By Dr. Gary Weitzman
While not everyone was pleased with work-from-home mandates during the pandemic, pets have likely enjoyed the company, frequent play breaks and extra time outdoors. However, as mask mandates loosen and California prepares to fully reopen its economy, many owners will soon return to work — but not in the next room, on the couch or at the kitchen table.
The transition back into the physical office may pose challenges for pets, especially new animals brought into the home to keep first-time “pawrents” company during the pandemic. Whether you have a “pandemic pet” or a dog or cat well-versed with what work life was in the old days, an adjustment period is to be expected. As a passionate animal welfare champion, I recommend test runs to be sure your pets are ready for their latest life change.
Here are four ways to prepare your pets for post-pandemic life:
- Graduated exposure to departure. For those currently working from home — and for best results — begin exposing pets to departure up to four times per day. Start with 10-15 minute increments — place pets where they will be located when you are gone and leave them with food or toys to play with or chew on. Consider enrichment that will take them some time to “work on.” Slowly start extending the time you are gone to ensure pets will associate you leaving with something positive as they get something fun to do. Drive around the block and return, paying attention to your pet’s behavior when you come back. Your pet is an expert at “telling” you when they feel stress or anxiety.
- Ensure pets are set up for success by giving them plenty of exercise and enrichment throughout the day, including before leaving to occupy their time while away. A tired pet is a happy, well-behaved pet!
- For pet parents who have used daycare or dog walking services in the past, start working those back into your routine well before you return to the office. Consider also being home to reward appropriate responses when they arrive — remember, pets haven’t had many visitors this year!
- Don’t make a big fuss when returning. Keep it friendly and casual to help avoid increased excitement around your return.
Now is the time to begin thinking about how you can set pets up for successful alone time, while also keeping an eye out for signs they might be struggling. Signs of separation anxiety include panting, pacing, vocalizing and scratching at the door.
You can learn more ways to socialize your pets in various virtual classes hosted by San Diego Humane Society, including our classes for “Puppy Socialization in Isolation.” My new bookazine, published with National Geographic, can also help: “The Pet Lover’s Guide: How to raise happy, healthy, and well-behaved dogs and cats.” It’s available on Amazon or at any retailer where magazines are sold. Plus, a portion of the proceeds will benefit San Diego Humane Society.
Although furry family members have surely enjoyed having “their pack” around all day, heading back to work shouldn’t cause you, or your pets, stress. Using the tips above can make the transition easier for all and keep everyone in the household happy. Cheers to successful changes!
— Dr. Gary Weitzman, DVM, MPH, CAWA, is an author, veterinarian and passionate animal welfare advocate. He has served as President & CEO of San Diego Humane Society since 2012.