While one of the most enjoyable experiences of working from home throughout the COVID-19 pandemic may be the extra time you’ve spent with your dogs, the downside may be their separation anxiety when you return to work. This is particularly true for those adopted during the pandemic because they’ve had less time to accustom themselves to their new homes and new routines. Animal behaviorists are, therefore, encouraging you to start preparing your canine companions NOW to help them adjust to yet another “new normal.” Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to learn how to prepare your dog for your return to work.
Set and keep to a consistent schedule: Dogs are creatures of habit and are most comfortable with a fixed routine. If you’ve been free-feeding yours during the day, break that habit immediately. Implement or return to regularly scheduled meal times to reinforce their sense of safety and ritual.
Physical exercise is vital: Take your dog out for a walk or a run before you leave. Play hide-and-seek, tug, fetch, or chase games. Combining fun with both physical and mental exercise, playtime helps strengthen your relationship and makes it easier for your dog to relax until you return home. You can also add training to the mix, whether it’s general obedience behaviors or new tricks. And be generous with those high-value treats!
Practice leaving them on their own: Leave them alone for brief periods of time by taking a short walk or going for a drive. As their stress levels decrease, gradually increase the amount of time you’re gone until they’ve adjusted completely and appear unperturbed by your absence. On the other hand, if they become excited or anxious when you show signs of leaving – whether it’s putting on your shoes or picking up your keys — desensitize them by doing this and NOT leaving the house. Repeat the process until they no longer react. But most importantly, resist the temptation to draw out your “good-byes” when you leave and your “hellos” when you return. Being as intuitive as they are, they will automatically react to your tone of voice, body language and overall energy – both positive and negative. Here, calmness is key to ward off separation anxiety.
Create a tranquil environment: To reduce their stress levels, consider the benefits of “white noise” such as the TV, classical music or a sound machine. Diffusers with canine-appeasing pheromones can also be used to provide them with a greater sense of security. Leave out a well-worn T-shirt or a cozy blanket with your scent on it for them to curl up on or cuddle.
Banish boredom: Keep your dog productively and pleasurably occupied until you come back. Among the many options available to set you both up for success are chew and scent toys, treat dispensers and puzzle feeders, a Kong filled with frozen peanut butter, a snuffle mat and your dog’s favorite toys.
Other options: If your dog is well socialized and friendly, consider bringing him to doggy daycare. Hire a dog walker or ask a friend, neighbor or relative to come by during the day and take him for a walk or play a game of tug with him. If, however, you suspect that your dog is overly stressed by your absence, the most effective way to determine the extent of it is through the use of a home monitor. Capturing his behaviors on tape allows you to work on modifying them or, if necessary, consulting a professional animal behaviorist to ensure that your cherished companion’s “home alone” experience is as pleasant as paws-ible. If you’re worried about your pet, rest assured there are many options to ensure you know how to prepare your dog for your return to work.
By Nomi Berger