In the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola film “Apocalypse Now,” Robert Duvall’s character Col. Kilgore says, “Someday, this war will end.” He then looks away from the camera wistfully hoping just maybe he will be wrong.
It’s a great scene and one we will all face soon as the COVID-19 pandemic winds down and we need to leave our pets at home once again. Instead of Col. Kilgore feeling the anxiety of impending irrelevance, it will be our pets who wonder if they matter.
Likely, veterinarians will be getting a number of calls for pets doing destructive things at home or being injured for chewing on electrical cords. Some will attack the blinds and windows wanting to see if they can see you somewhere.
Most of this can be prevented by beginning now. Dogs should be crate trained. A dog, when trained, finds the confines of their crate to be calming and safe. Think of it as their den. They tend to turn off looking for you, but only if they know you are coming back. Once they do know that, even if it is eight hours, most will do fine.
Ideally, crate training begins when they are puppies. Later all that needs to be said is, “kennel up,” and in they go, voluntarily.
It will be harder if the dog is an adult with no prior crate training. Still, it can be done. HillsPet, the same people more well known as Hill’s Pet Nutrition offer an excellent read on the subject here: www.hillspet.com/dog-care/training/crate-training-an-older-dog.
Before a number of you stop reading because you think dog crates are jail cells, hang on just a bit more. Crate training your dog prepares them for safety and emergency preparedness issues including simple things like the basement flooding or the wind knocks your roof off.
You can travel more safely with your pooch and trips to the veterinarian are easier. If your pet needs to be confined for injuries or illness, having them crate trained is one less stress they have to deal with. And finally, if your dog is stressed by wind storms, fireworks or thunder, the crate can help then, too.
For the separation anxiety part, start early leaving your dog behind at your home for short periods of time. Gradually work up with tiny amounts of treats for rewards. I use a single small kibble nugget. Over time, the treat can be replaced with the abundant praise you should heap on each time.
By all means, don’t beat or berate the pooch after you get home hours after they chewed up, say, a pillow. They can’t put the two things together. Over time, such actions on your part will make them associate your coming home with punishment for something they don’t recall. Always motivate with high value treats versus strong punishments.
If things are bad or even dangerous for your dog as they express separation anxiety, you may have to work with your veterinarian. So, for example, if they suddenly start spotting urine around the house, your veterinarian will need to rule out a urinary tract infection first. If it coincides with your return to work, it may be a separation matter.
Working together, you may discover your dog needs some short-term medication for separation anxiety and you may need to work with them more, too. Your veterinarian and some of their staff will know how to help.
Before leaving home and going back to work, think about your pets ahead of time. Dogs are descendant from pack animals and you are part of the pack.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email firstname.lastname@example.org.