10 Ways to Prep Your Pet Before You Head Back to Work
There are several things you can do now to keep your pet from becoming depressed once you're gone all day. This is great advice!
Our friends at the Monmouth County SPCA along with veterinarian expert Dr. Adam Christman have suggestions you can start following now to avoid having a sad dog or cat once you're not around to pet him or her all day long!
1. Start "Alone Time Training." Yep, that's right. Start preparing your pet now for later. Get them used to you being gone for longer and longer periods of time. Give them time to get used to being alone. After all, if you're heading back to work you could be gone for well over 8 hours, and your dog needs to get used to that, especially if you adopted them during the quarantine and they have never, ever been alone! So, start with small increments of being absent, maybe 15-20 minutes. And be patient with them a they adjust.
Make sure that before you leave you have given them something to distract them and keep them busy, like a Kong stuffed with peanut butter to work on. Giving your dog a 'puzzle' to work on to get to their treats is actually beneficial to their brains, appeals to their instincts as natural scavengers and is very stimulating to them.
Gradually start building up the amount of time that you're gone. Also, if your dog is used to running after you, you might want to try a baby gate to keep them from running to you as you are trying to leave the house. If they are used to following on your heels, even from room to room, then start by putting up the gate and just sitting in a chair or on the couch on the other side of it and just keeping them in your peripheral vision until they get used to having some separation and get used to you moving farther away.
2. Make sure you have some quality, enriching exercise time with your dog and that they get a good amount of this activity before you are getting ready to leave for a day at work. In fact, daily sniffing on a long walk is actually beneficial to your dog's brain! This could help prevent a day full of boredom which could lead to barking, chewing on furniture, and other destructive behavior. Wear them out so that they are satisfied and happy and ready for a rest when you leave the house.
3. If you have crate-trained your dog so that they enjoy having their own special space, then they should look forward to being in their crate once you are leaving for the day. They can rest easy in there after you have spent quality time playing with them and taking them on a long walk or fetch-time prior to leaving for work.
4. Break up the day for them. Especially during the transition of getting your pet used to being home alone for extended periods of time, it is a great idea to have a friend or family member stop by to let your dog out or say hi and pet them. Or, if you can afford it, get a dog walker to come once a day to get them some fresh air, steps, and sniffs.
5. Don't make a huge big deal about saying goodbyes with your jingly keys in hand. This is actually stressful for your dog! First of all, hearing the keys will become associated with you leaving and that can trigger sadness and stress in your dog, so put your keys in the garage or in your purse so that you aren't picking them up and jingling them loudly upon leaving the house. Also, do NOT say a big 'goodbye' to them with the fanfare of a hug and kiss...this is actually alerting them that you are leaving for a long period and is awful for them! Instead, just be going about your business as you do when you move around the house, and then just go out the front door. No goodbye, no alerting them that you are leaving, no sounds of picking up your car/house keys!
6. If possible and if helpful and worthwhile, work with a professional dog trainer or dog behavior consultant. This could be a great investment so that you have the peace of mind to know that you can alleviate your frustrations of not being able to get your dog to the point you need him or her to be and that there is someone else who can train your dog AND you in the areas that you need from basic obedience to some of the more challenging issues you may experience.
7. Make sure you devote 10-20 minutes of playtime to your cat especially if they are an 'only' cat without a feline playmate/companion. When you have two or more cats who both like to play, they can help exercise each other as they run, jump, and wrestle, but if you have an only cat, you need to make sure they get the stimulation of playtime each and every day. And we're not just talking about waving around a string in the air. Cats are born hunters so if you can position a string under a blanket near where your cat is sitting and slowly move it until they pounce, they will LOVE that. A woolen ball rolled in catnip that they can bite into and claw as they roll around is also great, as is a foil ball they can 'fetch' or bat with their paw, or a small paper bag or shoe box they can squeeze themselves into that you then slide a string under so that they can jump out and attack it!
Then, upon getting ready to leave for a long day of work, leave a bunch of their favorite toys lying around or in a certain area that they can get to throughout the day. Grab some fun stuff from your local pet store from time to time!
Following up playtime with a snack or treat is beneficial, too, because it mimics the natural cycle of 'hunt/catch/kill/eat/groom/sleep! This is actually great for your cat's confidence and happiness.
8. Giant climbing structures help! Cats love to and need to scratch, and if you don't want them to use your furniture, give them a designated place to use their claws. Sometimes a cat that is super happy to see you walk in the door will run right to their scratching post and dig in for a moment upon seeing you arrive home! But they also like to jump up to high places and snuggle into rug-covered tubes. So scratching posts AND climbing structures upholstered in carpeting are great.
9. Provide a good window for bird/squirrel/rabbit/nature-watching. It's like TV, only for your feline!
10. And as soon a you arrive back home after a long day away, be sure to pet, talk to, and/or pick up your cat to acknowledge how much you love and missed them! Look into their eyes and slow-blink them a big hug to keep them feeling connected to you and happy!