The ‘new normal’ for pandemic pet owners

The ‘new normal’ for pandemic pet owners
Photo/AWLA Try leaving your pet a treat or toy when you leave for the day so that they associate your departure with something positive.

By Gina Hardter

As more and more of us are returning to work in person, don’t forget to consider what this change in schedule will look like for your furry family members. This is especially true for recent adoptees, who may not be used to their human friend spending extended periods of time away from home. Here are some simple tips to help prepare your pets for your return to work.

Spend short periods of time away from home now – without your pet.

If your pet has only ever been home when there are people present, they might be scared or stressed to be home alone, especially if the first time is for eight hours or more while you are at work.

Instead, spend short bursts of time out of your house: Go on a 10-minute walk to start, and see how they do. Then try an hour away to go shopping. Helping your pet realize that when you go away, you will come back will make them feel more comfortable with your leaving.

Leave a special treat when you go.

If your pet associates you leaving with loneliness, then now is the time to reconfigure those feelings. When you leave, give your pet a special treat, like their favorite toy or some yummy food that is safe without supervision, of course. This will help them re-associate your departure with something exciting happening.

If you’re looking for a treat that will also provide enrichment when you’re gone, consider something long-lasting like a food puzzle or frozen Kong filled with food to keep their brain busy while you’re at work.

Make sure they have a safe space.

Your house may feel a bit foreign to your pet without you in it, especially if they are now noticing all kinds of other sounds, such as mail delivery, trucks backing up and the basketball court down the street. To help them feel comfortable, give your pet a safe, quiet space where they can get away from sources of stress. You can help acclimate your pet to that safe space by putting toys or treats in it when you are home, so they know it as a place of comfort to go when you are away.

Consider daycare or a dog walker.

If your pup is having a hard time being alone for your full work day, consider options so they don’t have to be. You may be able to hire a dog walker who can help them get outside once or twice a day while you’re gone. You can also look into doggy daycare or daytime boarding so they can spend their time playing with other pups, if that is something they enjoy.

Talk with your veterinarian.

If your pet reacts with extreme stress or even destructive behavior any time you are away, they may be experiencing separation anxiety. Different pets may experience separation anxiety differently, and there are a variety of ways to moderate their stress levels and reactions, including training and even medication. Speak with your veterinarian about your pet’s anxious behavior to see if they might recommend options to help alleviate their anxiety.

No matter what your work schedule looks like, now is a great time to start teaching your pet that time alone doesn’t have to be stressful and may even be enjoyable. That way, your next fun day away can also be a vacation for your best friend!

The writer is director of marketing and communications for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization supporting Alexandria and beyond. More information is available at