From WFH to BTO: Pet Edition

If you’re one of the millions of workers who were able to telecommute during the past 18 months, you know what a wildly different experience WFH can be. Meetings in sweatpants, randomly timed meal breaks, beverages other than coffee. Talking to yourself without being judged. Reaching for a nearby cat or dog whenever stress relief is in order. And if you didn’t already have a pet, why not adopt one while working from home? I mean, it’s not like he’ll ever be alone! 

I guess at the time it seemed like things would stay this way forever, but now many of you are heading back to the office. Squeezing back into business attire, topping off the car tires, and rummaging doggedly in your closets for a purse. Wondering what will become of the dog you adopted last year. At least you should be wondering that, because your transition back-to-office may be about to hit him like a ton of bricks.

The critical period of socialization is between approximately 6 and 16 weeks of age in puppies. This means your pup needs to be introduced, during that window of time, to everything you’d like him to embrace when he is older. That includes meeting new people, visiting his doctor, and letting you leave the house—all activities that weren’t a real priority in the infamous year 2020. Pets that were youngsters during the lockdowns may find it earth-shattering to watch you walk out the door. Even if your dog is a pre-pandemic model, it may be hard for him to let you go when it’s time to go back to the office.

Cats, on the other hand, seemed to be more annoyed at the outset of the lockdowns, when we humans started spending so much more time at home. Your cat might possibly be relieved to see you getting back out of the house.

Cats and dogs both find comfort in routines. Having the same structure every day allows them to know when food might be served, when the litter box will be clean (so they can quickly attend to messing it up), when they can safely nap without missing anything, and when they can expect to get rowdy. A predictable routine is the dog and cat’s only access to a clock. Imagine your life without a timepiece of any kind. With no anchors in our day, we tend to go uneasily adrift (see also, 2020). Providing your pet a reliable agenda will help him feel more secure, so gradually introduce the schedule you’ll be using when you return to the office as early as possible. Feed and exercise before and after work, not during. You will have to give up business lunches where you’re tossing a ball (or bits of reheated pizza crust) for your coworker, and there will eventually be no more snuggling on company time.

Once the timetable is set, it’s time to try leaving your house. “Alone time” will be the sticking point for most pets when it’s time to go “BTO”. In our next installment, you’ll find some tips on clearing this hurdle. 

Dr. M.S. Regan