How to ease your pets into your return to the office

With COVID-19 restrictions rapidly being lifted, the idea of returning to workplaces minus our furry friends can be anxiety-inducing, especially for our four-legged friends.

Our selfless isolation companions are sure to notice when their constant feeder suddenly disappears for hours on end, which could set them up for separation anxiety, experts warn.

“Sudden changes to the normal routine, like going back to work after working from home for a month, are a common cause of separation anxiety,” says animal behaviourist Dr Kate Mornement told The Sydney Morning Herald.

So before you grab your briefcase and jump back into old routines, take some time to transition your pet to living without you for the workday.

“When we start to go back to work, we have to wean our pets off this, wean them off us,” Canberra Vet Dr Michael Archinal told Sky News.

“There can be some quite serious consequences for our dogs particularly, who find it really hard when we go back to work.”

Here are some tips to help you get there, and what better time to implement them than during isolation.

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Australians like Juliet Pisani-Forde are growing more concerned every day, as the prospect of returning to work has her worried about her two fur-babies: Baxter, a three-year-old golden retriever, and Enzo, an 11-week-old Italian greyhound that joined the family three weeks ago.

Ms Pisani-Forde says she fears they have become “velcro dogs”.

“They’ve become very needy and clingy,” she said.

“(Before COVID-19), Baxter was very relaxed and didn’t flinch if I left to go for work or left for a coffee. Now, something as simple as taking the rubbish out, the dogs fret and start barking and crying.”

Experts recommend practising a few desensitisation techniques to ease pets into your imminent return to the office.

The RSPCA recommends acting out your departure cues – grabbing your keys, wallet, heading for the door – and then sitting back on your couch.

This decreases your dog’s sensitivity to your leaving. By gradually increasing the time spent alone – leaving the house for a couple of seconds, leaving the house for a couple of hours – your dog will start to realise that it’s okay to be alone.

Other helpful strategies include:

  • Setting a routine: While it can be tempting to play with your pup whenever you make eye contact, setting certain times for rest, play, exercise and alone time will help prepare them (and you) for when you head back to the office.
  • Sleep time: Just as we’ve been curled up in bed with Netflix way more than normal, it’s important that your pet also gets the rest they need. Let your pooch sleep on their own schedule and wake up without prompting.
  • Play time: While your pet has probably become used to lots of one-on-one playtime with you, it’s a good idea encourage your dog to start playing with toys again, especially ones that are self-directed where you are not required. Long-lasting treat toys can be great enrichment and help promote the idea that time alone can be fun.
  • Walks: Most of us have been itching for our daily walks lately (any excuse to get out of the house), but most dogs only need 30-45 minutes of aerobic exercise daily. Keep this in mind, as we often assume our pets needs as much physical activity as we do. Find an exercise routine that suits you and your pooch, keeping in mind how you can still implement it when you return to work.

If your dog does show signs of suffering from separation anxiety, please contact your vet to find out more options for their individual needs.

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