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Help your pandemic pet adjust to your back-to-office life

If you were among the 23 million American households that acquired pets during the pandemic, your pet probably has no idea about your “other” life spending hours away from home every day.

After two years of napping under your desk, sharing your lunch and making unexpected appearances in video meetings, your pet is about to experience some serious social distancing if you’re returning to the office.

Follow these six strategies to help your pet adjust to being alone during the day.

Spend some time apart

Start preparing pets for longer periods of alone time a few weeks before you return to the office. Your pets may have an easier time adjusting to your new schedule if the transition happens over a period of time. So start slowly, and gradually increase the amount of time you spend away from home until they get used to being alone for several hours at a time.

Stay calm

Whether you’re gone for a few minutes or several hours, avoid the temptation to make a big fuss when you leave and return—but don’t ignore your pets, either.

Research published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior found that dogs that were petted before their owners left the house were calmer for longer periods. Offer a few gentle pets and bid your dog or cat farewell and hello in a calm voice. Remember, if you don’t act like it’s a big deal that you’re leaving the house, your pets will pick up on that calm energy.

Establish a new routine

Dogs thrive on routine, and your return to the office means no more lunchtime walks or on-demand treats.

In addition to preparing your dog to spend more time alone, start introducing him to a new routine. You may need to adjust mealtime, walks and bathroom breaks to fit with your office schedule. Cats are also creatures of habit and might need some time to adjust to your new routine.

Provide distractions

Absent a pet parent to play with and dole out treats, pets will need other activities to fill their time while you’re at work.

Food puzzles and chew toys are great distractions. Electronic treat dispensers are another option; these app-controlled devices are equipped with cameras and audio so you can watch your pets, talk to them and dispense treats with the push of a button.

You may also want to turn on the radio. Researchers found that classical music had a calming effect on dogs.

Call in reinforcements

If you hate the idea of leaving your dog alone for an entire workday—and your dog seems to hate the extra alone time, too—consider hiring a dog walker or signing up for a few sessions of doggie daycare.

A midday walk or long play session with other dogs will tire him out. One poll found that pet owners believed walks made their dogs feel happier and calmer.

Watch for signs of stress

Cats may have an easier time adjusting to alone time, but up to 20% of dogs experience separation anxiety. Even though your pup seems calm and well-adjusted when you’re working from home, the return to the office could bring out his anxious side.

Common signs of separation anxiety in dogs include chewing, digging, pacing, barking, howling, and going to the bathroom in the house.

If alone time is stressful for your dog, considers synthetic pheromones, a compression vest or anxiety-relieving supplements that could help instill a sense of calm. There are even certified separation anxiety trainers who could help.

Crate training is also a good idea to protect your pup from getting into trouble (and potentially hurting himself) when his separation anxiety is in overdrive. Dogs with severe separation anxiety may need prescription medication. Talk to your veterinarian if you’re concerned about any anxious behaviors your dog or cat start showing when you return to the office.

Your pet may need some time to adjust to your return to the office but, with a little preparation, your dog or cat will make the transition from team video meetings to snoozing solo while you’re at work.

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