Are Pet Parents Returning Dogs to Shelters?

The latest data shows that pets have helped people get cope with and get through the pandemic. The Better Cities for PetsTM report for 2020 showed that 86% of pet parents said that one of the best benefits of having a pet during the pandemic was the companionship. Other benefits included lessening stress or anxiety, alleviating boredom, and giving pet owners a hopeful outlook on life. If the latest research shows dogs have helped people get through the pandemic, then why does it sound like they are suddenly being returned to the shelters? Luckily, based on data collected by the ASPCA, most pet owners are not considering returning their pets who now feel like part of the family! 

However, as more restrictions lift, travel normalizes, and people begin working outside the home again, pets' lives will change drastically and could cause some concern with pet parents. 

Some of these concerns may arise from:

  • Owner stress and anxiety or guilt over leaving their dog
  • Lack of preparing a dog for a new schedule and the resulting behavioral changes that may occur
  • A misunderstanding of the impact this change in routine has on a dog

Coping with Stress or Guilt

Many dog parents may feel stressed about leaving their dog now that they may be returning to a pre-pandemic work routine. This may mean heading back to an office on a daily basis, traveling, a shift change, increase in hours, or even just leaving the house regularly. Dog parents who have spent the past year at home now worry their dog won’t cope well with these changes. They may also feel guilty about leaving their dogs.

The reality is that many dog parents do all of these things and you can make it work with your dog!

Things to ease your stress or guilt:

  • Get cameras for your home so you can check in on your dog
  • Make time in the morning before leaving the house to take your dog out for exercise and play time
    • A tired pup will be more likely to rest instead of stress when you leave
  • If your dog enjoys being around other dogs and people, try a reputable dog day care like Camp Bow Wow®
    • Dogs separated by weight and temperament
    • Cameras to check in on your pup during the day
    • Flexible drop off and pick up times
    • Dogs spend the majority of their time in play yards with their friends and a Camp Counselor
    • Lets dog parents focus on their day and leave worry at the door
    • Additional services offered such as enrichment, baths, grooming, training, and retail options
  • If your dog isn’t as social, consider a licensed and bonded dog walker to stop by and give your dog exercise and attention
  • Plan regular quality time with your dog through a training class, outing like a park or hike, or visit a dog-friendly restaurant or brewery

How to Prepare Your Dog Now

Some dog parents may not have focused on preparing their dog for changes in their schedules and routine. However, it’s not too late! You can still help ease your dog into a new routine.

Other ways you could help your dog transition to a new schedule include:

  • Ask if you could work a hybrid schedule or partial days at home to ease back into the routine for both you and your dog
    • An adjustment to start or finish times at work may also provide you time to prepare your dog for being alone or get home without too much time being away
  • Some companies are seeking ways to be dog-friendly, so ask if this is a possibility for your job
  • Create a buddy system of friends or family members with dogs
    • For those who may work opposite shifts or different days, considering trading dog visits to help each other’s dogs adjust and spend less time alone

Understanding the Impact

What people may not understand is how difficult it is for a dog to adjust to a new schedule. On average, it takes 3 months for a dog to adjust to a new schedule and 6 months to be fully comfortable in a new environment and routine. Dogs who have adjusted to the new normal of being home with their families may very well take time to adjust to yet another new routine. However, there are actions dog owners can take to help minimize this stress and support their dog in adapting to the new schedule.

Dog parents should think about how they felt adjusting to all of the changes made to normal life over the past year and understand how change also affects their dogs, especially since the dogs don’t understand the reason behind it. While people are set on getting back to pre-pandemic norms, to dogs, the pandemic became normal and they have to again adjust to something brand new.

As a dog parent, support your pet adjusting to a new routine by:

  • Monitoring your dog's eating habits and behavior
    • A change in appetite, loss of interest in formerly loved activities, clinginess, or inability to relax, among other changes, could hint that your pup isn't adjusting as well as you hoped
  • Keep up with their health needs
    • Make sure you get your pet checked out by your veterinarian if you notice any changes like those above
    • While changes could occur due to the stress of a new routine, they could also be symptoms of underlying disease and it's important to rule that out
  • Opt for gradual change
    • Wherever possible, keep change to a minimum and only change one thing at a time
    • For example, if you now leave the house to go to work instead of working from home, try to keep other aspects of your pet's schedule the same such as feeding and exercise times
    • Gradually incorporate additional changes and allow time for your pet to adjust to each
  • Be patient!
    • Dogs can be very adaptable and resilient, but drastic change takes time to adjust to
  • Set up your dog for success with the tips and additional blog posts mentioned above
  • If you find that your dog is not coping well with change, consider hiring a professional dog trainer or behavior consultant to help you work with your dog in a safe, humane, and ethical way