Dog looks out window while sitting on rug

Home Alone: Your Post-Pandemic Guide to Ease Your Dog’s Anxiety When You Return to Work

Is your dog ready to stay home alone when you head back into the office? This free step-by-step plan will help you and your pup get back on track with a regular routine.

This past year, many people have been working from home with their pets right by their side (or on their keyboard, or under their office chair) and these pets aren't used to being home alone the way they were in the past—new puppies may have never been home alone all day before!

In 2020 and 2021 pets have been adopted at an amazing rate, clearing shelters across the country. In fact, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) COVID-19 Pulse Study, more than 12 million households said they had gotten a new pet by the end of 2020.

As COVID-19 vaccinations ramp up in the U.S. and pet parents start to think about return-to-work plans, is your dog ready for the transition back to "normal" life? Or maybe the better question is are YOU ready to be separated from your dog?

If the answer is, "I can't imagine ever being away from my fur baby all day again," the team at Daily Paws has put together a free 14-day plan designed by a certified professional dog trainer and backed by animal behavior experts to help you get your pup back on track post-pandemic.

inforgraphic of a 14-Day Plan to going back to work
Credit: Julia Bohan-Upadhyay

Download a printable PDF of this chart here to hang on your fridge and keep track of your progress!

Day 1: Recognize the signs of stress and anxiety in your dog.

It's important to recognize signs that your dog is feeling anxious or stressed. Paying close attention to your dog's behavior and body language when you leave is a good indicator about how they will feel while you are gone.

Watch for signals such as trembling or shaking, cowering, barking or howling, seeking attention, having accidents, excessive drooling, heavy breathing, jumping, or pacing.

Learn more about separation anxiety
Forlorn pug lays on floor and looks at camera
Credit: nuraann / Adobe Stock

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Day 2: Create a safe space for your dog.

To keep your canine friend safe and happy while you are away, create a special safe space in your home they can hang out in. Your bedroom or kitchen are great options that can be easily modified with baby gates and dog-friendly furniture.

Use a baby gate to separate your dog's space from the rest of the home. In a quiet corner, place your dog's kennel or crate, favorite mat or dog bed and blanket, and a water bowl they can easily access. A white noise machine can help keep your canine feeling calm, too.

Puppy tip: Kitchens make great places for puppies, depending on the floor material. Try placing a puppy pee pad in one section of the space and an open kennel or crate in another.

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Day 3: Provide enrichment toys to prevent boredom.

Adult dog plays with dog puzzle indoors

Litter your pup's safe area with treats they can sniff out and find when you leave, or offer them a treat-filled toy they can lick and chew safely. Better yet: Prepare a treat puzzle!

Credit: Sandor Gora / Adobe Stock

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Day 4: Dog-proof your home.

No matter the age of your dog, your home needs to be a safe space for them. Spend time going through each room and dog-proofing the space.

Specifically, pick up everything from floors, close doors to all closets and cabinets, and consider adding baby-safe locks to cabinet doors. Use baby gates to block off areas full of things your dog might chew. (A kid's room in particular is full of tiny things that can become dangerous for curious dogs!)

Checklist

Day 5: Hire help if you need it.

To help reduce your dog's time spent alone, and prevent boredom, consider hiring an experienced dog walker who can come each day and take your dog for exercise, or take your pup to doggy daycare a few times per week.

Pug and french bulldog go on a walk together
Credit: MightyPics / Getty

Day 6: Teach your dog new cues.

Teaching your dog some essential skills and cues is a great way to engage their brain before you leave each day, leaving them to feel a bit more at ease and even a little tired.

Here are some can-do cues you and your dog will have fun learning together:

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Day 7: Create a consistent schedule.

Poodle mix licks lips while human gets ready to set down food bowl

Feeding your dog at the same time each day, letting them outside at the same time, and walking them at the same time are beneficial routines for any dog.

