As many people began working from home, spending more time with pets proved to be a major benefit, and many pets became accustomed to the situation, joining in video calls among other perks.
Now, as their humans begin returning to the office, pets will have to adjust to more time alone.
Adrian Moreno, former owner of Canine Affinity in Schererville, said it’s important to help dogs to adjust before their people depart for an eight-hour shift. “Dogs require a lot of structure. Once they’re accustomed to you being around 24/7 ... they’ve gotten dependent on you being there.
“This is when you might see some bad behavior, even separation anxiety, set off by an abrupt change in their schedule,” he said.
Moreno likens it to people biting their fingernails or stress eating. “Dogs may start chewing things, like wall trim or furniture,” Moreno said. “The jaw on a dog is its strongest muscle, and a dog, especially one under age 4, will try to get rid of that nervous energy through that muscle.”
Moreno said that helping your dog work off that energy is important. Before you return to the office, "start taking them for walks when you would before or after the hours you’d be at work to get them used to that schedule. So after you return to work, they’ll know, once you come home, it’s the time to take a walk.”
“We’ve seen a lot of people get pets during the pandemic,” said Dr. Lisa Preston, a veterinarian at the St. John Animal Clinic. “And they got used to people being home all the time. Before leaving your pets alone, they need to get used to having alone time, whether in a crate or some room, get them used to that being a safe place.
“Maybe start by having them go into that place for shorter periods of time, when you go to the store,” Preston said. “It helps them get used to self-soothing, and doing that for increasing periods of time.”
After returning to work, Preston said, there are things you can do to keep your pet occupied. There are “Kongs that you stuff with food and puzzle feeders — the animals have to work at getting food out.”
“Everything with toys is hit or miss with dogs, so you’ll want to try them out,” Moreno said. “ A good idea is to have a new, novel toy on standby — maybe try to introduce a new toy during this time of departure, this transitional phase. If you’re going back to work on a Wednesday, try out toys on Monday, to see what they like.”
“Separation anxiety is really serious in some cases,” Preston said, adding that medication can help in extreme cases.
Mareno prefers behavior modification training to medication. “I’ve never seen a dog, in my experience, that couldn’t be helped with behavior training."
Preston notes that even cats are affected by a drastic change in schedule, adding that increasing their time on their own and introducing new toys can ease their stress.
Maureen Cleary, a bird keeper at a local zoo, said the same applies to pet birds. “Small and gradual changes are going to be better than an abrupt change,” she said. She recommends bird owners make "short trips out of the house, such as walking around the block, and slowly lengthen the amount of time that you’re gone to get them used to your absence.”
“Purchasing new bird toys, especially new foraging toys, gives them something to do while you’re gone,” Cleary said. She also said it's a good time to make sure their habitat is nice and clean, they’re eating a good diet and to consider, at least for the first few days, leaving a radio or TV on low volume for company.
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