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How to Prepare your Dog for your Return to Work

Navigating the coronavirus pandemic has been a difficult time for most of us. However, our best friends would probably disagree. For dogs, the last year or so has been a dream come true:

Their human has been home all the time, meaning unlimited cuddles, walks, and playtime. Plus, extra treats (unless you have stronger willpower than us, of course). 

With the vaccine rollout ramping up, we’re all preparing for a time when we are no longer stuck at home. We will be returning to doing things outside the house regularly and either going back to work or no longer working from home. So, how do you prepare your dog for your return to work? 

Our dogs rely on routine. They are adaptable, but any change to this needs to be done gradually. We’ve recently returned to office life and had to help our greyhound, Buddy, adapt. Being a greyhound, he sleeps 20 hours a day anyway, but slowly changing our routine back to normal helped him adjust to our absence and get on with the serious business of napping. 

Here are some tips to making sure your home office secretary doesn’t get upset when you’re suddenly not around all the time.

Return to your Old Routine

Routines have been hard to maintain during the monotony of restrictions. And a lot of us have let them slide. 

So, the first thing you need to do is get your dog used to the old routine again: Get up, go for a walk, make your coffee, then they get their breakfast, and you head out to work.

Whilst you may not be able to head out for work yet, you can still start preparing your dog now. Concentrate on anything that reintroduces the idea that you will no longer be with them all day. 

Put Times to Your Routine

If you usually get up for work at 6:30 am but have been sleeping in later, thanks to the short commute to the dining room table, your dog needs to get used to the new (old) timings. Slowly move wake-up, dinner, and walking times according to what they will be once you return to work. Not only does it prevent your dog from becoming frustrated, but it will also help you survive the first week back without falling asleep at your desk!

Reduce the Cuddle Time

It might be a long time since your dog has spent longer than a trip to the supermarket without you. So, it would help if you worked on gradually reducing the amount of time you spend together. This could be through working in a different room whilst they are in bed or resisting the puppy-dog eyes and not playing every time they ask. Just don’t go too hard, too fast.

Bring Back the Dog Walker

If you’re normally at the office all day and someone else comes in to take your best bud out for a walk, get them to start now. Your dog walker will probably be delighted for the income to resume, and you’re re-introducing that someone else will take them for their midday wander. 

Don’t panic – this doesn’t need to be achieved in one go. If your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety, start very slowly. Try shutting them in another room for 30 minutes, then slowly build-up. 

Then it’s a case of working until you’d normally return home, then head out for the evening walk and plenty of playtimes. 

These steps shouldn’t all be done in one go. It’s best to slowly introduce each stage to help your dog adapt and prepare for life when you’re not in the house all day.

Dealing with Separation Anxiety

Just because your dog was happy enough for a few hours while you out before did not necessarily mean they’ll slip back into that routine effortlessly. Some dogs may have become overly attached to you and will find being on their own a lot harder than they did previously.

If your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety like barking, howling, scratching, chewing, or drooling excessively when you leave the house, then you need to move a bit slower to make sure they’re comfortable on their own again. These tips should help to ease into the adjustments:

Associate your absence with rewards:

When you leave, give your dog a kong filled with frozen peanut butter or some other high-value reward. Make sure they only get this when you leave, though. You want to ensure it’s you leaving that is associated with the reward, rather than returning, to begin with.

Gradually build up your furry friend’s alone time:

Start by leaving the house for a length of time they are comfortable with – even if that is just 10 minutes – and slowly build up from there. The goal is to set your dog up for success, starting with something they can already achieve. Then slowly move upwards. If you push the limits too soon, you’ll only succeed in stressing your dog more.

Provide a “den” for your dog:

Even if you didn’t crate train your dog before, it is a good idea to do it now if they are struggling with separation anxiety. A crate or a gated space where they can go and feel safe when they are anxious is perfect.

Prepare comfort items:

Dogs find a lot of comfort in your scent. Leaving behind something that smells strongly of you that they can cuddle up to can help relieve the stress. Dirty t-shirts or well-used pillows are perfect for this, as weird as that sounds.

Distract your dog with something to do:

Slow feeding bowls or puzzle toys can help stimulate your dog mentally while you are away. Consider getting a new puzzle toy for them and leave treats in it when you go out. Having something to do and getting treats will help tire your dog’s brain out and encourage them to sleep. Like me, they don’t need much to achieve this.

Try not to create “separation triggers”:

When we leave the house, we tend to do the same things in roughly the same order. Shoes, keys, bag, etc., and your dog will pick up on these. If you’re not careful, they can become triggers for anxiety. Instead, mix up your routine by grabbing your keys and bag then sitting down on the sofa for a bit. Or put your shoes on to go to the kitchen. Until your dog is comfortable with you leaving again, try not to create any triggers that could increase their anxiety.

Don’t make a big deal of leaving or returning:

It’s hard not to pay extra attention to our little furry friends before leaving or when we come home – we miss them too. But if your dog is having trouble being on its own, then making a big fuss is only going to make things worse. Leaving and returning is no big deal, remember. And the best way to ensure your dog knows this is to not pay any special attention to them before you go out or, much more difficult, immediately when you return.

The Next Steps

If you follow all these tips and your dog is still struggling to return to life without you for parts of the day, you don’t have to struggle alone. The best thing to do is to seek expert advice from either your vet or a behaviorist. 

Each dog will have their own triggers and reasons for its anxiety persisting, so it’s best to make sure you’re working on what is causing your dog distress specifically. 

However, for most dogs, with a bit of an adjustment period, they’ll happily go back to life as ‘normal’ when you return to work all day. Plus, when you’re around again, they (and you) will savour all the playtime and cuddles.

Remember that not all dogs live in the loving, supportive environment you provide to your best friend. But every time you buy coffee from Hugo Coffee Roasters, you are helping dogs in need. Please check out the delicious range of coffee available and combine two of life’s greatest joys – dogs and coffee.