Adorable terrier standing up waiting by the door for their owner.

Back to Work? Help Your Dog Transition

The Ultimate Guide to Helping Your Dog (and You) Transition

Many animal lovers and furry friends globally are experiencing anxiety when thinking about the inevitable milestone of the post-COVID era - happening for many in just a few weeks...going back to work. In fact, there are many pet owners who feel depressed about going back to work after quarantine.

While the surge of employers asking employees to return to the office is a significant achievement in the struggle against COVID-19, many are not quite sure what this will mean for your pet’s mental health. Pet owners have been home for much longer durations than ever before, and fear leaving their pets to deal with the separation anxiety alone.

This guide will help you and your pet weather the transition peacefully and adjust to the new normal if your work from home phase has ended.

Understanding Separation Anxiety In Dogs: Knowing the Signs

Adorable terrier standing up waiting by the door for their owner.
Feeling anxious about returning back to work and leaving your pet at home alone?

Separation anxiety looks different for every pet. While there are classic signs that can easily be identified as potential separation anxiety symptoms, many fly under the radar and can affect your pet for weeks. Learning how to break a dog’s separation anxiety is something that many pet owners are concerned about.

Studies have shown that up to 61% of dogs may struggle with increased separation anxiety or stress related behaviors as owners leave the house more scarcely due to the pandemic.

Classic signs of separation anxiety are usually manifested physically in your dog: leading to longer and persistent fits of barking and howling, gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite) and excessive cooling measures (i.e. panting, or tongue lolling.) These can happen even after a brief break from your normal schedule, such as returning to work after vacation.

There are some other things to watch out for if you suspect separation anxiety in your dog. Whether or not there are present signs of gastrointestinal distress, your dog may avoid eating while you’re out - rushing back to the food dish when you get in and gorging themselves.

They can also try to frantically “escape” the environment in an attempt to satisfy the gnawing anxiety, and can hurt themselves as a result (such as cracked teeth, bleeding gums, and other related oral or physical injuries).

There are many things you can do to help your pet become more emotionally resilient and prepare for the back to work push. Read on to see scientifically proven strategies that can help you both through this in a healthy way!

Understanding Your Impact - Stress Management in Humans for Your Pet

Cute pug laying on the ground with his tongue sticking out.
Today wasn't my favorite day.

Going back to work outside of your virtual office may elicit some strong and confusing feelings in pet parents. You may be finding yourself feeling overwhelmed, concerned, anxious and sad that you will be away from home and out of your normal routine. While this is normal, this emotional swing can also affect your furry friend.

Studies have shown that your dog has the ability not only to sense your emotional state, but cognitively discern how you’re feeling based on your tone, your body language, and your expression. Perhaps the strongest empathizers in the animal kingdom, dogs can be heavily influenced by our physical and emotional well-being.

If you are wondering how to stop a dog from whining when you leave, we have a couple of solutions that may help. You can help both of you to cope with the change by assessing your emotional state and taking steps to ensure you are creating a calm emotional environment that leaves you both feeling at peace.

Some steps to take could be talking to a trusted friend or mentor about the change, purchasing calming items for yourself (such as a weighted blanket, aromatherapy oils (just for yourself, not for your pet unless directed by a vet) and more. Be sure that you are taking care of yourself, which will better allow you to take care of your pet.

It’s important to note that if you or your pet are experiencing a time of stress in the back to work transition, this will not be the case forever. You and your pet are resilient and will settle into an updated routine around your work schedule - and go back to experiencing life just as vibrantly as you once were together!

Back to Work - Helping Your Pet Prepare

Pet owner massaging his dog's head gently.
A gentle rub is a great way too soothe an anxious dog.

There are several science-backed methods to helping your dog overcome the stress of going back to work. You should bear in mind that you know your dog best - and that not every strategy works for every dog.

Below, we’ve outlined three top strategies that you can use daily...the best part? It’s free!

Assess Your Options

Cute Border Collie laying on the ground while his owner works at the desk.
All work and no play today!

There are many benefits for bringing your pet to work with you - if you suspect that your pet will be undergoing intense stress, you can always ask! There are many benefits to bringing your pet to work - some of which include boosted employee morale and productivity, as well as increased resilience to stress in the workplace. This has become such a common request that there are special information sheets that pet insurance companies have put together to give to your employer - we linked the one from PetPartners to save you a click!

If your company begins allowing pets in the workplace, they are in good company. Several big-name companies have instilled this policy and are relying on it to help employees and pets alike in the wake of the transition. You can view the full list of the most pet-friendly companies here.

Oh, and mark your calendars! You can celebrate Work Like a Dog Day on August 5th, 2021 with your furry friend!

Get Out More - Walk Away the Stress

Cute couple out on a walk with their labrador by their side.
Fresh air never hurt anybody.

This has been studied and shown to help your dog manage stress in a more healthful way. The pleasant array of distractions outside can help your furry friend get used to the street’s commotion again - and be more relaxed at home when you’re gone. Use this with the unique knowledge you have of your pet in mind. If your pal is naturally more anxious, being on a busy street may cause more stress for them. You can start small with directories of local quiet hiking trails, or less busy roads, and build up from there.

Be Intentional - Build in Pet Bonding Time

Woman in purple shirt smiling and bonding with her Yorkshire Terrier.
The bond between man and dog will never fade.

