Avoid Ruff Days: 12 Tips to Prevent Doggy Distress When Returning to Work

8 blissful weeks. Comforting snuggles, endless face licks, extended playtime, multiple daily walkies, continual lap warming service and constant companionship. Whether working from home with a loyal filing cabinet guard or having been isolated at home, pro (catstination) is through the roof with the welcomed distraction of purring furballs so happily curled up to us (and/or keyboard) all day long. Can’t move, [insert pet] sleeping!

Tail wagging increased 5000%… Like a dog with two (or maybe 50) tails, one poor dachshund even caused himself a sprain from overexcitement with family’s sudden increased home time. With their favourite hooman by their side full time, delighted dogs worldwide are celebrating with their biggest wish (after more food) finally granted.

But What Happens Now…

From constant attention to… an abrupt change back to daily life. With more and more returning to work outside of the home, separation anxiety is a big concern for those many puppy dog eyes (likely a few humans too). The furballs who comforted us through lockdown loneliness, may now experience the same.

So before we return to ‘work like a dog’, we need to work with our pups to ease them back in and prevent panic. If changes are made a few weeks prior to changes, it will help them remember and adjust to what it’s like to be on their own again, minimising stress from separation. And it’s not just gone to the dogs… Although cats will have you believing otherwise, the sudden change in routine and companionship can dramatically affect them too.

12 Tips to Prevent Doggy Distress When Returning to Work

While you’re workin, dogs be jammin’! Studies show music – especially reggae and soft rock’n’roll soothes their sweet doggy soul. So pop on some Bob Marley, or any relaxing slow-tempo tunes like jazz or classical (also useful during fireworks) to help reduce stress from outside noise and calm our canines. Some dogs prefer human voices so an audiobook, TV, or radio can work well too and help to simulate daily life during lockdown over the past few months. Or dig a bit deeper into species-specific tunes with the appropriately named Spot-ify boasting many ‘music for dogs’ playlists.

Is your cat arching up feeling left out? Don’t worry, the web is littered with feline-faves too that will help calm that rattled fur-’fro right back down! However, our discerning felines respond best to species-specific classics such as chirping, purring, and the sounds of nursing kittens.

Keep them busy! Bored pets are stressed pets. Signs can often be confused with separation anxiety. Keep canines occupied and enriched mentally with long-lasting treat toys like a puzzle feeder and safe chews, or a scratching/climbing post for felines. Hide treats around the home for curious pups to discover. Dogs also need a lot of exercise and daily walks but cats benefit immensely with regular playtime too. Try 10 minutes in front of the TV each day using a wand-style toy for them to chase around. Simulating their predatory ‘in the wild’ skills boosts confidence and bond while lowering stress.

Preparation is key! Slowly desensitise by regularly giving them a fun task, toy, or puzzle to attempt solo in a different room, or leaving the house for short periods of time. Resist the temptation for 24/7 snuggles… Ease into the transition and practice in advance by gradually increasing the amount of time you leave them each time, every day.

Routine, routine, routine! Just like young children, dogs (and cats) respond well to structure. Has your cheeky pet’s dinner campaign become earlier and earlier during isolation? Keep things on schedule as much as possible even while home, especially with time and frequency of meals and treats.

Pet crates and gates. Having their own dedicated safe, cosy space can be extremely comforting to a dog. Pet gates also provide an opportunity to practice ‘social distancing’ and independence within their own space. Read more about RSPCA’s tips for crate training your dog here. 

Recognise anxiety triggers. Is your pup highly aware or noticeably stressed when you put shoes on or reach for your keys? Switch things up and integrate these actions when not leaving too. Disconnect the stressful association by performing these telltale tasks in front of them but while home – during cooking for example. Or if your pet’s anxiety is triggered by the outside sounds of a neighbour, rubbish truck or alarm, use treats and play to recreate positive associations instead.

“Their emotions can be a reflection of ours because they are so tightly bonded with us” 

Veterinarian Dr. Meredith Montgomery, Clinical Assistant Professor of Shelter Medicine at the University of Florida.

Chill out! Don’t make leaving a big deal. Remain calm whether leaving or coming home. Remember, stress transfers. If we are stressed, chances are our intuitive pets are feeling it too.

Leave an item with your scent in their bed. Dogs live the world through their nose so leaving your scent in their fave spot (t-shirt or blanket for example) will help calm a nervous dog.

Quality bestie time. When you return home from work, dedicate the first few minutes to playing.. petting.. cuddling.. bonding.. and chatting with your best friend. They will of course be sure to remind you of this anyway!

Need a hand? Consider pet sitters, dog walkers, pet spas, and doggy daycares if your pet needs a little extra love while you’re away. Install a pet camera or chat with a certified separation anxiety trainer.

In case of escape. Ensure your dog (or cat) is microchipped, accompanied with a visible ID tag also.

Doggy school. New tricks = happy active minds. Find an RSPCA School for Dogs class near you here.

Telltale signs of separation anxiety include destructive behaviour, excessive barking or howling (or meowing), scratching or chewing on doors and windows, or suddenly not using litter tray. All pets have differing thresholds for stress however and some dogs may not even show obvious signs of distress, so ensure to keep these tips in mind to prevent your pup from having a ruff day while the family’s away.

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Dr Alex Hynes

Dr Alex Hynes

Veterinarian, Author and Educator with an extraordinary passion for animals, life and veterinary work both as the hospital director of one of Australia’s busiest emergency pet hospitals, Animal Emergency Service in Australia, and as an entrepreneur and media personality.

Dr Alex Hynes

Dr Alex Hynes

Veterinarian, Author and Educator with an extraordinary passion for animals, life and veterinary work both as the hospital director of one of Australia’s busiest emergency pet hospitals, Animal Emergency Service in Australia, and as an entrepreneur and media personality.

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