Your initial reaction is that it sounds great. “I get to work at home and be around my dog or cat all the time?!?!” And a lot of it is kind of great. No more running home at lunch for bathroom breaks. Your video conferences have surprise furry cameos. Your guilt upon leaving them behind every morning has vanished.
But then reality comes crashing in like an unexpected hairball. It’s hard to type with a cat on the keyboard. Video meetings get longer when everyone is showing off their pets. And if you had guilt about leaving them behind while you went to work, it’s somehow exponentially worse when they’re just … staring at you all day while you work.
From your pet’s point of view, the situation is confusing. “Why won’t you throw the ball? It’s right there! You’re home! We go for walks when you’re home! What is that rectangle in your lap? And why is it echoing so badly?” Pets who are used to regularly going to the office or on other daily excursions might now be more stir crazy then before. And they don’t have any way of understanding why their world is different.
So while there are certain advantages for both pets and people who are thrust together a lot more, it’s not all snuggles and tail wags. Here’s how to make the situation a little more tenable for everyone involved.
Prepare your surroundings. If you can’t make your regularly scheduled trips for groceries and supplies, make sure you consider your pet when planning ahead. Stock up on food and treats (and maybe consider the occasional extra-special treat, just to mix it up). Make sure any pet medication is stocked up. Think about purchasing extra kitty litter, and consider keeping some pee pads on hand, even if you don’t have a puppy or otherwise incontinent dog. You never know when or if you’ll be barred from getting outside, and for some pets, when they gotta go, they gotta go. Also take a look at your stock of dog and/or cat toys. Pets need variety as much as humans, so keep some surprises on hand for those longer or drearier days.
Go for walks. Lots of walks. Remember, we may be in quarantine, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go outside (in most cases). But even in the great outdoors, you should take safety precautions. Maintain recommended social distances. Avoid crowded areas. Make sure the park is actually open. Try to time your walks or jogs for when other people and pets will be scarce. A lot of these tips apply to people who live in less congested areas, so if you live in a dense urban environment, you might have to take a little extra care.
Getting outside is where your pet can be a great advantage. It’s easy to get lost in your laptop for eight hours a day when working from home. But someone standing there with a leash in their mouth is a great reminder that you both need a regular dose of fresh air.
Stimulate their minds. For many pets, mental stimulation is just as important as physical exertion. That border collie who just wants to chase the ball until they collapse? Their mind races as fast as their feet. And let’s face it; if you’re trying to work, you can’t be chucking the Frisbee 4 hours every day. So providing mental stimulation is a win-win. It buys you some time and occupies theirs.
How do you stimulate their minds? Glad you asked! Here are a few ideas:
- Food puzzles can be a great way to start the day. Most dogs and cats will do almost anything for a treat, so if you can offer a way for them to spend time working their brains while you check emails, everyone wins. And the options are endless, ranging from a simple Kong filled with peanut butter to more elaborate interactive toys.
- Work on training in your downtime. Even old dogs can learn new tricks and behaviors. You’re spending so much time together; why not finally perfect that roll-over command or work on keeping the cat off the counter once and for all? Pets love the attention that comes with training, even if it’s training away behaviors that they seem to enjoy. And it’s good for you to step away from your screen and enjoy some flesh-and-blood-and-fur interaction.
- Remember that mental and physical exertion aren’t mutually exclusive; when out on walks, let your dog (or cat) follow their nose and explore the wide-open space. Taking a new route on walks can be a sensory explosion for a sniffing snout. For some pets, even deviating a few yards can open up whole new worlds. Be patient and give them more time than usual to overturn every leaf or take a hard look at every fire hydrant. It’s all information for their brains.
Don’t forget your cats. We’ve been sure to include cats in every one of our ideas, but we can’t stress it enough: Cats aren’t nearly as indifferent to your attention as they can seem. For every cat who is a tenacious keyboard-walker, there’s one that sits across the room silently judging, and they need the same consideration, stimulation and exercise. Take your cat for a walk, give them a new box to sit in, make sure that you take regular breaks from work to snuggle. They might seem like they’re not confused by your sudden constant presence, but they’re every bit as bewildered by your laptop being in their favorite noonday napping spot as a more demonstrative dog might be.
Remember that pets relieve your stress, and you, theirs. It’s proven that just being near a pet can lower blood pressure in certain situations. Dogs and cats seem to have positive effect on anxiety, depression and overall health, but the opposite is true as well. Anyone who has had a pet who suffers from separation anxiety can see how your mere presence can relieve their stress. Now imagine that the human who makes you happy was home all day but also ignoring you for vast amounts of that time. This isn’t to say that anyone can or should spend all of their time cuddling with pets instead of working (or is it?), but remember to consider their feelings. If you’re constantly repressing the urge to take breaks to play fetch, consider that they don’t even have work as a distraction. You are their distraction.
Take lots of photos. You’re home a lot, and social media is blowing up with people posting photos showing how they are passing the time. Make sure to include your pets in your work-at-home selfies. They’ll love the attention, and we’ll love seeing them.