How to prepare your dog for your return to work
Tips to reduce stress and anxiety as you transition back to the office.
18th Jun 2021
It’s been over a year since Covid-19 sent most office workers home to work remotely. For many it was a strange adjustment to have to make but whilst it was tough in the beginning, it’s now a situation we’ve all adjusted to, and not just us humans, our pets too.
Throughout the duration of lockdown, our dogs have been quietly acclimating to our new routine and unlike us, they don't understand why our lives changed so suddenly. Now, with vaccines underway and only a few weeks until offices can reopen, our pets, once again, have no idea that their daily routines are about to change significantly.
Many vets, behaviourists and animal lovers are rightly concerned about the impending surge in separation anxiety, particularly amongst animals who were adopted during the lockdown and have known nothing else other than their favourite humans being at home all the time.
Here are some tips on how you can prepare your pets for the upcoming changes to their lives:
Let your dogs practice being alone
Even if that just means popping to the shop or running a quick errand without them, leaving pets alone is important. Time alone teaches them to be content in their own company and self soothe when you’re not around to comfort them.
If your dog isn’t used to being alone at all, then it’s good to start small. Put your pet in a room and step out for a couple of minutes, come back in and don’t make a fuss. Step out of the room again, but for a little longer. Work your way up, increasing the amount of time you’re out of the room each time. It’s important not to make a fuss over them when you return - you want your dog to think you being away is no big deal.
Tire them out - mentally & physically
Sometimes animals act out when they’re alone, and it’s not always because they’re anxious. It could be because they’re frustrated and bored. Whatever the reason, one way to avoid negative behaviour is by making sure they’re ready for a snooze when you leave.
You might be surprised to learn that mental stimulation can actually be more tiresome than physical exercise. So, before you leave for the office, take your dog on a nice walk and let them take time to have a good sniff of their surroundings.
If you’ve got time, you can even play some games before you leave for the day.
Make sure your pet has their own cosy “safe space”
This is a spot or room where your dog is most comfortable and feels the safest when you’re not around. Also, bear in mind that your pet’s preferred place might have changed during the pandemic. For example, if they’ve been spending all day in the home office with you, they may want to stay there during your absence. If that’s not possible, you should gradually restrict access and create a new space for them.
Every dog is different, but many dogs tend to like cosy, den-like spaces, but it’s good to try out a few options to see what your dog’s preferences are.
Some dogs prefer a crate that is completely covered, others prefer to sleep in a covered crate with the door open and access to a wider room, some prefer no crate at all and would rather sleep on their bed or the couch whilst you’re gone. Whatever you and your pet agree is best, ensure it is safe and that you’re comfortable leaving them there for a prolonged period of time. The last thing you want is to come back from a long day to find your sofa has been chewed to pieces.
Ease back into the old routine well in advance
If the morning walk will move from 10 am to 7 am once you return to the office, slowly inch up the time so it won’t feel like an abrupt change. If you’ve let your usual morning routine slip, start getting back into it.
Whatever it’s going to be like once you return to the office, act out that routine ahead of time and get your pooch used to it.
If doggy daycare or a dog walker is in your dog’s future, remind your pet what it’s like to be around other people and dogs. Your canine’s social interaction has likely been limited during the pandemic, just as ours has so try outdoor playdates and walkies with other dogs. Don’t wait until the first day back to drop your dog off at daycare, let them have a few practice runs ahead of time.
Put your pets on camera
Some signs of separation anxiety are impossible to miss: furniture that has been chewed, peeing and pooping indoors, a neighbour complaining about constant barking while you’re away or even poor teddy having his stuffing ripped out. But other indicators aren’t so obvious, which is why a pet-cam might be a good idea if you’ve a particularly anxious companion.
Other signs that a dog is stressed include non-stop pacing, a general inability to settle down, not eating or drinking, and even constantly grabbing toys. In other words, a content dog should be able to just relax while you’re gone.
If you see signs of anxiety, consider what might be exacerbating it
Aside from missing you, other stimuli in your pet’s environment may become problematic while you’re gone. A lot of dogs are overly vigilant when they’re left alone, because they’re worried and on edge. Regular, everyday noises such as street traffic or the post arriving can sound much scarier in your absence. It’s not just sounds either, maybe it’s seeing “threatening” strangers passing by or the postman, or even just the empty driveway where your car usually sits that’s stressful. Figuring out how to dull these sights and sounds may make a big difference.
Don’t wait to get help
Anytime your pet exhibits troubling or out-of-character behaviour, immediately consult your veterinarian so you can rule out a medical cause. If everything is physically fine and you still aren’t successful helping your animal on your own, try working with a professional trainer or behaviourist as soon as possible so that the behaviour doesn’t get worse. Your vet can also prescribe a anti-anxiety medication to help them feel calmer.
Get a remote job or work in a dog friendly office
Our dogs provide us with love and companionship, no matter what. The majority of us can’t bear to be away from them either! So, if your looming office return is stressing you out or making you rethink your situation, why not consider opportunities with a remote or dog friendly employer?