How to “Social Distance” from Your Pet to Prepare for Your Return to Work

A woman with his Golden Labradoodle dog at home

By Brie Kuna

Quarantine has been hard on a lot of people, but your pets have been loving it! The extra play time, the mid-day snuggles, so many walks; a silver lining during a difficult time. As many of us begin to head back to work, how will we break the news to our furry friends? Slowly, methodically, and with a lot of positivity. To help their adjustment, you need to start social distancing… from your pets.

Dogs and cats, much like people, are creatures of habit and routine. Your pets know their dinner time like they wear a watch, they know your unique pattern while getting ready for bed, they are in tune with your schedule so closely, you sometimes don’t even realize it. Due to this, they have adapted your new routine of late breakfast (What about second breakfast?), TV time at lunch, or night walks when you can’t sleep, but working toward a normal schedule now before you go to work will help them readjust to life before quarantine.

Start slowly by stopping by your favorite restaurant, grabbing take out and watching the sunset without them. Do something fun that gets you out of the house for a few hours — even one hour to start — so your pets will remember it’s OK for you to be gone. Some people truly have not left their house for any significant period of time for months, and your dog or cat needs to slowly remember that you were gone for hours at a time without an issue. Does your job allow a modified work schedule? Work for a few hours at home, then the rest of the day at the office! Slowly increasing the hours you’re away will help develop the routine you worked years developing with your pet.

Was your dog kenneled while you were at work? Since you’ve been home, have they spent any time in a kennel for two months? Don’t worry, kennel training can be like riding a bike; slow, positive reminders can help them rebuild their comfort. Remember: kennels are a place of happiness and relaxation. If you use them as punishment or negativity, you will destroy all the work you invested and develop a rift between you and your dog.

This is also the perfect time to invest in toys and puzzles to keep your dog occupied and engaged while you are at work. Find hollow, hard rubber toys (like a Kong), fill them with peanut butter or pumpkin, and toss it in the freezer. Giving them a frozen treat when you leave can associate a positive action to your absence, and it can keep them mentally and physically engaged while you are away! Puzzles filled with their breakfast can also be hidden around the house, giving them adventures and surprises throughout the day. These tips can help them slowly transition back to their normal routine after spending months of quality time with you. As a reminder, if you are adding calories through toys and puzzles, make sure you are limiting their mealtime calories so you don’t end up with a pudgy puppy.

It is going to be a hard time for your pets. This is the most time you have ever spent together in your years of companionship, and they loved it. A slow transition with lots of positivity can put your pet right back on track!

Brie Kuna is the behavior team lead and a dog trainer at Arizona Animal Welfare League, the state’s oldest and largest no-kill shelter.

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