Preparing Your Dog for a Return to the Office or School

The last year has been a crazy one with the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of us had to start working from home, were quarantined or on lockdown for weeks and a lot of people took that opportunity to get a pet.  But what does that mean for your pet as everything goes back to “normal” and a lot of us are heading back into an office instead of being at home?

Sara Forsberg · April 27, 2021

Preparing Your Dog for a

Return to the Office or School

The last year has been a crazy one with the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of us had to start working from home, were quarantined or on lockdown for weeks and a lot of people took that opportunity to get a pet.  But what does that mean for your pet as everything goes back to “normal” and a lot of us are heading back into an office instead of being at home?

We got our puppy, Jax last March, right as schools, businesses and everything was shutting down. We had planned on getting him for a few months prior but the timing was perfect. All of sudden we were home more and the kids were all home on distance learning and we got a lot of bonding time with our new puppy. I know a lot of friends and family got pets as well during that time, but after a year home what problems may arise for our beloved animals as many of us transition back to school and work?

For thousands of pets adopted during the pandemic, this may be the first time they will be left alone at home for extended periods. And even for those whose owners worked outside the home before the pandemic, this will be another major disruption as their fur babies have been accustomed to them being at home most, if not all of the day. So before you pull out your work clothes sitting in your closet and get back to the office, make sure your pet is ready to return to long days without you. Remember, our beloved furry companions have feelings too and can be sad, depressed or anxious. Here are some tips to help make the transition as smooth as possible.

Create a routine and ease back into it as soon as possible

Since your pet has become accustomed to you at home, your sudden absence from the house for extended periods of time can cause separation anxiety. If possible prepare your pet for this transition in a gradual manner by easing back into old routines. Your pet and you may have enjoyed an easier “go with the flow” schedule and they might not understand what is going on. Start by having a schedule for waking up, bedtime and meals, and a schedule for different activities, play time, exercise or walking. Routine is comforting to most dogs, so putting them on a consistent schedule that is as close as possible to the one they will soon be on gets them accustomed to the changes when you do return and will lessen the shock and make it easier for them to adjust. 

Start leaving your pet alone

No matter how hard it might be (for you and your pet), you have to start leaving them alone. You don't have to start off by leaving them alone for the full 8-9 hours.  Practice with leaving for an hour or two and gradually increase the time away. Even if that just means running to the store without them.  

  • Give a small treat just as you walk out the door to condition the pet to find it rewarding when you leave.
  • Readjust the length of your absence, depending on your pet's anxiety and behavior. Be patient, continuously monitor their behavior, and keep your expectations realistic.
  • Every time you return home, praise your pet for their good behavior and remind them that you will always come home to them.

Keeping your pup happy when they are home alone

Dogs who are left home alone can react in different ways. If your pup has major anxiety, it’s best to consult with a professional animal behaviorist or with a veterinarian who specializes in behavior issues. At the other end of the spectrum, some dogs are excited for the opportunity to explore getting into everything and anything and engage in destructive behavior. However most dogs are in between and they are able to handle being left alone, but they usually aren’t thrilled. For these dogs, here is what you can do to make their time alone happier.

  • A common challenge to successfully spend the day alone is boredom, so give them something to do while you are gone: long lasting raw bones or antlers, chew toys, a Kong filled with treats, puzzle feeders or their favorite toys. These items can keep them occupied and can help them pass the time until their favorite human gets home. One tip is to rotate their toys so every day they get to play with something “new”.
  • Another option to keep your pet entertained while you’re away is to leave the TV on or play some music to distract your beloved companion. There are even channels on YouTube specifically for animals!
  • Try to keep them in the part of the house where they associate happiness. If you can, keep them in an area where everyone in the family spends a lot of time so they feel at home and comfortable. Consider leaving them a blanket you have used or a T-shirt you have worn so that the familiar smell of you can comfort them in your absence. I always used to leave my old ratty sleep t-shirt I had just slept in with my dogs.
  • An additional thing to keep in mind is that your pet’s preferred place might have changed. If they’ve been spending all day in the home office with you, the family room may not be the place they want to stay when you are gone. If that’s not possible, you should gradually restrict their time spent in that space. Shutting the door the day you go back to work could be very distressing to them.
  • If possible give them access to an area where they can look out a window or door- most animals like to watch nature, activity or even cars driving by, keeping them engaged.
  • You can create a “fort-like” spot for your pup, such as an open crate with a blanket over the top. Unless they are crate-trained and your animal voluntarily spends time in it, chances are that confining your pup, especially a nervous dog can cause behavior problems.

