Moment of Paws: Heading back to work and your pet's anxiety

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we start to think about a return to a more normal life and, perhaps, a return to the office. What will that mean for our pets who have happily adjusted to having us around most of the time, content with long walks and constant companionship?

The majority of pets love being around us, but as we begin shifting to head back to the office, they will have to once again learn to be on their own. This major adjustment, if not prepared for, could manifest into separation anxiety for your pet – a condition where the animal displays anxious, fearful, or even destructive behavior when left alone.

Common causes of separation-related problems are fear, frustration, boredom, or a health-related issue. Fear can be caused by loneliness. Frustration arises when pets don’t get enough of something – or even too much of something. Boredom can set in when our pets are not challenged or lack the stimulation they need. And, health-related issues such as allergies, can cause anxiety or discomfort. They can’t tell us what’s causing their discomfort, but reading their behavior can be very telling.

With this in mind, we want to set up our pets for success, not only taking care of their physical and mental needs through behavior training, but also starting now and not waiting! It’s important to remember to reward calm behavior – if we reward for both desired and undesired behavior, that only confuses our pets.

Start slow and build your way up as you reestablish a normal routine. For humans, creating a routine tends to alleviate stress of the unknown – it’s no different for animals.

Going back to the office provides an automatic structure in the day that will in turn, create more structure for our pets. Waking up at the same time each day with consistent mealtimes, walks and playtime with people will establish a structured routine for your pet. If your dog is not crate trained, you can combine independent playtime utilizing high value treats and toys with spending time in their crate, so they can learn that the crate is their own personal safe space whether you are there or not.

Repetition, patience ,and rewarding calm behavior is key and remember, even if you plan on going back into the office in six months – the earlier you get your pet into a routine, the easier the transition will be!

Dr. Edward Schettino is the president and CEO of the Animal Rescue League of Boston. He has a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Pet questions? Email ARL at press@arlboston.org.