Preparing Our Pets for the Return to Work Full-Time Away from Home

I think we can all agree that our lives have been turned upside down with shelter in place orders during this pandemic. However, the upside is that pet adoptions have increased significantly. Additionally, we have been spending lots of time with our dogs and cats. While it’s great more cats and dogs have joined our families, as pet owners we do have a responsibility to ensure that our furry critters are prepared for us to return to work as normal life slowly resumes. As we return to work, our pets will be left alone for longer hours than they have become accustomed to. This may result in something known as separation anxiety – which will inevitably create a bit of stress and cause our pets to act up in ways they normally wouldn’t. Signs to look for to see if your pet is suffering from this type of anxiety include barking, howling, whining, scratching at doors and windows, chewing on the door, drooling and panting. This can impact a pet’s mood, appetite, and bring out more destructive behaviors while the owner is away. A pet camera is a useful tool that will help you know if your pet is exhibiting these types of negative behaviors. Plus, cameras give us a lot of insight into the types of activities our pets are engaging in while we are away from home.

Luckily there are things we can start doing now to ease the transition for our pets. The most important is training! Dog trainers and experts around the nation have weighed in on this subject. Here is what they have to say:

  • Set a schedule for your pet. If you are going to be returning to work, you should try to get up at your regular time, feed the dog, exercise the dog, and provide the dog a time to rest independently. Starting this schedule right way will ensure your dog will be accustomed to it when you return to work.
  • Train your dog to deal with being separated from you. Most dogs easily identify the part of your routine that signals to them you will be leaving the house. For most of us, this includes grabbing our keys, purse or wallet, and putting on our shoes. Experts suggest pet owners should walk around the house and keep moving their keys from one spot to the other. Experts suggest we DO NOT create a routine of saying goodbye to our dog. Instead, they recommend we make sure our dog is in a dog safe location, such as a gated off room or a dog crate, walk out the door, stand outside for a few minutes and if the dog is quiet, walk back in. AGAIN ignore the dog. You do not want to create a big routine around you coming back home, as this only leads to more anxiety when you leave. When leaving or coming back home, stay calm to help our pets feel relaxed. If they seem agitated when you put on your shoes because it means you will walk out the door soon, practice putting on shoes when you aren’t actually going to leave.
  • Exercise your dog. Exercising your dog such as taking them on long walks before heading off to work is very important. This needs to be done well in advance of you leaving for the day this way the dog has plenty of time to relax before being left alone for a long period of time.
  • Play comforting music while you are away. While you are off at work consider playing soothing music or for pets that prefer the sound of human voices – an audiobook will work great. There have been studies that have shown dogs really enjoy listening to reggae, classical music, easy listening, and jazz.
  • Take the time now to train the dog for vet and groomer visits. Use some treats or some of your dog’s meal as a reward. Lift up their paw and look at their nails, give them a treat. Open their mouth and look at their teeth, lift up their ears, basically get them used to being handled so that when you take them to the groomer or vet, it will be less stressful.
  • Set a consistent feeding schedule. If you started feeding your dog or cat four times a day instead of three times a day, stop doing that and go back to a schedule that you can maintain once you go back to work.
  • Leave your dogs or cats with independent activities, like engaging toys that hold a treat inside that the pet needs to work to get to or a cookie scavenger hunt. Experts suggest using the cardboard rolls from toilet paper stuffed with paper towels and treats. Most dogs enjoy using their noses to sniff out treats and love to shred the paper in the process
  • Practice leaving for short periods of time, so your pet gets used to being along. It’s important to start with short periods and slowly increase the time you leave your dog alone. Things you can do are go for a walk, drive around the neighborhood, or go grocery shopping. And, don’t take your dog with you on every errand.

We highly recommend this video if you’d like additional information on separation anxiety
We also recommend this book for people who actually have dogs with separation anxiety

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