Is being home with our pets all the time really a good thing?
By Kimberlee Spicer, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, Fear Free Certified Professional, Seattle Animal Shelter Behaviorist
For many of us, today’s new normal includes working from home with our pets cuddling by our sides; sounds great, doesn’t it? But is it really a good thing for our pets, who were previously accustomed to us being gone 6, 8, sometimes 10 hours a day? Our pets are creatures of routine and, let’s be honest, as much as they might enjoy us being home more, returning to work may be a difficult adjustment.
Whether you already had pets or have made the exciting and rewarding decision to adopt a pet during this time, here are some tips to prepare your pets for when you go back to work:
- Routine. Slowly start integrating the routine you had prior to working at home. This includes feeding, physical exercise and mental enrichment. If you recently adopted a pet and they haven’t experienced you leaving the home to go to work, began creating a routine that is more realistic for when you start going back into the office.
- Exercise. Get your walking routine back to normal. If you usually walk your dog (or cat) in the morning before work and in the evening after work, start implementing that again. If you, like me, currently like to use your lunch break as another excuse to get outside and have been taking your pet(s) with you, consider slowly fading that out. For example, if you are currently taking afternoon walks with your pet(s) 5 days a week, bump it down to 3 days a week, then 2 days a week, and so on. The afternoon walks you take without them will also help them get used to you being away from the home.
- Mealtimes. If you have been feeding your pets at different times now that you are home more, start feeding them closer to the times as if you were working in the office again. Consider feeding your pets out of enrichment toys to help drain some mental energy.
- Mental Enrichment. Enrichment can present itself in many forms. Dogs may enjoy a Kong stuffed with peanut butter, while your rabbit may enjoy a foraging activity such as a snuffle mat, and your cat might like a puzzle filled with treats. Be sure to try out the enrichment item when you can supervise the pet first, to ensure the item actually provides mental stimulation, and that they can handle it safely without you. Whatever you choose, leaving your pet(s) with some type of mental enrichment will make the transition easier on everyone.
- Cues. Our pets are very observant and pick up on our cues when we are preparing to leave: grabbing our bag, putting on a specific pair of shoes, picking up our car keys and/or putting on a jacket. These are all hints to our pets that we are leaving the home and we might be doing less of these nowadays, which can make when they do happen much more stressful to our pets. To help break the association, randomly pick up your car keys or bag and walk them into another room and put them down. Repeat a few times a week without leaving the home.
- Practice departures. Still take time out of your day, even if just 10 minutes, to leave the house. Don’t make a big deal about leaving, and don’t create a big exciting entrance when coming back home, as this could potentially lead to more anxiety when you leave.
- Separation. If your pets are anything like mine, practically on top of me while I’m teleworking, give them time away from you in a separate area of your home with the mental enrichment item that works best for them. Start slowly with short periods of 5 to 10 minutes, increasing to longer periods only when the pet is calm and relaxed the entire time. Avoid starting with longer periods right away, as this could cause additional stress to your pet(s).
- Daycare, Dog Walkers and Pet Sitters. If your dog is having difficulty adjusting to longer periods once you’re back to work, consider looking into a reputable doggy daycare or a professional dog walker to help break up the day for your dog. For other pets having trouble adjusting, consider hiring a pet sitter to come by for 30 minutes to socialize with your pets while you are away.
- Consult with a professional. If you have tried the steps above and your pet is still struggling to adjust to the new routine, consult with a certified trainer and/or your veterinarian.