Puppy tip: If you haven't done so yet with your new pup, now is the time to establish a consistent routine. Feeding, potty time, and exercising should take place at the same time each day, and it's crucial for a growing puppy to have that stability from the start.

How to set a daily schedule for your puppy
Credit: Sally Anscombe / Getty

Week 1 Complete!

You're halfway there! Check off all the progress you've made, and celebrate with an impromptu living room dance paw-ty.

Checklist

Ready for week two? In the second week of this program, you'll be focusing on practicing leaving your pet for increasing periods of time to get them accustomed to being home alone.

Day 8: Make crate time enjoyable.

Many dogs benefit from the use of a kennel or crate that is appropriately fitted to their size. It's crucial you spend the time teaching your dog to enjoy their kennel or crate and never leave them inside for longer than four hours at a time.

Australian puppy plays with ball in crate while laying down
Credit: Angela Auclair / Getty

Day 9: Practice crate stays while at home.

Chihuahua mix in blue sweater sits in crate

Crate stays should be in short increments (around 10–20 minutes at a time at first) as long as your pup remains happy and relaxed.

Enjoy a meal while your dog hangs out in their new safe space. Turn on their fan or white noise machine, offer some treat-filled toys, and leave them in the space while you eat. As soon as you finish, let your dog out of the space and then immediately have them go outside for a potty break.

Repeat this again next time you have a meal, do a load of laundry, or watch an episode of a TV show.

Credit: Hillary Kladke / Getty

Day 10: Go outside (alone).

Black woman gardens outside
Credit: Maskot / Getty

The first day you practice leaving your dog at home alone is very short—just go outside and grab the mail or walk around your yard for a few minutes and then immediately return.

This is a great day to start journaling, too. It's helpful to keep a notebook of your dog's body language signals right before and right after you leave your home.

  • What do your dog's ears look like?
  • What is their tail doing?
  • Are they panting or drooling?

Keeping a journal and paying attention to changes in your dog's body language goes a long way in helping you determine how your dog is handling the separation from you day-to-day.

Day 11: Walk around the block (alone).

Increase your time and distance away by going for a walk for a few minutes while your dog stays inside.

You can leave your dog crated, roaming free in the house, or put in their dog-friendly room—whichever place you plan to keep your dog when you actually leave to go to work.

Woman in white shoes walks on boardwalk
Credit: Maya Sofi Fadilah / EyeEm / Getty

Day 12: Get your dog used to the sights and sounds of leaving.

Close up of keys on hook

Assess your dog's progress so far: Do they seem used to you leaving? Any signs of anxiety or stress? If not, then today is the day to spend more time away and add in new components of leaving.

If you will always drive to work, you need to practice the sights and sounds associated with this. Grab the keys, go out to your car, start it up, and even back down the drive. When you return to your dog, put the keys down and don't fret over them.

Credit: Amir Mukhtar / Getty

Day 13: Go for a drive (alone).

Time for a quick drive! Leave your dog at home and make a spin to the nearest coffee spot and get a latte, make a quick Target run, or go fill up the tank with gas then return home.

Close up of hands on a steering wheel
Credit: Jill Ferry Photography / Getty

Day 14: Increase your time away.

Cute Maltese dog relaxing on sofa at modern living room

Now comes the hardest part. You will leave for a longer duration, starting at one hour and then slowly over the next several days to a week increase your time away to four hours.

Stressing about leaving your dog alone for a long time? There are a lot of pet tech options to look into that can help you set your pup up for success and give you the option to stay connected throughout the day.

Credit: mixetto / Getty

Week 2 Complete!

Check off everything you've accomplished.

Checklist

You did it! But you're not quite done just yet. Your relationship with your pet becomes stronger the more you nurture it, and getting your dog completely comfortable with being alone takes time.

Now take the tips you've learned and practice continuous enrichment to strengthen your bond with your dog—and make sure she's living a happy and healthy life every day.