Ease back into the crate

Crate-training might have taken a back seat during the pandemic. If you have typically used a crate when you were gone but haven't been crating your dog while at home, now is a good time to either try not using a crate while you are away by gradually increasing the length of time you are gone with the tips above. Or reintroducing the crate/ kennel or safe gated space while you are still working from home by making it rewarding for the dog to stay there for short periods of time, especially if you suspect there will be destructive behavior or if it arises during your shorter “test periods” away. By using rewards, comfort items, and toys/ chews to make their kennel space more appealing and leaving your pet alone for short periods of time, it can help increase the success of introducing or reintroducing that safe space for them.

Increase their exercise- especially in the morning

Take your pet on a walk or jog in the morning before you leave for work. If you’re short on time certain days- take them out into the backyard for a game of fetch. Playing with your dog is the gold standard of quality time for them. It combines fun, exercise, and helps strengthen their relationship with you.

Excess energy is not good when pets are left alone, and can fuel destructive boredom and separation anxiety. When your pet is already tired before you leave, and they’ve been able to spend quality time with their owner; they'll spend more time snoozing and less time being anxious. Burning that extra energy can help your pet be more relaxed and calm while you are gone.

Pet Daycare

Consider taking your dog to daycare if they are social and would enjoy it (however some dogs find it overwhelming). It can be a fun way to socialize and provide your pet with a safe space to play when you're not at home. Another option is to hire a dog walker to give your dog some physical exercise as well as some social interaction during the day. A visit from a friendly face can be a real treat and make it easier for your dog to handle the time away from you. If you haven’t used a dog walking service before, you may want to consider it, at least temporarily, to help ease your pup back into their new routine and give them a break during the long day away from you.

If you decide daycare or a dog walker is in your pet’s future, you may need to reintroduce slowly what it’s like to be around other people and dogs; their social interaction has likely been limited just as ours has! Don’t wait until your first day back to drop your dog off at daycare­, if you can, try out a few days here and there or even short “playdates” at the daycare ahead of time.

Consider getting a camera

Some signs of separation anxiety are impossible to miss- peeing or pooping indoors, furniture, household items or even walls/ trim that have been chewed, or a neighbor complaining about constant barking while you’re away. Some signs aren’t so obvious which makes investing in a pet-cam, viewable from your phone or computer- a plus. Your pup might be having a hard time, and if the only thing he’s doing is laying by the door all day waiting for you- and you’re not realizing it because he’s not destroying anything, your dog could eventually become very depressed. Other signs that a dog is stressed include pacing, hyperactivity and not able to settle down. A happy dog should be able to relax while you’re gone.

Watch out for anxiety and don’t wait to get help

Keep an eye out for any signs of excessive stress or anxiety. This can include agitation, chewing, destructive behavior, pacing, excessive barking, or pacing. If you notice your pet is not getting any better after a few weeks, it may be time to consult your veterinarian. If everything is physically fine and you still aren’t successful helping your animal on your own, you can look into a professional trainer or behaviorist so that the behavior doesn’t get worse. 

Remember that animals are highly observant and mimic our cues. If you are stressed about leaving them, they will pick up on it. This could increase their anxiety levels. It is important to remain calm and patient during this process. By using some of these suggestions with your beloved pet they will be more prepared to cope with your absence when the time comes for you to return to the office or school.

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Sara Forsberg

Sara Forsberg

Sara has been part of the BARF team since 2019. She is responsible for some admin duties, helping keep the office running smoothly and support for Rob Jr. and the rest of the team. She has been passionate about animals since a small child growing up with a Siberian Husky and 3 cats, and as an adult having a Labrador Retriever that suffered from a lot of allergy problems. She now has a rescue orphaned kitten, Poppy, and a new addition in another Lab named Jax. She has 7 children that keep her busy in most of her spare time; but enjoys anything on or near the water, spending time with friends and family, music, reading and cooking.

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"BARF®" is our acronym that means Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. It is a complete and carefully balanced blend of raw meat, fruits, vegetables and bone. Our formula mimics what nature has designed our pet's to thrive on in the wild. The result is a pet free of allergies, digestive problems, and full of life!