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How to prepare your pet when you return to work

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Buying a pet during lockdown became the new normal and thousands of people went ahead and purchased a dog or cat for companionship during times of social distancing and staying at home. People were able to live their lifelong dream of owning a pet as they had more time and working from home allowed them to spend more time with pets and furry friends. Our pets have become used to having us around for long periods of time and this may change in the future and it’s best to help them adjust now to protect the welfare and wellbeing of your cat or dog.

Returning to the new normal has raised fears that many dogs and cats could be left on their own at home for long periods of time as people return to office working. It is therefore important that anyone who has bought a puppy or dog considers what care their pet will need when they return to work. Dogs require company as social animals and also need to be exercised and have regular access to an outdoor space. These needs should be taken into consideration and a plan in place for when life returns to normal.

We have some great ideas to help you and your pet with this transitional phase – read on for more details.

How to prepare your cat or dog to be left for periods of time on their own

To help in preparing for a return to work we have included tips to help with caring for your dog when you are back to work, as well as advise on how to prepare your dog for longer periods on their own.

Take your dog to work

Find out if you have an office-friendly working environment and take your dog to work with you. You may need to consider the following:

  • Train your dog to ensure they do not disturb others in the office and consider toilet training.
  • If your office does not have a dog friendly policy, you could talk to your employer to see if this is something they would consider.
  • Find out if there are any rules in place to understand what is and what is not possible.
  • Take treats, toys, a bed and plenty of water with you to ensure your pet is well cared for in the office.
  • If you aren’t allowed to take your dog to work, maybe you can ask your employer if they will allow you to work from home where possible each week.

Find a dog sitter or a dog walker

If you cannot take your dog to work, another option is to find a dog sitter or a dog walker. They could be a friend, a neighbour, a family member or a professional company that offers these services. You may need to consider the following:

  • Always check references of dog sitters and walkers. It’s important to understand that the company or person you allow time with your dog can look after and understand your pet’s needs at all times.
  • Make sure they get on well with your dog and that you are both aligned on training methods and commands, to avoid confusion.
  • There are many professional dog walkers who can collect your dog and take them for a walk. You can even decide if you want your dog to be walked on their own or as part of a group.
  • Offer to come on the walk with them the first time to see how they manage your dog.

Find a dog day care centre

If you want your dog to be look after for the entire day, a ‘dog-day-care’ centre can provide this service for you. You may need to consider the following with this option:

  • A doggy day care centre provides lots of interaction with other dogs.
  • Always search for a reputable company, where the staff are trained in dog keeping and handling.
  • Ask for recommendations from other people who have used a particular doggy day care company and always check reviews.
  • Look for a company that ensures the safety of dogs in the group and takes the animals’ individual needs into account.

Build a dog friendly network of friends and carers

  • Build a network or community of dog and cat supports who you can call on when you need support. This can have a positive impact on you and your pet, in terms of social and wellbeing aspects.
  • Building a network can be a more cost-effective way of looking after your pets, if other options are expensive.
  • Always remember to find out if anyone is looking after your dog they can take care of your pets needs at all times.

Train your dog to stay at home alone

  • It’s important that your dog is trained to be able to stay at home alone for short periods of time.
  • If you have a return-to-work date you should prepare your dog in advance by slowly reducing the amount of time you spend with them and leaving them for short periods on their own at home.
  • Take a walk without your dog as a way of getting them used to your absence. Start with a 5-minute walk and gradually increase it to an hour or more each time. Don’t forget to leave your dog a toy or two to entertain them, which will help them associate you leaving with something fun.
  • Try a kong toy filled with treats, frozen overnight, and given to your dog before you go out. This provides mental stimulation for your pet and distracts them from you leaving.
  • Pet-proof your house or home by making sure electrical cables are out of reach, plants are not accessible, and any rubbish or food is well secured out of reach.

Look for signs of stress and anxiety in your pet

Separation anxiety is a concern for many pet parents as they have to prepare themselves and their pets for a return to the office. It’s important to look for signs that your pet is in distress.

  • Whining more often than normal or suddenly started this behaviour
  • Drooling
  • Barking that doesn’t stop
  • Destruction of the home like chewing furniture and door frames
  • Self-harm such as incessant licking and biting at their own body
  • Having toileting accidents around the home when they were previously potty trained
  • Pacing or circling when they see you getting ready to leave
  • Shaking

How can you help to ease separation anxiety?

  • Feed them their favourite breakfast and take your dog for a long walk before work to help them relax. It will give them the opportunity to get used to a new routine, stretch their legs and explore before you leave for work.
  • If separation anxiety is a concern or is getting out of hand, always consult your vet for advice.
  • Pets love a routine. Introduce them to a new routine or schedule as soon as you can and before you return to work.
  • Give your pets their favourite toys. If the toys are in the same place when you return and don’t look touched, you will need to find something a bit more challenging to get their interest.
  • Create a dog-safe zone and a safe space to call their own. Many dogs experience anxiety or stress when left in the home without a space to call their own. Prepare a safe space your dog loves, with a cosy bed, fresh water, and toys.
  • Play soft music when you are not home. Before you go back to work, start putting music on throughout the day.
  • If you have fed your dog at random times during the day, you can try scheduling set times to feed them before you return to work. Your pets will learn that you leave after breakfast and always return before the evening meal.
  • Schedule a daytime visit to give your dog a walk if you live close to home.

By Melissa Pickburn

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