Try to behave
Many people have weathered the storm of the past year figuring out how to navigate the challenges of their ‘9-to-5’ at home: figuring out how to be productive at work, and taking on the role of educator, online social coordinator, and connoisseur of all things ‘health’. And while the past year just kept throwing curve-balls, dogs and cats thrived. Not only have our longtime companions enjoyed the benefits of having their families at home, but this past year shelters saw a boom in adoptions, and many first-time pet owners have experienced the absolute joy of a furry companion. This strange place that we have all existed in gave families the once-in-a-lifetime experience of spending most days at home with their pets.
The space on our phones once allocated to photos of trips and soft-ball games is now a collage of snapshots of the sleeping contortions of our companions, and lunchtime is now a spectator sport. This has created a whole new level of bond, and our pets are so excited that humans have finally realized the truth: they are the center of the universe. But just as soon as there is an order and rhythm to the days at home, the rug gets pulled out from under our feet again.
Many businesses and companies that have functioned for the last year remotely are now asking what seems unreal: it’s time to come back to the office. Beyond what is expected from you, and the realization that pajama pants are (unfortunately) not office appropriate attire for that 8 AM meeting, our at-home coworkers are also in for a big culture shock. While those who have been fortunate enough to have had their pets for years may remember the old strategies of leaving their pets at home for many hours, this abrupt change in routine can create new challenges for both you and your pet and cause significant stress. And for new additions to the family, this transition can be even more shocking.
What does stress in my pet look like?
Many animals have not practiced or never learned strategies to be independent at home, and for some this psychological stress can manifest in behavioral issues. The following is a list of behavioral signs of stress:
Intervening early and planning can help both you and your pet transition to this next phase as easily and stress free as possible. We cannot predict, in most cases, how pets will respond to this challenge, and so approaching it with as much information as possible will help both of you during this time.
Where to start
Make a plan – It’s not going to be easy, but by creating an achievable roadmap to going back to in-office work for you and your pet will be pivotal for success. Starting as early as possible is best, and if your office plans to start back part-time in office, that also is a great way to support your pet, make adjustments as necessary, and ease them into the longer days at home without you.
Spy on them! Many veterinary behaviorists recommend setting up video cameras to watch your pet during the day. By using cameras, you can watch for behaviors of stress or lack thereof (happily napping dog ->). While you’re instituting your plan, having a camera set up will allow you to intervene early and make adjustments when needed.
Exercise – There is an old saying in the dog training world, “a tired dog is a good dog”. And this tends to apply to a wide variety of situations. At the beginning and end of the day, add in additional exercise for your pet. Whether it’s a longer walk or extra laps around the living room with the laser pointer, this will give them quality time spent with you and help them work out additional energy.
Not so fast! – Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your pet probably won’t adjust to you leaving them overnight. Look back at your plan and decide when you will need to leave the house every day. If you’re currently leaving your house at your goal time, great! If you will be leaving much earlier than you do now, move the time up in 5–15-minute increments.
Food for the body and the mind – Curbing boredom is key. Providing mental stimulation will help your pet to be entertained and engaged with their day. Food puzzles, and slow feeding treat toys (you know, the hard rubber ones you stuff with goodies) can provide just that. Keep it interesting by switching up the stuffing and finding some challenging puzzles for them to dig their nose around in!
Dog walker, day-care, and mid-day breaks -Oh My! – Not every pet is social, especially if they haven’t had the opportunity to build up their socialization skills during the pandemic. While doggie-day care may be a great option for some, for others it could be a huge stressor. Other alternatives include dog/pet sitters or possibly lunchtime at home to give your pet some extra exercise, a bathroom break, and a mental break from being home without you!
Practice makes perfect – Once you have worked out a plan, practice it. By using the tools that you’ve built, test run your plan ahead of time when you can quickly intervene. Practice your whole day through (hello coffee shop!). If your pet is showing signs of distress, intervene early and make modifications.
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
What if that’s not enough?
So, you’ve done all of the things listed above, and your pet is still experiencing signs of anxiety. Don’t panic. Reach out to your veterinarian! They can provide a range of resources to help. By discussing your concerns and the issues you’re encountering, your veterinarian can tailor recommendations to you and your pets’ needs. This could range from a list of local trainers with experience in separation anxiety, to behavior modifying medications, or even referral to a veterinary behaviorist if necessary.
While nothing can fully prepare you for the culture-shift that is about to happen, creating a routine and reducing your pets’ stress will make this change easier for both you and them. Creating a more stress-free home for both of you gives you quality time to enjoy each other’s company when you get home!
Good Life Veterinary Care is based in Dublin, Ohio, part of the Greater Columbus area. We aim to promote health and wellbeing for your pet and enrich your bond with your furry companions. To help meet the needs of our patients and their families, we are offering COVID transition appointments. During these appointments, we will work with you to formulate a plan that supports you and your pets, and provide specific tailored recommendations as well as support through this transition.
The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center Behavioral Medicine (2021). Mitigating separation related behavior when you’re home frequently now, but won’t always be. Retrieved on May 18, 2021 from https://vet.osu.edu/vmc/sites/default/files/files/companion/behavior/
The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center Behavioral Medicine (2021). The indoor cat initiative. Retrieved on May 18, 2021 from https://indoorpet.osu.edu/
The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center Behavioral Medicine (2021). The indoor cat initiative: Separation anxiety. Retrieved on May 20, 2021 from https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/problemsolving/separation-anxiety#:~:text=If%20your%20cat%20seems%20to,to%20get%20the%20food%20out.