The quarantine has brought about a few silver linings–namely the extra time we’ve been able to spend with our pets. But, as we move toward a new normal, more people are returning to work. Here are a few tips on how to prepare your pet for the upcoming separation.
Think about it. Your entire world has been shifted (join the club) and it’s no different for your pet. Your routines and daily living changed and that is the same for your pets at home. Not that most of them cared; pet parents teleworking is like winning the jackpot if you’re the pet. Having their humans around 24/7 meant extra walks, pets, belly rubs and attention. Not to mention, just some extra company during the day.
Heck, for some of you, this time will forever fondly be known as the time you brought Buster home, or the time you adopted Fifi. Pet fostering and adoptions have been on the rise as more people were home and found the time to devote to their new family member. What a great way to make lemonade.
Now, though, as people plan their gradual returns to their offices and places of employment, they’re wondering how to prepare their pets.
The Importance Of Preparing Your Pets To Go Back To Work
Yes, preparing your pet to return back to work is a thing. Just like you’re going to have to adapt to wearing something other than pajama bottoms during Zoom meetings, your dog or cat will have to adjust too. They’ll lose out on those additional walks and rubs, and even face anxiety about you not being there.
And even if you’re not going back to work just yet, now is the time to think about how to prepare your pets for your eventual resuming of schedule.
Speaking of schedules, consider readjusting your pet’s schedule now. Our pets are used to routines, especially dogs, and so if you start planning a schedule for them that gently eases them into more alone time if you’re gone, it’ll be easier for them to readjust. Consider helping to reorganize a schedule that you use for when they (and you) get up, when you eat, when you walk them to do their business, etc. Their internal time clocks will start readjusting and find it easier when you’re back at work.
And, now’s also a good time to think about how we can keep our dogs busy in our absence. Many love the Furbo Dog Camera and Treat Dispenser, as it works as both a monitor and a way to interact with your pet while you’re gone. Or consider DogTV to keep them entertained (way better for them than those Netflix Tiger King binges you’ve been on anyway).
If you’ve never tried any games or activities to keep them busy before, take the time you have before you return to work to do so. Outward Hound Nina Ottosson games are great ways to tire your dog out mentally, and that means they’ll miss you less when you’re gone. Snuffle Mats are another great way to leave your dog with some mental stimulation and activity too.
When it comes to training your pet on how to deal with the separation, remember that they’re good about picking up on your signals that you’re leaving. Believe it or not, saying, “Bye doggies!” every time you leave lets them know that you’re going somewhere, and if they’re anxious, it may be a cue to start worrying on their end. Instead, practice ‘pretending’ you’ll be leaving by walking around your house with your keys or things you might take to work but only go outside for a few minutes at a time to gradually help them learn that you leaving isn’t a terrible thing. Remember, they may have been fine with you going BEFORE the world broke and you started sheltering-in-home, but these last few months of 24/7 has been different for even the most independent of pets. It’s okay to help them learn to readjust gradually.
More Tips For Prepping Your Pet To Return To Work
While many of you may have adopted new puppies or kittens, the time to go back to work may mean you’ll need to do things a bit differently. Consider crate training while you’re away so they feel they have some safe place to be. For puppies, we’ve always loved the Snuggle Puppy because it helps puppies (and kittens) feel a warm heartbeat and a furry friend to help them deal. Consider talking with neighbors or petsitters even to check in on your puppies or kittens when you’ve returned, remembering that their little bladders may need more frequent walks still, even though you’re back at work. Gradually working on lengthening potty breaks now before you’re back full-time is a great way to make that easier.
Don’t forget that though we’re still social distancing, pets are social creatures. Continue to use your non-work time to enjoy doing things together with them–going to parks, places you and they enjoyed together, daily walks. The more ‘normal’ feels normal to them, the easier it will be when you’re gone more than they’ve been used to these last few months.
How To Help If Your Pet Doesn’t Adjust Well
If you do return to work and find that your pet isn’t taking it as well, you’ll probably know pretty quickly. Dogs can chew and destroy things out of anxiety. They can have excessive salivation, pee in places they didn’t normally, and may even go on food or water strikes while you’re gone. Same goes for cats, and that’s obviously going to make you anxious–which then makes them more anxious too.
Remember, these aren’t bad behaviors; they’re dealing with this weird world we now live in as best as they can, and you can help make it a little easier. For now, start leaving and staying out longer and longer (even if you’re just at the end of your street) to get them adjusted. When you ‘get back’ and they’ve not destroyed anything and done well, praise, praise and praise them some more.
Consider crating your puppy some during the day even when you are home so he or she gets used to it and it won’t be such a problem when you’re gone. Make sure their crate/space is a place they want to be, and find a regular part of their routine. They’re less apt to destroy it when their anxiety takes over that way.
And, you can always consider doggy daycare, at least initially, to help them get into the groove of being separated from you. Talk with your local pet behaviorist to see if they have any other tips. Believe it or not, just like in their humans, this pandemic may have left your pet’s mind a little blown and they may need some medication to help them make it through. There’s no shame in that, and your veterinarian can help you decide how to help your best friend the best way.
At the end of the day, our pets want to be there for us because we’re always there for them…even when we aren’t. Helping them prepare for you going back to work will benefit you both because then neither of you will worry (too much) about the other as we all take steps toward the new normals we’ll be living.
Lori Ennis is a wife, mama and friend to all animals. A self-confessed “Hot Mess,” she lives wherever the Marine Corps takes her husband. Currently, that’s Maryland with her very spoiled Labrador Retriever-mix rescue pups and a ton of saltwater fish just tanking around. Lori’s family has fostered dogs for years, mostly Golden Retrievers, and knows no home is complete without an animal buddy (or seven)!