Post-pandemic: how to transition your pet into being alone
Headed back to the office or the worksite soon? Here’s how prepare your pets for your return to work. Yes, you can train your pets – particularly your dog(s) – to be happy when you’re gone all day. If you’ve had your pet for awhile, they will probably return to their former routine of home alone fairly easily. However, many of us adopted shelter pets during the pandemic, so they’ve not been home alone very much.
Instead, they’re used to sleeping in a little later with you, having a relaxed morning lying at your feet as you’re on the computer, going for short or long walks throughout the day, plus plenty of playtime and treats. And they’re not going to be pleased when it all stops. Cats can experience separation anxiety as well: Cats are more focused on territory, while dogs are more focused on humans. So how can you smooth the transition for them?
First, know this: Our pets have amazing resiliency and can transition to this new schedule. But your new pandemic pet, or pets with a history of separation anxiety may have a more difficult time. Knowing what to look for can help you be proactive and set your pet up for success.
Signs of anxiety
Here are key signals that your pet isn’t able to self-soothe or has too much energy:
- Your pet begins to whimper or whine when it sees you start to get dressed to leave the house. Panting, pacing, or lying at your feet are other symptoms.
- They begin to bark when you shut the door, paw or jump at the door or at a window.
- They begin gnawing on furniture or other items.
- They find new play toys: a roll of toilet paper or the nearly full kitchen garbage can.
- They urinate or defecate in the house.
Start transitioning your pet
Here are some tips to get you started on a happy, healthy transition.
Leave them alone in small increments. Start by leaving them alone in the house for 15 minutes, gradually building up your time. Run an errand, go grab a coffee, do something where your pet can’t see you out the window. Experts say stay gone at least 15 minutes, because if animals experience separation anxiety, they’ll do so within the first 15 minutes. Do this 2,3 times a day. Lengthen your time gradually, and be patient, especially with new pets. Remember: they’re in a learning curve here.
Leave them with a treat. When you leave the house during transition, leave your animal with a treat or a new toy. That way they’ll start to think that your leaving equals treat time. (We suggest you quietly remove the toy when you’re back, keeping it “new” for a longer period of time.)
Create a new routine. Now that you’ve left them alone in growing increments of time, you can start building your new routine, before you actually enter into it. If your pet was with you pre-pandemic, add in whatever your schedule was before you left for the day. In other words, shave/put on make-up and your work duds, pick up your briefcase and leave. Get them used to seeing the routine again.
Day 1 of your back-to-work
Here are additional ideas to help your pet when you actually go back onsite to work.
Feed and exercise them before you go. Yes, it means you’ll need to set the alarm earlier, but it’s crucial to exercise your dog in the morning. A tired dog is a happy dog. Play ball in the backyard. Take them on a long walk, allowing them to sniff. Did you know that allowing them to sniff or snoop around helps stimulate their brain and keep excitement levels down? Then leave them with plenty of food and water for the day.
Help them entertain themselves with toys, puzzles. Leaving them with interactive puzzle toys, or a new and exciting chew toy, can keep them busy while encouraging independence. Did you know chewing releases feel-good chemicals in the brain? So purchase plenty of these entertainment items and rotate them daily. Just don’t leave them with a chew toy that can break into small pieces while you’re not there to monitor them, becoming a choking hazard or digestive system obstruction.
Monitor their behavior. It may soothe you and them as well, for you to monitor their behavior at least for the first couple of weeks. Most smartphones and tablets have apps to be able to watch your dog live on your phone, so you can see how they behave while you’re gone. Are they destructive, running and howling through the house? Do they mope and spend the day in one spot? Once you see what they’re doing, you can take measures to help them.
Consider crate training. If your pet is too destructive when you leave, consider confining them to a crate. We tend to think of crates as punishment or prison, but actually, when done right, your dog will consider it a safe spot. However, it’s best to start the crate training early, in small time increments, while you’re still at home. Use a large enough crate to hold food, water and a few toys.
Pet daycare and dogwalkers. These are other options you should consider, if your dog is having a hard time staying alone. They’ll get plenty of exercise with either option; plus, daycare helps them build their socialization skills.
When you return home, don’t raise the pitch or volume of your voice as you greet your dog. With a quiet voice and a lowered tone, greet them as you hug and stroke them. Otherwise, you’re showing signs of anxiety to your dog, and they’ll take their cue from you, jumping and whining. Spend plenty of time with them each evening. On the weekends, take long walks and spend lots of together time.
A few more thoughts
Your pets are highly observant, so if they sense you’re stressed about leaving them, they will be as well. You need to stay calm and be patient during this transition, which may take a couple of months. Show lots of quiet love and attention to help them feel secure.
Follow these steps, and it won’t take long before your pet is happy at home alone.