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Going Back to the Office? Your Dog Might Need Help Adjusting

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By Jennifer Vishnevsky, Woman's Day

Over the past few months of COVID-19 quarantine, your dog has probably gotten used to you being home all the time. This goes doubly true for dogs who were adopted during the pandemic. But as states start to reopen and people adjust to the return to "normal," dog owners have the extra task of helping their dog adjust to a lonely, empty house. And it's not a task they're taking lightly. According to a Rover.com survey, 58% of pet parents are concerned about their dog experiencing separation anxiety.

Luckily, there are things you can do now that will help your fur baby with the adjustment when the time comes. The most important, according to Dr. Hofmeister, DVM, is to give your pet alone time each day. "This is important so when you do transition to working outside the home again, your pet is used to being left in the home alone and it is less of a shock to them," Hofmeister tells Woman's Day. "We have to remember that animals sense our anxiety and stress so trying our best to keep their life as routine as possible will help to curb any possible behavior problems associated with anxiety and stress they may feel."

Of course, this isn't the only step to take, and it won't guarantee a smooth return. There will still some confusion, and possibly distress, for your pets, which can manifest itself in whining, barking, accidents and other destructive behavior. But these ideas can help ease your dog into their new normal before you go back to the office, and keep them at ease when the house is lonely.


Set up a routine.

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Before you head back to work, start taking steps to get your dog ready for alone time. This means taking "no attention" breaks, listening to music through headphones, and giving them space.

“During a few of your working hours, consider going into a bedroom or office without your pet and closing the door,” Mike Gould, founder of the doggie daycare Hounds Town USA, tells Woman's Day.

If you notice that your dog is being clingy when you are around during the work hours, ignore them or walk away.


Get them used to you physically leaving the house.

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It’s important to help your dog become familiar with what the new routine of you going to work will look like. "Introduce him to this by leaving your home as you grab your bag/purse and keys to head out the door," Dr. Albert Ahn, veterinary advisor for Myos Pet, tells Woman's Day. "Practice this for several times per day, each time gradually increasing the interval of time that you are away. When you return home, greet and play with your dog for a few minutes."

But be warned: you should fight the urge to smother your pet with hugs and kisses when they rush to the door to greet you. “If you don’t make a big deal over leaving or coming home, your dog will soon react more calmly too," Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, tells Woman's Day. It’s a good idea to start this training several weeks before you have to return to work. By then, your dog will have practiced being home alone in longer intervals, similar to a full work day.


Get them used to the crate.

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If your dog is crate trained, this is a good opportunity to re-start crating them again for short intervals during the day.

“Pet parents can also put their pet into a crate or secluded room and designate that as the safe zone,” Dr. Jennifer Freeman, PetSmart’s resident veterinarian, says. “Establish this area as a safe area by giving lots of praise when they willingly enter the area.”


Puppy-proof your house. . . again.

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Whether your dog is 8 weeks old or 8 years old, their behavior could regress and leave your house a mess.

“Close off areas she could potentially get into trouble in. Remove objects and furniture items that she might destroy," Ori Baer, a pet fosterer and home-based pet boarder, tells Woman's Day. "This reduces your stress level as you're going about your work day, knowing that she'll be safe and cannot get into trouble."


Wake up a half hour earlier.

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This extra time allows you to give your pet lots of exercise before you leave your home. “Try a longer walk or even a short jog, or any other activity that could burn lots of energy,” Dr. J.J. Rawlinson, DVM, a veterinarian at Wallis Annenberg PetSpace, tells Woman's Day. “If they spend that energy with you, they’re less likely to use it in destructive ways when you’re away.”


Create a zen environment.

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By building a calm environment, you can encourage calm behavior in your dog. “Play soothing music, such as soft classical music or smooth jazz while you’re not home," Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM at Honest Paws, tells Woman's Day. You may also want to consider pheromones, like a DAP electric diffuser, to provide a relaxing scent for your dog throughout the day.

And while you're at it, try switching his current bed for a Bolster bed.

“Bolster beds, also known as donut-shaped cuddler beds, help calm anxious dogs down by mimicking their natural nesting behavior,” Dr. Heather Venkat, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, tells Woman's Day. “Similar to a swaddle for a baby, the high comfy sides help the dog feel safe and relaxed.”