The transition of going back to work isn’t easy on humans, either! Family life was very different during the pandemic and having to get back to work is a tricky transition. It’s easy to get swept up in the bustle of a newly-packed schedule and forget to be intentional about spending time with your pet. Preventative maintenance and building in a schedule of intentionality before and after you go back to the office can go a long way toward helping your pet be calm - giving them the assurance that they will see you again soon and be getting cuddles and playtime!

Products to Ease the Stress: Back to Work Products for You and Your Pet

Blue heeler holding a large bone in his paws and chewing to relieve stress.
The bond between man and dog will never fade.

Even if you employ every technique listed above, you may find your pet struggling with nervousness, withdrawal from social situations, and more due to the transition. Below is a list of products that could potentially help your pet ease their stress in scientifically proven ways - but as always, consult with your veterinarian first to build a care plan for you and your unique pet.

Weighted Accessories for Dogs (and their humans!)

Adorable Border Collie Australian Shepherd hidden underneath a blanket.
This is my happy place.

Over the past few years, scientists have been devoting their time to examining the link behind weighted blanket (or vest) use and stress reduction. Chronic stress is a problem that many of us are struggling with currently - so much so that 77% of Americans have reported experiencing noticeable physical symptoms of stress. With how closely linked our dogs are to us, it should come as no surprise that if we are struggling with feelings of anxiety about returning to the office - they likely are too!

It’s been found that weighted blankets can significantly reduce stress levels and reported anxiety in humans. Blankets can come in many weights - and for that reason, PetMD human weighted blankets should not be used for your pet as well, since this can potentially cause them discomfort due to human-rated weights on top of them.

Many manufacturers are developing items like vests or wraps, or lightweight covers that are designed to help calm your pet with gentle pressure - and can do so safely to help them get through your periods of absence.

Comforting Items from You - The Comfort Cuddler

Small dog sitting next to The Project Play™ Comfort Cuddler™ plush that you can stuff with a t-shirt so your dog easily sniff for your scent.
Reduce your dog’s anxiety in an extremely cute way.

Smell is one of the most powerful senses to your dog. They have learned to associate your smell with comfort, togetherness, and home! Because of this, simply giving your dog an old t-shirt or anything that you’ve worn with your scent on it can prove to be a powerful tool in reducing their anxiety in your absence.

If your dog loves to chew (and ingest) foreign materials, giving your dog the article of clothing may not be the right choice for you. Because of this, the Comfort Cuddler was made!

The Comfort Cuddler is manufactured with 100% pet-safe material and is an 8x8 sniff-friendly toy with a pouch. Surrounded by velcro, the pouch can fit a large article of clothing and features a mesh sniffing window that will help your dog transition as you return to work.

Lick Away the Stress - The Lickimat

Dogs often will seek mental or physical input to minimize their stress. The Lickimat and other similar products provide your dog with a “mission” to try to divert their attention away from high stress situations. This is especially useful if your dog struggles with sharp and acute bouts of anxiety, such as when you leave for work in the morning. You can put a dog-friendly substance on the mat and smash it into the prongs. Some common substances can be Kong material, wet dog food, frozen bananas, peanut butter, pumpkin, and just about any other dog-safe treat your furry friend likes.

Licking is very common in dogs and can actually be a strong tool in your toolkit against canine anxiety. When dogs lick, they receive a rush of endorphins that creates a calming and euphoric feeling for them - which is partially why they lick humans. While excessive licking of the skin or of the air can signify skin or health issues or nausea in dogs, this tool allows the pet parent to curate an opportunity for the dog to get a positive emotional feeling in the face of excessive stress.

Get a Pet Cam

Staffordshire terrier looking guilty after ripping up his teddy bear plush toy.
I know the cam said it was me...but it wasn't...I promise.

Pet cameras can not only help your dog - they can also help you. When you purchase a pet camera, you receive benefits both ways. Many pet cams come with the ability to connect to them via a phone app or by other wireless means. You can then check in on your dog throughout the day and can often speak through the camera to them. Your voice can be very soothing to your dog and help them feel less alone - and it’s as easy as pressing a button from your desk!

Cameras also provide you the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of your dog and see if there are periods of the day that they struggle when you’re gone. You can then work with your dog to create a plan to help through those specific periods, and experiment with different methods of keeping them busy and distracted. For many, this will be during the initial period of you leaving the home. You can then use tools like the Lickimat mentioned above, or a time-release treat system to help them be distracted.

Here’s a list of the top pet camera options that you can review! Many are budget-friendly and can be brought into your dog’s routine to help them through your back-to-work transition.

We Want to Remind You…

Scared small dog curled up in his dog bed.
Want to be near you always.

If you notice that your dog is experiencing persistent and severe separation anxiety, or you aren’t sure which treatment option is best for your pet, always reach out to your local veterinarian. Your dog may need pharmaceutical options and a medication plan.

It is also important to note that some items that are marketed as “pet friendly” such as pheromone collars, essential oils, and other related projects for your pet’s intake should not be used without talking to your veterinarian.

If you plan to seek alternative therapies, such as aromatherapy for your pet or diffusing pet-safe oils in the home, the vet can work with you to be able to create a treatment plan that will help both you and your pet get through this time and form healthy patterns for many more happy years!

Until next time, thank you for reading!

About the author: Gabrielle is the loving pawrent to adorable pups Willow and Dilla. Growing up surrounded by dogs, she always dreamt of having her own. Willow and Dilla came into her life and changed everything. Now, she's crazy about pampered pooches, and her perfect day involves dancing with her husband, dressing up her furbabies, and cuddling them to sleep. For Gabrielle, life is all about spreading love and joy with her adorable canine companions by her side.