Getting to spend more time at home with our pets is one of the precious few benefits of the past year. Our four-legged friends might be rubbish at getting the teas in, but they’re better listeners than most of our coworkers, respond positively to all our ideas and they never get caught up in office politics.
A poll of pet owners by pet food specialist, Purina, reveals a third (33%) have spent more time talking to their pets since the pandemic, three-quarters (73%) think their pet understands them and two-fifths (43%) say their pets have helped them cope.
And there are bigger benefits to hanging out with our pets. They can help improve our mental health by reducing stress and anxiety and providing a steady stream of love and affection, as well as motivating us to stay active and keeping us company.
Two in every five find talking to their pet relaxing while 30% believe their pet has been ‘hugely important to their mental wellbeing’, and a quarter (23%) say talking to their pet has even helped combat loneliness.
Purina believe that pets and people are better together, and are always looking for ways to support the unique bond between pets and their owners. This includes their Pets At Work (PAW) scheme, which helps employers and employees create dog friendly spaces and champions the benefits of having pets close by.
In their 2020 Paws-itive Work campaign, Purina worked with leading dog trainer and behaviourist Oli Juste to help dog owners make the most of working alongside their four legged friends, wherever they’re doing it from.
Here he shares some tips on making your dog the perfect work companion – including how to integrate your dog back into office life. Then, when the time is right for more of us to go back into those environments, we can hopefully do so with our canine pals by our sides.
Get a routine
Establishing a good routine is the key, according to Oli. It’s important to get your dog used to being ignored so that they behave if you need to go into a meeting or jump on a video call.
“Take short breaks where you get your dog getting used to not being petted or spoken to,” he suggests. “This will really help when, for example, you have a Zoom call and you have to pay complete attention to the other people in the meeting.
“The dog will understand ‘there’s no point trying to get my human to pay attention to me.’”
Not every dog is temperamentally suited to office life, but don't underestimate how much the right (or wrong) foods will affect their behaviour, with unnecessary additives making them more likely to be restless and overactive.
Stick to high-quality meals, and be careful about what you give them as treats throughout the day. "Just like with humans, avoid anything sugary," advises Oli. "Although a couple of berries could be fine in a food dispensing toy.
"Make sure all your co-workers are kindly told not to feed your dog though; we wouldn’t want to promote begging, or having a colleague inadvertently give your dog food that could be poisonous like grapes, chocolate, some nuts, etc."
Health and safety
Offices are full of important cables and paperwork, too, so it’s a good idea to develop some strategies to manage dogs that like to chew: “Make sure you’ve got all your cables tidied up in those special cable-organising plastic tubes to help them out of harm’s way.” says Oli.
He also suggests having a crate or playpen to give your dog somewhere to retreat to safely, as well as help you keep them under control when you’re busy.
“A crate is a great idea if you’re planning to have your dog in the office,” Oli says. “Make sure your dog is crate trained ahead of time though. If you don’t have a crate it’s good to have a playpen or some sort of corner… an area where the dog knows no-one will come and bother him.”
Keep it social
If you’re lucky enough to have a dog-friendly office, there’s a good chance someone else will bring their dog in too, so you’ll need to make sure that the two furry workmates don’t get up to too much mischief.
“Good socialisation means training the dog to be calm and polite in all situations,” stressed Oli, “and that means demonstrating appropriate social behaviour in any situation.”
It’s easy for dogs to lose their social skills in lockdown, but continuing to take them out for regular walks will mean they’re used to seeing other dogs and people, even if it’s from a distance. It might also help to keep them nearby during video calls so they’re used to hearing other voices.
If you do need to leave your dog behind while you go back into the office again, preparation is everything, says Oli, who refers to issues of dogs being alone as ‘separation-related problems’ rather than ‘separation anxiety’.
While anxiety is one of the moods separation might instil in dogs, Oli explains “there can be separation fear, separation frustration, even separation fun … you can come home to a chewed sofa and assume your dog has been miserable but intact he’s had the best time ever!”
A trick to preparing your dog for the return of ‘real life’ is leaving the house for a short period every day, providing cues like getting dressed, finding your keys and putting things in your bag, suggest Oli.
“I had a client with a dog that had separation problems,” he explains, “and once lockdown started, she called me and said ‘the dog is doing great but I am concerned that he is prone to suffer from separation problems’.
“I advised this lady to get up every single morning as if she were going to the office: she would get up, go for a run, come back and have a shower and put her makeup on etc., then she goes out to have a cup of coffee and comes back home and works.”
While the next few months are unpredictable, practicing these tips with your dog now, as well as feeding them a good quality diet, will increase their chances of a happy, healthy life, and help you both get ready for a return to normality. Whatever happens next.