Pets Need Help Reconnecting After Deployment, Too
Adopted from material originally developed by Salute to Spouses © San Diego Humane Society
Many of us have seen the video clips of returning soldiers reuniting with their dogs. While these videos are heartwarming and at times hilarious, not all animals react this way when their service member returns home.
Homecomings are emotionally overwhelming for the whole family, even the furry members. Including “family pets in the welcoming activities goes a long way to helping animals and humans reconnect and smooth the transition for everyone,” said Steve Appelbaum, President and Director of the Animal Behavior College.
Pets can also miss their service member and just like people, our pets need time to reconnect and adjust to the changes happening. Some pets, just like some service members, adjust back easier and faster than others. Rushing the process could actually hurt your pet and service member’s relationship.
Families often want to throw a “Welcome Home” party for their returning service members but may forget that the crowds and noise of a party may be a lot to handle for a pet. Sometimes giving your pet a few private hours or even just 24 hours with their service member can help prevent behavior problems such as excessive barking, chewing, digging, changes in elimination habits, other habits, or complete withdrawal.
Some tips to prevent those stress reactions can be as easy as making sure your service member comes home with their favorite snack or toy, playing, feeding or grooming them. All these tips can help strengthen the relationship between the service member and their pet.
If that doesn’t work, consult a professional animal trainer. Sending your recently returned service member and pet to obedience training can also help address any lingering issues in the wake of a homecoming and remind them of their special bond.
Cats generally are different than dogs. Some will act as if the service member never left, but others could be fearful at first. Shifting the responsibility of feeding can be an easy way for your service member to reconnect that bond. It is important to have your service member spend some play or snuggle time with the cat, one-on-one.
You also can help by prepping your pet before your service member returns. Reward your pet for smelling their clothes to create a positive association with their smell.
Returning to normal routines such as walking the dog or lounging on the sofa with your cats could be among the things your service member missed most during deployment. Your pets aren’t the only ones who will benefit from these types of bonding experiences!
The relationship shared between service members and their pets is something that can restore a sense of normalcy after being away from home. The unconditional love of pets may have many healing affects that can not only benefit your service member but your entire family.
If you have a pet behavior question or would like some training assistance, San Diego Humane Society is here to help!
Visit our behavior and training center, or call our Behavior Helpline at 619-299-7012 ext. 2244 to speak with a trainer.