Leave them some creature comforts.

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“Make sure that while you are away, your dog has all of her favorite toys available for entertainment,” Ahn says. “Some people will even leave the radio or television on to further simulate the home environment as if the pet parent were home. Leaving a worn article of clothing, such as a T-shirt or sweatshirt in your dog’s crate or favorite part of the house is another way to help him feel more comfortable.”


Keep an eye on them.

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While it’s more for your own peace of mind, there are great cameras that allow you to check in on your dog during the day. There are even some that let you speak to your dog from afar, which can help ease any anxiety.

“Just the sound of your voice can be very calming and provide frequent reassurance to an anxious dog," Lisa Kang, founder and owner of Walk & Wag, an independent pet sitting company, tells Woman's Day. If you’re looking for something more interactive, consider the Furbo dog camera, which will allow you to toss treats to your dog through the app.


Stock up on brain busters.

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You want to keep your pets busy while you’re away, and there are plenty of options. “A puzzle toy filled with treats can provide a mental challenge and tasty rewards," Rawlinson says. Chew toys can also be filled with treats for your dog to work on throughout the day. If your dog gets the treats quickly, you can freeze the prepared chew toy so it lasts longer.

Just make sure to put these toys away when you return home so that your dog associates them with alone time. Additionally, Coates suggests you "rotate through several different types of food dispensing toys" to prevent boredom.


Hire a dog walker.

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Even if you’ve done everything in your power to tire your dog out, he may still become restless after a few hours. This is where some time with a dog walker comes in handy. There are national services like Rover and Wag!, where you can read reviews of the dog walker and schedule a meet and greet.

If possible, Coates suggests you ask any potential dog walker to start a few days before you return to the office so, "your dog doesn’t react badly to a stranger coming into their home."

Additionally, make sure they are following the official COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Look into doggie daycare.

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Whether or not your dog is struggling being home alone, doggie daycare is a great option to socialize and play.

“If you are considering this option, it is important for you to visit a few different facilities in person to speak with their staff to learn what a typical day will be for your canine companion and specifically what vaccines are required,” Ahn says.

Just remember, not all dogs are the right fit for daycare. Some may find that it actually increases their anxiety, so don’t be discouraged if this solution doesn’t work out.


Consider a pet sitter.

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Professional pet sitters are another option to ensure that pets get the playtime and enrichment they need.

“Many pet owners have continued to use their pet sitter or dog walker while working from home to keep pets on a regular routine,” Beth Stultz-Hairston, president of Pet Sitters International, tells Woman's Day. “With so many pet-care options in the market now, it’s more important than ever that pet owners devote time to finding the perfect local professional pet-sitting business for their pet-care needs.”

If you’ve never hired a dog sitter before, Julie Austin, who runs this type of business, recommends a meet and greet to see if the dogs get along. “Then, leave your dog for a few hours so they can get used to being left there and know that you aren’t going to abandon them,” she says.


Get into the right mindset.

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Prepare to be stressed—and feel guilt—when your dog starts to whine the second you leave the house. “Remind yourself that your dog doesn't know if you will be leaving for 30 minutes or the whole day," Baer says. "She will have the same reaction when you head out the door. You'll need to manage your own emotion and mindset before you can manage hers well.”

Remember that this is going to be a transition for everyone, yourself included. “Don't make it harder on yourself with unrealistic expectations,” Dr. Sarah Reidenbach, DVM, tells Woman's Day. “If you love your pet, and you do the best you can, you're doing a good job.”


Back to the drawing board.

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You may have to revisit some training as your dog goes through this re-acclimation period. “Be patient with your pet, he misses you!” Dr. Shelley Zacharias, DVM, VMP, BCMAS, tells Woman's Day. “He may be more vocal, destructive or act out during this time but stick to your normal routine you had with him prior to the COVID quarantine (assuming it worked) and he will re-acclimate much quicker than if you try to start a new routine with him. If your previous routine wasn’t working with your dog, then this is a perfect opportunity to start a new routine for your pet."
See more at: Woman's Day

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