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Preparing Pups For The Post-Pandemic Life

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

News about vaccines coming online has been a bit of hopeful news during this long period of uncertainty and sadness, but - and we have to keep saying this - even if all goes smoothly, experts say most Americans won't have access to the vaccines until sometime in the spring or summer. Still, it can't hurt to start planning for a time when some semblance of normalcy can return. And when that happens, it won't be just the humans that will have to adjust. We're talking about all your fur babies who've gotten used to having their humans in the house with them all the time. So we want to take a moment now to consider what that might be like for dogs.

ALEXANDRA HOROWITZ: The interesting thing to remember, I think, is that they don't know what's happening.

MARTIN: That is Alexandra Horowitz. She is the director of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College. And she says if you have a dog, now is a good time to start thinking about how to ease your furry friend into a new reality, even one still months away.

HOROWITZ: Right now, their expectation is you're around all the time. If they want to find you, they know where to find you. And if that's not going to be the rest of their life, you have to start creating a new expectation. Like, you know, you go to the other room, and then you come back, and it's no big deal. You leave the house for a few minutes, and you come back, and it's no big deal. And gradually, you know, with baby steps get them used to the notion that they're going to be spending time by themselves.

MARTIN: The key, says Horowitz, is to think ahead, something she is trying to do with her own puppy, who is just 10 months old.

HOROWITZ: We're putting into practice those same things, right? We're trying to make her more accustomed to the reality that one day we might not just be here, you know, for having our feet for her to lie on all the time, as she does now.

MARTIN: A similar challenge faces anybody who has adopted a puppy during the pandemic, and tons of people have. Dog adoptions have been through the roof over the past few months. Horowitz sees that as an acknowledgement that dogs contribute to a lot of people's well-being.

HOROWITZ: And I think that it's possible that we will find ways to kind of incorporate them more in our working lives now that we realize, like, the value of that. So I am kind of looking forward to the possibility of a societal change where maybe you can more often bring your dogs to workspaces or there's just more freedom for the dog person family, you know, to go around together instead of always having to be separated.

MARTIN: That was Alexandra Horowitz, director of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College and the author of "Inside Of A Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, And Know," with her thoughts on how dogs and their human families can start preparing for a post-pandemic life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.