Dog Talk: Prepare your pet for your return to the office after MCO


  • Animals
  • Monday, 01 Jun 2020

Learn to play some games together that the dog can play when it is alone. The most obvious of these are puzzle treat toys. — 123rf.com

While humans feel the restrictions of the MCO, pets have been enjoying themselves. Dogs are very social in nature, and for them, having everyone together is wonderful. They get lots of petting, and there are many more people who are up for a walk, even if the weather isn't nice.

In our street, the pugs, the Gremlins and the Huskies don't see much of a difference because their parents work from home, are retired and take their dogs to work with them. So the MCO hasn't made a huge difference.

However, Summer, a three-year-old rescue, is having a total blast. She usually stays home with grandma and grandpa while mum and the rest of the family go to work. But for the last two months, she's had the whole lot at home. And, from the happy tail and lolling tongue as we Skype each other, she is in her element.

"Before Covid, my schedule was quite free," says Liew Pei Yi, a music teacher in Subang Jaya, and mum to Summer. "My work took me out in the afternoons and the evenings. But in the last two months, we've all been at home."

Summer adores it because the little white dog had a scary start in life. Having landed with a kind family, she's now very much attached to her mum.

For Summer, Covid has been brilliant. However, Liew is concerned. "She sticks to me all day long. I'm a bit worried that when I go back to work, she'll have separation anxiety."

At present, the whole family of five are in the same house. Once life returns to normal, Pei Yi and her sister will return to work while her brother will continue his schooling. While the parents will still be home, Summer won't see them as good substitutes.

"She won't interact with my parents unless there's food," Pei Yi observes. "She's a one-person dog."

Like people, dogs need a lot of social contact. When in the wild, they live in packs, hanging out together all day, searching for food as a group, and sleeping together too. To be in the pack is to be comfortable.

As dogs have had the comfort of the whole family around them for a few months now, pet owners are concerned that change will upset their pets. Dogs won't understand that work is resuming, and they may feel abandoned and lonely.

For Summer, her pack is a single person. It's not unusual with pets, and some breeds like German Shepherds and Collies are also famed for being strongly attached to one person in their lives.

Normally, it would not be an issue as Summer would be used to the rhythm of her mum's comings and goings. However, during the Covid, the little dog has had her mum's attention the entire time. Going back to absences is therefore a scary prospect.

"I'm trying to get her not to stick to me 24/7, like I make an effort to go to the bathroom without her," she giggles. "It's not much but it's about all I can do at the moment."

When Summer first came to live with Liew, she was a very nervous puppy. It took her a long time to adjust, and the family noted she gained a lot of confidence from going to obedience training class with her mum and then from visiting the park.

Liew is taking that history into account while planning the exit from the MCO. "When things open up again, I'll probably start slowly. We'll start with some visits to the park, and take it easy over a month. Hopefully, easing her into it will help."

If you think you are going back to work in the office, and you are concerned for your pet, here are some ideas.

Learn to play some games together that the dog can play when it is alone. The most obvious of these are puzzle treat toys.

These toys are hollow so that you can fill them with treats. Simple ones just have the hole and your pet has to lick the centre. Others have an opening that dribbles out a bit of treat if the dog paws at it the correct way.

The best of these are made of super strong rubber that is sized according to your dog's mouth: extra large for the big breeds like Rottweilers, and extra small for the Chihuahuas.

They should be indestructible and well tested – you don't want your pet to ingest bits of broken chew toy!

Also look for toys that have different settings: easy for dogs just learning how to use them, all the way to difficult for super clever types like Poodles.

When getting a puzzle toy, it's important to show your pet how it works, and to play with them until they understand what it's for. Then, when you go to work, you can hand it over, knowing your furry will be happily busy for a few hours.

A second option is to plan for extra walks while you are out. Introduce a dog walker now, so that the pet knows this person. Then, when you go back to work, have your walker call regularly to provide companionship for your pet.

When scouting around for a suitable person, do be creative. It can be a professional but you might also co-opt a neighbour who works from home and who wants an excuse for regular exercise, a senior who wants companionship but not full responsibility for a pet, or a younger person who wants to earn a little pocket money. Even better, get a rota going!

If your pet is sociable and enjoys being with other dogs, then setting up play dates with companion dogs can provide happy companionship. There are also pet shops that organise creches for pets.

An extension of that idea is to adopt a second dog. If your pet would love it, you can afford it, and you have a few more weeks where you know you are working from home, this may be the best time to expand the family.


Tips for using treat-dispensing puzzle toys

Dogs love to chew and if they're chewing the toy, it's better for your shoes and furniture! — 123rf.comDogs love to chew and if they're chewing the toy, it's better for your shoes and furniture! — 123rf.com

There are lots of different puzzle toys for dogs on the market. Look in your pet shop or online for search terms such as "dog puzzle toy" and "dog treat toy dispenser".

Some treat-dispensing toys are very simple, with just a hollow centre that you stuff with treats. Others are super interactive and encourage dogs to open various compartments or to twist and move the toy in certain ways.

Treat toys are called enrichment activities because they help your pet keep active. In the wild, dogs work for their dinner, so they are busy for a lot of the day. While sitting at home is luxurious, having a treat toy engages them in a natural way.

As a second advantage, dogs love to chew and if they're chewing the toy, it's better for your shoes and furniture!

Ideally, buy two or three so that your pet has a variety of activities. Then you can go to work and leave them with one toy one day and another the next.

If you have a marble floor and no rugs, you can stuff the toy with any kind of treat and your pet will deal with smears and so on. But if you have rugs or furniture, stick to solid treats like mini biscuits.

Spreadable treats include the very basic, mixing regular kibble with a little tinned dog food. It will smell right and you know your dog will love it.

Many people love alternative spreads such as peanut butter, cooked pumpkin and mashed banana. As a bonus, you can freeze hollow treat toys so that your pet has to spend extra time licking it out.

One word of warning: do be very careful with things like peanut butter, jams and other spreads because many are laced with Xylitol, a sugar substitute that is a deadly poison to dogs. It is safest to stick to reputable dog treats and to fresh veg mixes that you prepare yourself.

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