Animals, like children, become accustomed to the consistency of our routines.
Just like people, animals begin developing habits of behavior over periods of time and adapt to lifestyle changes or their owners.
Since most of our schedules since Covid-19 have become home-based, animals have become accustomed to having their favorite humans with them nonstop, 24 hours a day. As we have all seen with those adorable memes, dogs are in their glory and cats are asking when we are going back to work.
But truthfully, some animals have actually become more stressed out with their human’s home all the time, because the humans themselves are stressed out. Animals pick up more on our body language, than even we do. They can “feel” the slightest change in behavior or mood, which may be one of the reasons we adore animals so much. They come to us when we are sad, celebrate with us when we are happy and are ready for a walk whenever we say we are.
So what happens when we go back to work? We have to begin planning on behalf of our animal family members now. Dogs may be confused as to why you are no longer home full time and may act out in ways they did when they were very young. Behaviors such as chewing furniture or shoes, barking incessantly or even shaking when you are leaving the home, could become commonplace. There could be separation anxiety that displays that was never there before.
How should you begin preparing your dog for going back to work? Start now with simple things. Start crate training again to give your dog a safe place to go if they are feeling anxious. Sometimes leaving the crate open and just covering it with a blanket on the top is enough of a feeling like a den that the dog will go in there on their own.
Leave the house to take a walk without the dog and let the dog learn that being alone is OK and that you will return. Start your schedule like you would when you were working. So if before you were doing a mile walk with the dog at 6 a.m. and then leaving for work, take that mile walk at 6 a.m. and then give the dog a bone or toy that they can take to their bed to amuse themselves for a bit. Reintroducing dogs to the habits of self-soothing and feeling safe, will be important for both your transition back to work and the dogs understanding of the “new” schedule.
Other options might include hiring a dog walker to break up the day, scheduling one or two days a week for the dog to go to doggie day care or if you work close enough to your house going home for lunch to help your dog adjust to the new schedule.
Start calling places now to understand what it would cost to have a dog walker come in or to bring your dog to daycare. Be patient with your dog because they want to please you, but they may take some time in re-learning what is expected of them when you are no longer home all day.
Cats, too, may have a difficult time with the change in schedule. Cats should also be given different toys or treats to help them adjust to you being gone for long periods of time. Some cats and dogs may benefit from plug-in calming diffuser devices to help ease anxiety or confusion.
And if you find that your animal has developed a severe case of separation anxiety you may need to contact a behaviorist or your vet to have them evaluated.
The biggest take away is to be patient with your animal. You are your animal’s whole world and you will help to set the tone for them. If you respond to going back to work in a calm, consistent and comforting manner, your animal will eventually respond that way too.
Laura Selvaggio-Burban is a lifelong animal advocate. Laura currently serves as the director of Branford/North Branford's Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter.