I won’t get into age-old debate of whether you’re a dog person or a cat person (it’ll be pretty clear where I fall), but with the huge uptick in the number of people working from home, I’ve seen many of my friends and colleagues talk about how their pets have been thrilled to have more attention and time with us. I’ve been working from home for a while now, so my pup pretty much has access to me whenever he feels. But there was a point where he was alone, on average, for 10 hours a day. And (hopefully) it won’t be long until some of you will be back to your normal work schedules, in which case your pets will have to adjust to your new work schedule after quarantine too.
I am always the first person to make disclaimers, and this is no exception. I am in no way professionally trained or have the educational background to give you directions on how to interact with or care for your animal. I’ve had dogs for more than half of my life and have been the one to train four of them from puppyhood. But this is my experience only, and I’m sharing the things I’ve learned from 15 years of small dog (15-lbs. and under) ownership. Tailor your approach to your animal, consult your vet if you have any concerns, and understand that I am a “my dog sleeps next to me in my bed and cuddles with me on my couch every evening” person.
Hopefully it won’t be long until you’re back to your normal work schedules, in which case your pets will have to adjust to your new work schedule after quarantine too.
So here are my tips for how to help your pet adjust to post-quarantine life.
1. Get Out
I know it’s a bit of an ordeal to be out and about still, but I think it’s really a good idea to start leaving the house for varying lengths of time so your pup can slowly get used to the fact that you won’t exist solely on your couch for the rest of eternity. Working your way up from smaller increments like 30 minutes (or shorter if you’ve got a super anxious pup) will slowly help them readjust to being alone so they’re not sitting with you home one day and then you’re gone all of a sudden for eight or more hours.
If your dog is anything like mine, they know as soon as I grab some keys and get my shoes on that I’m getting ready to leave, and they immediately begin skittering around hoping that they’ll be asked to join along for the trip. I’ve had friends and family also experience their pet going into total overdrive from the “I’m leaving” routine.
Mitigate this by, at random points during the day when you’re not actually leaving, putting on your shoes, picking up your keys, and whatever else you do before you leave. This can help them understand that picking up the keys doesn’t mean the world is ending. Of course, when you actually start to leave, they will realize what’s going on, but I think it helps when this realization doesn’t happen in the middle of a “I’m grabbing my bag and putting on my shoes” panic frenzy.
3. Lowkey Departures + Returns
I have never met a dog that isn’t sad to see their human leave and excited to see them come back home, but I really think that making your hellos and goodbyes with your dog very lowkey can go a long way. My partner’s parents’ dog, Poppy, is an absolute sweetheart who was terrified of strangers (i.e., me) when I first met her and now leaps up onto my lap every time I sit down on the couch next to her. She also used to instantly pee on the floor every time all of us left the house and every time we got back, and many of my fellow pet owners are posting about having similar experiences every time they go get groceries or even get the mail.
What I found helped with Poppy’s peeing response, as well as my own dog’s issues with being too hyped when we return home (he’s almost hurt himself multiple times trying to fling his 12-lb. body over a 3-foot gate to get to the garage door), is by making your goodbyes and greetings very low energy.
Don’t immediately run in and get on the floor with all the excitement in the world to say hi to your dog when you come home (I know, it can be very hard not to), and do not act like you leaving is a huge deal. Instead of treating these events with a ton of stimulation via petting, noise, kisses, and then absolute silence once you’re gone (or vice versa), lowering the overall energy level of these interactions will help them feel more calm over time.
4. Get Back on Schedule
I know things can get funky when you’re working from home and/or you have more free hours in the day than you’re used to. I’m not one for sleeping in, and even I get going later some days than others. But I think it’s important to remember that even if you’re willing to adjust and adapt your schedule to how things are going on any given day or week, dogs typically aren’t so flexible.
If you’ve gotten out of your normal rhythm of walking your pet, playing with them, or feeding them, introducing that back can go a long way in keeping your pup calm throughout the day even when you’re not there. It gives them things they can count on to happen at the around the same time every day. If you used to leave early for work and now have been feeding your dog breakfast later due to being home more, get back to feeding them when you normally would be leaving for work. Walk them when you typically would on a day when you’re gone during work hours. And make sure their dinnertime is also adjusted accordingly so that when you’re in and out of the house more, they have a consistent routine that you’ve already established way before you’ve resumed your normal work schedule.
5. Comfy Cove
I like lounging around just as much, if not more, as anyone else, and my dog definitely has picked up on that over the years. I’ve never met another animal that likes to cuddle with people as much as he does, and making sure he feels cozy when we’re out of the house has gone a long way in keeping him calm and out of trouble. We all like having a dedicated comfy space, and I think the vast majority of dogs feel the same way, so I really like the idea of making a little resting area for them to hang out while you’re gone.
My dog has a designated portion of our couch (read: the entire chaise lounge) with his own blanket and donut-shaped cushion, and while I did it mostly because I thought it was a cute idea, it’s been very good to see how much of a positive impact it’s had on him. He really doesn’t do the anxious pacing and sniffing anymore or put his face two inches from the door in a very tense, anxious manner while we’re gone. Every time I take a look at the pet cam, he’s sitting or laying down on his cushion or blanket, just waiting for someone to come home and overall seems way more relaxed and calm.
I can say that I definitely would be having a much harder time in the midst of everything going on if it weren’t for my dog. My partner and I could not have been more glad to get him back from some family friends he was staying with (we were moving and then took a short weekend trip) right before everything hit the fan. I hope that sharing some of my personal experience can be useful as we move into the next phase of finding a new rhythm in our lives, and regardless of what’s going on, give your pets an extra hug and kiss for me today. Take care everyone!