This year has been nothing short of a wild ride.
With the Pandemic changing the way households work, live, and travel (or lack thereof) - there's no doubt that these changes have spiderwebbed their way into every aspect of life.
As a result, many pet owners are beginning to realize what this means for their furry counterparts as they start to return to the office.
So, how can owners prepare themselves (and their dogs) as life begins the slow uptick back to normal?
What We'll Discuss in this Article:
Proactive vs. Reactive Preparation
The Importance of Leaving the Home
Departure Cue Triggers & Mock Departures
Reinstating Pre-Covid Routines
Taking the Edge off (Helping with human anxiety!)
Preparing Your Dogs: The Key? Starting Early
When preparing to go back to work, my advice is to act proactively rather than reactively. Even if you haven't heard a concrete "back in office" date from your workplace, I would urge people to begin preparing (even in a minor sense) as vaccination rates rise and things begin to open up again.
Here are some simple ways you can proactively prepare your pets for your return to the real world:
1. Begin leaving the house for small increments, building gradually over time.
Over this past year, many pets have become accustomed to constant human presence, leading to an uptick in separation anxiety.
Building up the duration that you're away from home can help ease your dog into realizing that goodbye doesn't mean goodbye forever, and that the house is still safe when you're not present. Basically, reassuring your dog that they will be okay, and that you'll be back.
Quick Tips: Start small, with something like a drive around the block, or a trip to the grocery store. Gradually build your time away from home once your dog shows that they're becoming comfortable with separation times.
2. It's All In The Departure
Departure Cue Triggers: For some dogs, certain departure cues can trigger or increase a dog's anxiety. The sound of grabbing your keys, starting your car in the driveway, being in certain work attire and/or grabbing your work bag - all are cues to your pooch that their human is leaving the house. My advice? Work to desensitize these cues prior to going back to work by doing what Andrew Perkins (CAPDT) calls, "Mock Departures".
Essentially, Mock Departures are leaving the house in durations (what we talked about above), but bundled together with departure cues. Think of it as a trial run, where you get ready, grab your keys and work items, put on your shoes, start your car; all things that were previously routinely normal prior to going into work, that haven't been regular since working from home.
Quick Tips: If your dog shows signs of anxiety with departure cues, try pairing the act of leaving the house with a positive experience. I.e., A frozen Kong stuffed with their favorite treat.
3. Reintroducing Old Routines
For many of us, our routines changed quite a bit as we adjusted to working from home. Maybe we didn't have to get up as early, spend as much time getting ready, or maybe we were able to go for longer walks in the morning with the dogs. No matter how small, our normal routines continued to evolve the longer we worked from home.
Dogs are routine oriented creatures, so reinstituting the old work routine can help ease your dog's transition back to normalcy. Professor of animal behavior at Purdue University, Candace Croney, states:
“If feeding, play, rest and exercise times are going to change when people head back to work, those changes should be introduced well in advance of the back-to-work date. Gradually shifting over the course of a few weeks to the new schedule and sticking with it should help ease the transition.”
- Candace Croney, Director of the Center for Animal Welfare Science & Professor of Animal Behavior and Well-being
Start waking up at your pre-covid work time.
Begin feeding your dogs around the time you would feed them pre-office shut down.
Mirroring your old routine (getting up, getting ready) can be beneficial.
4. Brush up on Crate Training
If your dog was crated while you were at work pre-covid, I'd strongly recommend introducing this routine back into the picture before you head back into the workplace. Ensuring that your dog is in a safe space while you're at work will not only set your dog up for success, but help you feel much more at ease. Whether that safe space be a crate or a penned off area at first, a space where your dog cannot get into trouble or hurt themselves is always a safe bet.
Quick Tips: It's okay to start small! Reintroducing the crate in small increments for some down time and gradually working your way up is totally okay.
5. Take the Edge Off for the Humans
One of the hardest parts of going back into work isn't necessarily our dog's separation anxiety, but our own. Over the past year, owners have become so accustomed to being home that the thought of leaving their pets is stress-inducing; even when many pets do just fine and can benefit from some quiet days at home.
Have a plan and stick to routine.
Hire a dog walker and/or pet sitter to check in on your dog the first few days.
In the end, the act of going back to work may seem stressful for both owners and pets. With the right plan and right preparation, dogs (and people) are very resilient - and will adapt in time! Take it slow, and be kind to yourself during the transition.
SOURCES & FURTHER READING