How to prepare pets for your return to the office

Published: Apr. 28, 2021 at 6:05 AM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Working from home for the past year hasn’t been tough on everyone, specifically pets.

“We have heard a new term coined in the industry called a “COVID puppy”-- so puppies that were acquired since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Jen Westrate, owner of Barks and Recreation in Eau Claire.

Whether you adopted a pandemic puppy or have had your furry friend for years, dogs have gotten used to all day company.

With vaccines being administered and restrictions loosening, people will be walking out their front door and into the office again.

“A lot of dogs think this is the norm and it is very alarming when they learn ‘oh gosh this might not be the norm,’” explained Heather Mishefske, a Certified Canine Behavior Consultant.

Mishefske says the key to leaving your dog alone at home is preparation.

“If you know you’re going back to work in two months, three months, four months, whatever it may be-- start now,” Mishefske stressed.

Westrate is an advocate of departure and crate training.

“Being able to have your dog use a crate and see that spot as a safe place for them,” Westrate said. “We like to keep it not as a punishment, but somewhere they can go where they feel secure.”

Trainers say having realistic expectations and not moving too quickly is important.

Start by putting your dog in their crate and leaving for a few minutes then increase your absence over time.

“That’s like us starting a running program-- you’re not going to run for one minute and then the next day go for a 5k and run for 30 minutes,” emBARK owner Mishefske added.

There are a few behaviors that can give you an indication of how your pup may handle an extended absence.

“We see dogs that follow you around the house all the time,”Mishefske pointed out. “You go to the bathroom, you go to the kitchen, you go to the living room, you walk outside and they’re just right by you.”

Experts add that canines thrive on routine.

Develop a daily plan that includes a feeding schedule and a walk before and after your shift.

“Make sure you are combatting that time away from you with really good quality time when they’re with you,” Westrate included.

Leaving doesn’t have to be a bad thing either.

Trainers say to pair your absence with something fabulous. That way when you go to work and leave your dogs in their crate they’re excited with something they only get when you’re not home.

“Give them a special treat-- maybe a Kong that’s been frozen with peanut butter that you can put in the crate and it’s something special that they can only have when they’re in their crate,” Westrate explained.

Karen Rabideaux with the Eau Claire County Humane Association advises to skip the production when going and returning.

“Not going over the top when you’re leaving and exaggerating everything-- ‘I am going to be back’-- it’s tightening up their anxiety,” Rabideaux said.

Mishefske warns pet parents about self-diagnosing their pets.

“You may see behaviors that look like separation anxiety, but it’s actually just distress.”

True separation anxiety is an intense behavior.

“Dogs will bark excessively, will drool to the point where they get to destroying things,” Rabideaux explained.

It’s not just animals who struggle with separation, humans can too.

“Dog cameras are definitely a really hot commodity right now. A lot of people really like being able to check in,” Westrate said.

“It’s a really great way to keep some data on what does this look like and what time frame can you leave them before they start to struggle or are they even struggling,” Mishefske added about the tool.

While easier said than done, Westrate reminds you there’s no reason to feel guilty.

“There are a lot of resources for your dogs-- obviously we have doggy daycare [at Barks and Recreation.] If you have a long work day, there are a lot of great dog walkers in the area.”

Helping prepare our animals for change after they’ve helped us get through quarantine.

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