How to help your pets transition when you’re no longer sheltering at home

Gertrude

For most of us, the stay at home order back in March was an abrupt change in lifestyle which had a ripple effect in ways we didn’t expect — for better or worse.

The day that I moved my office to my dining room was a glorious day for Maddie and Ollie. At their advanced age, my dogs do best when they don’t have to leave the house to come to the office with me. No more stressful car rides or having to adapt to all the people (and animals) who come through my office in a single day.

Now they get to enjoy the peace and quiet of our home where they feel safest, and they also get more daily walks because we have more time to spend with them. They are in heaven.

As difficult as it may have been for most of us to spend so much more time at home, it’s obvious our pets have truly benefited from it.

As summer quickly approaches and stay at home orders begin to relax, more and more people are returning to work. But what does that mean for our pets who have gotten used to having us home all the time?

Dogs and cats thrive on routine and consistency. For the last three months, many pets have gotten used to a new normal that works much better for them. You may be wondering how they will handle it when they have to adapt to a routine that includes a lot less family togetherness.

Recently, we hosted a free webinar on this topic during which one of our behavior experts, Rochelle Guardado, gave a number of helpful tips for preparing your pet for the transition of returning to work. It was so helpful, I thought I’d relay some of her great expertise here.

First, it’s important to understand that pets are far more in tune with our emotions than we believe. When we experience high levels of stress and anxiety, they pick up on it and often take it on as their own. If you’re stressed, your pet will be too. Now more than ever, self care is vital not just for you but for the wellbeing of your pets too.

For me, as soon as I pull out my suitcase to pack for a weekend trip or vacation, my dog Maddie goes full speed into guilt trip mode. She’ll pace and pant as if she’s a Broadway diva backstage on opening night.

During the quarantine, our pets may have had different reactions to us being home all of the time.

Depending on how your pet manages changes to routine, you’ll want to make sure you introduce those changes in pieces over time rather than all at once.

If before the quarantine your schedule was pretty fixed, chances are your pets’ routines were too. For example, if you would normally get home around 6 p.m., you probably would feed your pet dinner shortly after that. But because you’ve been home, perhaps that timing has shifted a bit or varied. Where possible, bring little routines, such as feeding time, back to a more consistent schedule. It will make adjusting once you are back at work a little easier.

If you’ve been taking your dog on more walks throughout the day since you’ve been home, begin taking some of those walks on your own so little Fifi starts to get used to you being gone for small chunks of time.

Especially in the beginning, you may notice some behavior changes crop up when you return to work. Not seeing you all day long is going to be a significant change in routine for your pet, and that will lead to stress.

That stress could manifest in a number of ways, such as destructive behaviors, increased or decreased activity level, house soiling, irritability, changes in sleep patterns or eating habits.

It’s easy to misinterpret behavioral issues as “vengeance” or “retaliation.” Just try to remember, your pets aren’t being a jerk when they act out. They are just bored or under stress.

It may also be helpful to introduce your pet to fun enrichment activities to help curb boredom, such as food puzzles, or hiding treats in various places that invite your pet to sniff around. Sniffing is a really important enrichment activity for dogs and cats. It keeps them busy and engaged, and it also leaves them tired — which is great for nap time.

Most importantly, when you do return to work, make sure to make time when you are home for playtime. Playtime is a fabulous mood elevator, not just for your pet but for you. If you know what your pet enjoys most when it comes to play time, give them as much of that activity as your time permits.

But don’t be afraid to change it up. When it comes to play, dogs and cats are surprisingly open-minded!

For some, the shift back to a normal schedule will be harder than it is for others. Puppies and senior dogs may experience separation anxiety more than most adult dogs. If you find this is true for your pet, and you don’t feel well equipped to manage their stress in this regard, give us a call. Our behavior experts can help.

Besides our team though, there are some other great resources for pet behaviorists who can provide one-on-one assistance for you and your pet. And most are offering these services online in the form of Zoom consultations or FaceTime.

Check out IAABC.org, CCPDT.org, or malenademartini.com for helpful resources.

By the way, we have another great informational webinar coming up from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 10, called “Why Does My Pet Do That? Understanding & Managing Problematic Behaviors”

Ever wonder why your pet displays some less-than-perfect manners? Want to know what to do about it? Then join Pasadena Humane Behavior and Training Manager Fernando Diaz, CDBC, CSBS, CPDT-KA, for this enlightening webinar. Fernando will help you understand and manage such problematic cat and dog behaviors as house soiling, “random” biting, pulling on leash, barking at visitors and more. It’s going to be awesome! You can register here.