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When should you get your dog ready for a 'return to normal'? Yesterday.

The pandemic gave many dogs more time with their owners, but experts say it’s time for owners and their pets to learn to be apart.
Sunrise in New York
A woman walks with her dog near the Hudson River during sunrise in New York on May 16.Islam Dogru / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Julie Shade got a dog in April because she felt like she finally had time to take care of a puppy.

She had been working from home successfully for a year, moved to the Bay Area from Baltimore to live with her boyfriend and saved up money she could use for veterinary expenses. Her puppy, Echo, a miniature American shepherd, has been a joyous addition to her life.

But when her job in Baltimore said it expected her to be in the office four to six times a year for at least a week at a time, she was taken aback.

“I didn’t think things would open up so fast,” Shade, 25, said. “I have never been away from Echo, at all.”

Shade said giving up Echo is inconceivable; she committed to taking care of her and loves the dog deeply. But she is one of the many new dog owners who have some big adjustments to make.

Many people added dogs to their families during the pandemic, and reports that they are now returning their dogs to shelters as the country opens back up are overblown. Most people who got a dog in the pandemic are in a situation like Shade's: The dog won’t be going anywhere, but both the owner and the animal will need to adjust their relationship to each other — and the outside world.

Julie Shade adopted Echo during the pandemic.Courtesy of Julie Shade

For people who got dogs while working from home, the time to start helping them adjust to the post-pandemic world was yesterday, said New York City dog trainer Shelby Semel.

Pandemic puppies and even dogs people had before the pandemic need to get adjusted to not having their owner around all the time.

Semel told clients throughout the pandemic that it was important for them to find ways to give their dogs alone time, even if it meant putting the dog in a different room and closing the door.

“Pushing your dog too far too fast can have the opposite effect,” she said. If you are returning to the office in September, start the training now.

“Even though they haven’t wanted to be left alone all day, an awful lot of dogs don’t want to be with us 24/7,” said Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil, a veterinary behaviorist and clinical assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

Rest time is important for dogs, who don’t want to miss out on the action but also shouldn’t be on call all day.

Still, for people headed back to the office, they should make sure their dog has some programming during the day.

“Change is hard for dogs,” Borns-Weil said. “They need routine,” like a dog walker or a day care.

Dogs also need socialization, something many sorely lacked during the pandemic. Semel recently went to a client’s house to help train a 4- to 5-month-old puppy with normal issues, like nipping.

“When I walked in the door, the puppy actually hid,” she said. “The owners had no idea this was even an issue.” The dog owners told Semel they only had one person over since getting the dog, and that was a little while ago.

Now, she asks all her clients how often they have people over, something she didn’t need to ask before the pandemic.

“We’re definitely seeing a lot of dogs that weren’t exposed to other dogs or people coming into their home, so sometimes even though they have liked people outside, they aren’t used to people coming in,” she said.

Before the pandemic, she held a “wallflower class” for under-socialized adult dogs once a year. In 2021, she’s already held three.

In the last six months, Semel’s demand has tripled. She and the many other trainers in Manhattan now often have three- to eight-week waitlists before they can take on new clients. Semel has hosted virtual trainings throughout the pandemic and recently hosted a restaurant-training class.

“Now that there is all this outdoor seating that didn’t exist before in New York City, people want perfectly well-mannered dogs to bring to brunch,” Semel said. “That’s something that would have never existed pre-pandemic.”

If you’re worried about how the pandemic has affected your dog, “now is the time to set the dog up for success,” Borns-Weil said. Don’t forget, the pandemic hasn’t been all bad for dogs, and neither will a return to normal life.

“For the dogs that had too much togetherness, I think when the kids go back to school, they’re gonna breathe a sigh of relief,” Borns-Weil said.

Since Shade’s boyfriend is a medical student who is often out of the house 16 hours a day, she will be putting Echo in a nearby dog hotel when she has to travel for work.

“I’m sure she will have a great time,” Shade said. “I’ll probably be more upset than her.”