Precautions to Take When Reintegrating the Pack
By Michelle Semanski
People all over the country are returning to work and getting back into what was once their regular routine. For many, this routine involves dropping their dog off at daycare before they head to work for eight or more hours.
Over the last few months, most dogs have become accustomed to their owners being home (and likely waiting on them hand and foot). It may be a multiple-dog home, or they could have had “social distancing play dates” with a neighbor’s or a family member’s dog, but for the most part, they have been exclusively spending time with their human family.
Like children returning from summer break to a new school year, these dogs may have changed a little. Throwing all the “regulars” back into their respective playgroups may not result in the same contented group of dogs that you were accustomed to when they all were together on a regular basis, with only short breaks to recuperate.
Some of your regular daycare dogs may have been coming to you since they were newly acquired puppies, leaving little time for them to get settled into the role of sole (dog) pack member. So returning them back into a pack of their own kind, with limited individual attention from the humans, might be a bit of a wakeup call for those whose crave that human connection and have become accustomed to receiving it regularly.
On the other hand, you’ll have those who couldn’t be happier to be back with their own kind; neck-biting, chasing and playing keep-away. Sometimes, no human can replicate that same-species interaction.
So what should you do with those who come back, thinking they are king of the castle after being pampered by their home-bound humans for past several months, or suddenly possess a new behavior that may cause a hiccup in your once harmonious pack?
First, you should reintroduce dogs slowly. Don’t just unleash your regular groups and expect things to return to normal. Start with a few dogs who have a good relationship and slowly add in other dogs that they had already been used to playing with. If an issue arises with a dog who may have gained a little more confidence over their at-home period, step in to redirect the dog without giving it any additional attention—which is what it is likely looking for. If you continually have this problem with the same dogs (likely adolescents who outgrew that “puppy innocence”), it may be a good idea to incorporate them into a new group with better suited personalities.
Another thing you should be careful with that may have changed in your regular dogs is resource guarding. Dogs that have been without “competition” for a few months may have adapted to not sharing toys—or regress from being willing “sharers”. A dog without canine siblings that has been allowed full access to and ownership of all toys, bones and chew toys may not be as willing to allow another dog in the group to take a toy from them in your daycare, as they may have before. It’s best to reintroduce toys slowly and not allow a single dog to take ownership of a toy intended for group play.
Separation anxiety is another new issue you may face due to this extended period of time dogs have had with their humans at home. Dogs who may not have been as attached to “their person” before may have made a change over the last few months. They may not be as eager to join back in with their buddies knowing their person is out there without them. The best solution to this is to simply continue with business as usual.
If a dog previously enjoyed participating in daycare without much of a sign that they’d rather be with their human, chances are, they can return to that mindset. However, if this continues, and you have a dog showing no interest of joining back in with the group after a period of time, it may be best to have a conversation with the owner about whether daycare is the best option.
With those dogs on the other end of the spectrum, who are simply elated to be back with their buddies again, you might expect an adjustment period for them as well. Obedience and manners may go completely out the window once they are reunited with their long lost friends. Be patient and keep an extra close eye on them to make sure they’re not causing any issues with the above-mentioned, not-so-happy-to-be-back category.
The early part of 2020 has taken a toll on all of us—and our dogs and those of our clients weren’t spared. While for most dogs, it may have seemed like the best possible outcome; their humans get to stay home all day with them. But dogs thrive on routine, and this has certainly thrown off their routine.
So accept your daycare clients back with open arms, but be prepared for some small behavior changes to show up—even in those who may have been your perfect daycare participants prior to the pandemic.