- The past year saw a huge surge in pet adoptions as people looked for companionship while isolated under stay-at-home orders.
- A recent study has found that a majority of Americans are concerned about what the transition will mean for the wellbeing of their pets, and specifically about how to combat separation anxiety.
- For many workers, the best case scenario is having the ability to bring their pets to work with them when they return to the office.
With many companies announcing plans for workers to return to their physical offices in the coming months, there is a growing concern about what that means for our relationships with our most loyal companions during the pandemic, our dogs.
The past year saw a huge surge in pet adoptions as people looked for companionship while isolated under stay-at-home orders. A recent survey conducted by Rover.com found that nearly 49% of Americans welcomed a “pandemic puppy” into their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Extended periods of time working from home meant more time around the comfort of our furry companions, an overwhelmingly positive outcome for people and pets alike. In fact, 93% of people polled by Rover said their “pandemic pet” improved their wellbeing and over 80% said it made working from home and being at home during the pandemic more enjoyable.
Now, with changes to our daily lives looming once again with work and travel away from home on the near horizon, Rover’s most recent study has found that a majority of Americans are concerned about what the transition will mean for the wellbeing of their pets, and specifically about how to combat separation anxiety.
What is separation anxiety in dogs?
Separation anxiety, according to the ASPCA, an organization committed to the humane treatment of animals, is one of the most common behavioral complaints from pet parents. Pets experiencing separation anxiety may exhibit disruptive or destructive behaviors when left alone such as barking, chewing, digging, going potty in the house, and trying to escape along with also showing signs of distress such as pacing, drooling, whimpering, and agitation when an owner is getting ready to leave.
But it’s not just the emotional toll of the pet that people are concerned about.
The Rover survey found that in addition to 80% of respondents being concerned about their pet’s separation anxiety, 76% of dog parents said they themselves have anxiety when thinking about being away from their dog.
Preparing your dog (and yourself) for when you go back to work
In anticipation of going back to work and/or traveling, the majority (73%) of dog owners said they’ve already started to take measures to prevent separation anxiety and 94% of pet parents said they’ve done their own research and/or talked to their vet about separation anxiety in dogs.
Certified Dog Trainer and Rover’s Dog People Panel member Nicole Ellis shared a few of her top recommendations in a new guide on separation anxiety to help pet owners make the transition less stressful for everyone:
- Work on crate training games. These are fun ways to create a positive association to a crate which can be a relaxing environment when they are stressed, if introduced properly. For example, throw a couple treats in the crate for your dog to find and give them plenty of encouragement when they go in the crate on their own. Don’t reward them, though, when they come out of the crate.
- Start slow. Spend short periods of time separate for your pet each day, starting really low such as 2-3 minutes and slowly building up time.
- Don’t make a big deal when you leave or come home. By fussing over your pet when you leave and come home, you’re potentially creating extra stress for the next time you leave. Keep it casual.
- Help your dog stay stimulated. Find puzzle games, frozen KONG recipes and other things that help keep your dog stay mentally busy.
- Offer pleasant distractions. Play some music, white noise or the TV to create noise in your house. Have it on when you leave. Animal-loving dogs may enjoy watching DogTV, which has the colors adjusted to attract dogs to the images on the screen.
- Try calming pheromones. Consider using a DAP diffuser, which releases dog-appeasing pheromones in the air. These don’t work for all dogs but may have a positive impact.
- Stick to a schedule. Get your dog on a similar schedule to what it will be when you do go back to work. This includes walks, mealtimes and attention.
Dog-friendly office? Bring your dog with you.
For many workers, the best case scenario is having the ability to bring their pets to work with them when they return to the office. A 2016 survey by Banfield Pet Hospitals found that 83% percent of employees feel a greater sense of loyalty to companies that have pet-friendly policies.
In the same Rover study about separation anxiety, one-third of pet owners reported that their dog helps them stay productive during the day. Another third said that their dog helped with work related stress such as negative feedback from a boss.
Bruntwood Works, which offers a range of office spaces in the UK, recently announced that it has made all of its coworking and serviced office spaces across Manchester dog-friendly. Speaking to the Manchester Evening News about the decision, Jack Maher, a senior commercial manager for Bruntwood said:
“Since the pandemic began, dog ownership has increased significantly and we wanted to make sure we’re making a return to work as stress-free as possible. We’ve seen a rise in both existing and prospective customers asking for dog-friendly workspace, so this was a natural next step.”
For these reasons, workplaces should seriously consider welcoming our furry friends, but also to have appropriate policies in place in order for it to be a positive aspect of the work environment.
Pet-friendly policies should cover expectations for both the workplace and employees around bringing, caring for, as well as supervising pets while in the office. A number of sample policy templates are available online for companies can customize based on the specific needs and local regulations of the office space, including one from Better Cities for Pets. The template includes these key areas of consideration:
- Pet Requirements: This includes what type of pets are welcome in the workplace and whether or not visitors are allowed to bring their pets along with them in addition to employees. Pets should always be well-trained, up to date on vaccinations, well-groomed, and covered under their owner’s insurance policy in the unfortunate case of an accident like a dog bite.
- Pet Owner Responsibilities: Workspaces should ensure that any employee that brings their pet to work is willing to be fully responsible for their pet the entire time they are in the office. This includes ensuring that the pet is well behaved and not interfering with other employees’ work, that pets are kept out of pet-free areas, and that any accidents are cleaned up immediately if they happen.
- Management Strategies: Before welcoming pets into the workplace, management should set clear guidelines and expectations about where and when pets are allowed and how issues should be handled and escalated if a pet (or their owner) becomes a problem.
Whether or not the return to the office includes your furry coworkers or not, it is possible to make the transition stress free, for those that walk on four legs and those that walk on two.