If you have a furry four-legged friend at home, you know that changes to your family’s everyday routine can whip them into a frenzy. Many cats and dogs are highly tuned into your daily schedule, and pets have become accustomed to your all-day-every-day presence while working remotely during the pandemic. With many people anticipating returning to in-person work within the coming months, it’s reasonable to worry about how Fido or Mittens may respond.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, separation anxiety between pets and owners is not a new phenomenon, and personal trainers and animal-care organizations have resources that will help in preparing pets for their owners return to out-of-home work.
“I think it’s very possible and likely that pets may experience separation distress [as people return to in-person work],” says Jenn Michaels, a Behavior Specialist at Wonder Dogs Dog Training in Corvallis and Philomath. “Just like people, dogs can have a hard time adjusting to new routines.”
Michaels explains that vocalizations are one of the best tell-tale signs that a dog is feeling this type of stress, especially within the first 30 minutes after you depart. If your dog is barking or whining at a door or window near where you left your home, that is a direct indicator that your departure is causing them anxiety.
“It’s not the same as when they are in the backyard barking at a squirrel or your neighbors,” she clarified.
When asked what pet owners can do to alleviate this distress, Michaels was adamant that preparation before you return to in-person work is key.
“Anything you try will be way less effective if you wait until you’re going back to work,” she says, adding that preparing with small doses of time away can help, even if that is just five minutes at first.
Practicing your exit and controlling the amount of time you are absent, or as long as your dog can tolerate without showing signs of distress, will help prepare your dog for longer, 8-hour absences. As a dog owner herself, Michaels says if she plans to keep her furry friend in a crate while she is gone, she will put the dog in the crate while she is still home. Leaving the dog in a crate while she is cooking or watching a movie helps them feel more at ease in the space because she is present, and this practice can help them feel more comfortable with the situation when she eventually leaves.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also recommends practicing short absences with your pets. Additionally, the ASPCA suggests finding new times to play and exercise with your pet either before or after returning home from work to expend their pent up energy. Interactive toys, like Kong treat balls or battery-operated toys, may help your pets stay entertained while you are gone.
If you are unsure if your pet exhibits symptoms typical of separation distress, consider setting up a camera or other recording device to keep tabs on any visual or vocal cues, such as excessive panting, whining, or pacing. The ASPCA does not recommend punishment or scolding of animals exhibiting stress behaviors, as that could worsen the problem.
To learn more about keeping your furry friends’ content and happy when you return to in-person, out-of-house work, you can visit the ASPCA website and search for their resources and tips on dealing with pet separation anxiety. In addition, pet owners could also consider and contact behavioral trainers if a pet’s response to your absence is especially negative. Wonder Dogs Dog Training has options for group and private training classes as well as virtual courses.