Adjusting to Life on Their Own at Home – After COVID
After months of being at home all day every day with your best friend, your pet’s state of bliss may be about to come to an end. Sheltering in place might have been frustrating for us humans, but our pets thought it was just about a dream come true. Yes, for many dogs it meant less trips to the park, but that was made up for with all the walks they could handle. We’re fairly certain that most dogs think that they finally convinced us to quit our jobs and stay home with them…however the jury is still out on whether cats enjoyed their serfs being in their presence for hours and days at a time. Who knows what birds, reptiles, and other pets thought?
Many states across the country are preparing to re-open, which means a return to work for many pet parents. Dogs, some cats, and other pets who have grown used to our company will be once again left on their own for a large portion of the day. Simply returning to work after weeks if not months of being at home can cause some major anxiety and depression for pets. If you are getting ready to go back to work, take the time to prepare your pet as well. In this post, we’ll look at some tips and suggestions from the experts on how to smoothly adjust your dog, cat, or other pets to being alone for hours at a time.
How Do I Prepare My Dog for Hours of Alone Time?
Get Back to a Routine
Meals, walks, treats, and play time might have shifted or become more frequent during our social distancing and self-quarantine. The first step in preparing to go back to work for humans and pets alike, is to get back into a routine. The closer you can get to your actual work routine the better. Pets thrive on schedules. Have you ever noticed how accurate their body clocks are? They can sense mealtime down to the minute! Routine becomes an important part of their mental health. It gives them upsides to look forward to and prepares them for the downsides, like when you leave for work.
Start by waking up or getting your pet up at the same time every day and feeding them at the same time. If you typically walk them before leaving for work, re-institute this morning walk rather than your more random COVID-19 rambles.
Create a Safe and Comfortable Space for Them
Creating a space either in their favorite room or by making their crate cozy can help to mitigate the stress of you returning to your pre-quarantine routine. Leave an item that smells like you such as a t-shirt you’ve worn or a blanket that you both snuggle. Put a few of their toys here as well. This will give them some additional comfort when you do start to leave them.
Start to Leave Them on Their Own Incrementally
Reestablishing their routine may take a bit of time. Throwing them back into their previous routine all at once can be like ripping off a band aide: at best it’s uncomfortable and at worst it’s downright painful. So before you go back to work it’s a good idea to start leaving your pet for short lengths of time and then increasing the amount of time that you are away little by little. Your pets will start to pick up on signals that you are getting ready to leave the house – noticing a change in clothing, you showering at a certain time of the day. These cues plus leaving them for lengthening periods of time will help get them back onto your “normal schedule”.
It can be tempting to bring them along for car rides while you run errands, or if you’re eating out on a restaurant’s patio, but try to resist those sad begging eyes. This second step is truly important.
Keeping pet safety in mind, you may want to find toys that stimulate and engage your pet while you are gone. Some pet parents find that puzzle toys are a great way to break up the boredom. Other pets love when their parents leave the TV on for them. Just be cognizant of the dangers that some potential toys may have. Soft toys that can be eaten should be left for supervised play.
What If Your Return to Work is Sudden?
Not everyone will have the luxury of a planned return to the office or place of employment. Some of us will only receive a few days’ notice to report for work. If this is the case, try not to panic. Most pets are resilient and while yours might experience some anxiety, they will quickly adjust to the new routine.
If you have a friend or family member who can check on your pet, having them do so is a great idea. Hiring a dog walker is another means of breaking up the long day away from you. For your dog who might be used to potty breaks on demand, this can help prevent accidents as you re-train their bladder. In terms of socialization it can help break up the monotony or boredom until you return home from work. You could even start with two visits per day and slowly taper them off.
How to Spot Stress:
Despite our best intentions and efforts our pets might still become stressed out. With dogs, excessive barking can be a sign of stress. Couple this with pawing at doors or windows (as if trying to remove the thing that is separating them from you) and you have other good indicators of stress. If this is typical behavior when you leave the house, try to gauge whether this behavior now is prolonged or exacerbated.
Being destructive is another potential sign of stress, especially in dogs. Now we know that some dogs just play rough and like to tear apart their toys, but when it comes to stress they’ll typically turn this destructive habit on things that they don’t typically destroy: Chewing doors, furniture, cabinets, shoes, etc. This can also be a sign of boredom, so if your pet starts to exhibit this behavior try playing with them to wear them out before leaving the house. If the behavior persists it is likely stress.
Pay Attention to Your Own Emotions
Pets are really in tune with our emotions. They can pick up on our stress and anxiety often better than we can ourselves. When you get ready to leave for work in the morning try to remain calm. Refrain from raising your voice or rushing. These behaviors can increase our pet’s anxiety.
How to Reduce Stress:
Exercise and playtime are great ways to help mitigate stress and prevent it. Build time to interact with your pet into your morning routine and take time to do so again when you return home from work.
If your pet is still exhibiting stress there are aids that can help alleviate some of this stress, such as snug fitting vests or shirts. The downside to using these items is that you will potentially be leaving your pet in this clothing all day so consider your schedule with using these items.
And don’t forget about Animal Behaviorists. These skillful workers are trained observers and can have insightful suggestions about preventing problems when you return to work or solving problems later. An in-home consultation with an Animal Behaviorist is usually an enlightening and highly rewarding experience for both you and your pet. However, if the mental and/or physical problems persist, you may ultimately have to consult with your vet.
Following the hints mentioned in this article will definitely help normal pet anxiety about changes to their routines. As we begin returning to the 9 to 5 world let’s be extra aware of the needs of our furry and feathery best friends and do whatever we can to make the transition a happy one!