Top tips for preparing your dog for your return to work

As restrictions start to ease a little and employers are keen to get people back working on site again, many of us may find our home-working lifestyles coming to an end. While it may feel unusual for us to return to our place of work after several months of working from home, it will seem even more strange for our canine companions who have become accustomed to having their beloved owner(s) at home all day. We have put together some advice to help you prepare your dog for your return to work, and being left alone again. It is worth noting that in severe cases of separation anxiety professional help, in the form of a clinical animal behaviourist, may be required.

 

If your return to work is not looking likely to happen imminently, and your housing set up allows, it may be a good idea to get your dog used to being left in a different room on their own whilst you are working. For example, you could spend a few hours each day working upstairs where you are out of sight and out of reach from your pooch.

 

 If your dog is not happy being left on their own, even within your house, you can slowly build up to this. Ask your dog to go to their bed and stay there, reward them for doing so. Slowly build up the time that they are asked to stay in their bed and gradually increase your distance from them. With time you should be able to ask them to stay on their bed while you leave the room and go out of sight. You can progress to closing the door with them still in the other room. Vary the time that you leave them alone, and once they are ok with this you can try leaving the house altogether for short periods using the same routine.

 

 It is important to gradually increase the length of time that you leave your dog; do not suddenly leave them alone for several hours. It’s likely that you may have had to pop out for errands over the last few months, so hopefully the idea of you leaving the house is not totally new to them. If they are particularly anxious you could start by using the technique described in the point above, building up towards leaving for just a few minutes, then gradually increasing the time that they are left alone.

 

 

Be sure to use some of the following suggestions to minimise their distress when you leave.

  • It is always sensible to give your dog a nice long walk before leaving them alone, so that they are tired and likely to sleep after your departure.
  • You could try filling a ‘Kong’ with something tasty to distract them as you leave, this will help to provide them with a positive experience each time they are left alone.
  • If your dog likes toys you can create a toy box which they only receive when you go out. Fill the box with a good selection of toys (which are safe and suitable for them to play with in your absence), and offer them this box as you leave the house. Upon returning, immediately collect up the toys and put the box away. Keep it as a special treat that they only get access to when you leave the house.
  • If your dog is not interested in toys, then a small tasty treat could provide an alternative distraction and positive experience when they are left alone. Bear in mind that these calories should be included in their daily allowance when calculating how much food to give them.
  • If your dog is disturbed by seeing people walk past your house, closing the curtains may help to reduce this anxiety.
  • If there has been a fair amount of noise in the house during the day, you could try leaving on the radio or tv when you go out.
  • Ensure that the environment your pet will be left in is familiar to them, a room they have previously spent time in with their own bed and toys present. (Don’t suddenly decide that now is the time to shut them in one room in which they have spent little time before now.)

Some dogs may start to show signs of anxiety when their owner indicates that they are about to leave the house, such as locking the back door or reaching for their coat or keys. If this is the case, you can carry out these actions on a regular basis without actually leaving the house. This will help to dissociate these pre-departure cues from your actual departure and avoid escalation of any anxious behaviours. Be sure to then use the tips suggested above to create a positive experience for your dog when you leave (leaving them with toys, treats or a Kong etc.)

Everyone has their own beliefs as to how long it is appropriate to leave their dog unattended for, however, the RS

PCA recommends no longer than 4 hours. Your dog should then have an opportunity to use the toilet, stretch their legs and have some human interaction. If your furry friend was new to the family during lockdown, you may need to introduce new measures to ensure that they will not be left alone for excessive periods of time during the day when you return to work.

 

 

Examples include:

  • Popping home at lunch
  • Asking a neighbour, friend or family member to visit your dog and spend some time with them during the day
  • Using a dog-walking or ‘doggy day care’ service
  • Or perhaps, if your work allows, even taking your dog to work with you for periods of the day

Whatever you do, do not punish your dog for showing anxious behaviour, or actions that they have carried out in your absence, they are only worried about you leaving them and often do not understand why this happens. Getting angry or punishing your dog will only make them worry about what you may do when you next return, and this could make their behaviour worse in your absence.

Remember that every dog is an individual and should be treated in this way, adapt your training to suit them and never extend training beyond the point at which it becomes distressing for your dog.

It is worth noting that if your dog has become very attached to having you at home, or was a new addition to the family during lock-down, you may have to work a little harder to reduce any separation anxiety behaviour which has developed. In cases of severe separation anxiety, advice should be sought from your veterinary surgeon who can refer you to a clinical animal behaviourist.

Meet the Author

Gemma Ives

Gemma qualified from the University of Cambridge in 2013. She is passionate about evidence based medicine and is particularly interested in the role that the microbiota can play in so many diseases.

In her free time Gemma loves climbing hills and finding beaches with her terrier, Percy, and hanging out with George the cat!