"Dogs enjoy food more when they've got to work for it," Pierce said.
To get the most out of the time you do have with your dog, taking classes and teaching tricks is an excellent to increase the bond between pet and owner. According to Pierce, simply playing with your dog is an excellent way to alleviate anxiety.
"They're definitely emotional, sentient creatures," Pierce said. "No doubt about it."
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