Preparing Pets as Their Humans Return to Work

Denver Animal Protection offers tips to help pets adjust to being home alone again ~

(DENVER)—With COVID-19 restrictions easing and more people returning to the workplace, Denver Animal Protection (DAP) wants to help pet owners prepare their furry family members for the transition ahead.

Our four-legged companions have enjoyed constant quality time with their work-from-home owners for more than a year now, so a shift to normal routines could be a shock and cause them to act out.

DAP staff worry that when people start transitioning back to the office, pets may misbehave, and that could lead to an increase in people giving up their pets to shelters. In Denver, there are resources available to help keep pets and owners together successfully. Struggling pet owners can reach out for suggestions and tools to address any issues. Veterinarians, behavioralists, and internet research can provide a variety of options to help pet behavior.

Erin Wyse, an animal behaviorist with DAP says helping your dogs and cats navigate this change will require a slow and steady transition.

Create a Routine—“Dogs and cats can be creatures of habit so you can help them with the change by creating a routine. Make that routine as close to your new work schedule as possible,” she says. “Wake up, feed and walk your pet as if you’re going to work for the day. Try not to feed them or walk them during hours you’d normally be at work. And if you crate your dog, start having them take naps in their crate again. Slowly wean them off your constant company.”

Take anxiety out of your departure—Instead of immediately leaving your pet alone for a full eight to nine hours, you can work up to it. Start with two to three hours at a time daily and increase the duration. That way, when you return to work full-time, it won’t be such a difficult adjustment. Your pet will get used to you being away and that you always come back. You can also try giving your pet a small treat just as you walk out the door to condition your pet to find it rewarding when you leave. If you can, start acclimating your pet as early as a month in advance.

Keep them engaged—To help your pet combat boredom during longer stretches of time, give them small treats or toys to play with every time you leave the house. For dogs, toys, like a Kong, stuffed with their favorite food and frozen, can entertain and satisfy their foraging needs. Or, you can play hide-and-seek by hiding treats throughout your home that your dog can discover when you’re gone.

“One good trick is to put bits of kibble into a muffin tin, then cover up some of the filled cups with balls or toys,” says Wyse. “Your dog has to bat away the ball or toy to get to the food. It triggers their hunting instincts, which releases pheromones and keeps his or her mind engaged.”

You can also keep your pet entertained by leaving the TV on or playing music. If possible, let your pet see outdoor activity through a door or window. This helps them feel less lonely.

Exercise—Exercise is also important. Take your dog for a good walk or play a game of fetch before you leave for work in the morning. This will help burn off excess energy, helping your pet to be more relaxed.

Doggie daycare is another option if your dog likes other dogs. If not, consider having a dog walker come by mid-day and take your pooch for a spin around the neighborhood.

 Look for signs of stress—How do you know if your pet is not handling your separation well? For a dog, signs of stress include pacing, panting, barking when alone, destructive chewing, accidents, and attempts to escape their crate, pen, or out a door or window. For a cat, stress manifests in excessive meowing, house soiling or spraying, hiding, aggressive behavior, excessive grooming, and destructive scratching.

If your pet does act out, know that they’re doing so out of fear and distress. As a committed pet owner, it’s important to work through these issues with your pet. You’ll be glad that you did.

And keep calm yourself. Pets can internalize anxious signals from their owners. Be low-key when saying goodbye. And when you return home, give them extra attention with bully rubs, kisses, and treats.

 Talk to your vet—If these tips fail to calm your pet, it might be time to see your vet. They can offer medications to help your pet cope with stress and anxiety as they work through a return to a post-pandemic world. An experienced positive-reinforcement dog trainer with a proven background in dog behavior can also help.

Just remember, there will be an adjustment period for everyone. It takes about four weeks for your pets to adjust to a new normal. But you and your canine companions and feline friends will get through it together!

 DAP pet behavior specialists are available for interviews about how remote workers with pets can successfully make the transition back to work.

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