Employees have gotten used to going back to the office. Your dogs don’t have | company
For Nuria Alonso, a 36-year-old administrative worker from Madrid, returning to personal work meant adopting new routines. Instead of getting up at 7:30 a.m., she set her alarm for 6 a.m. She extended the brisk walk she took with Sugus, a nervous fluffy poodle. Later she invented a complicated choreography to fool the dog: Alonso locks herself in her room from the animal’s attentive gaze. Her mother then takes the dog to another room. Alonso uses his absence to sneak out of her bedroom, carefully closing the door again, and she quietly leaves the house. “So he thinks I’m still in my room and stays calmer,” she explains on the phone. It’s the only way, otherwise he’ll spend the day crying and barking. Sugus is an extreme case, but far from unique.
Known as separation anxiety disorder, it affects dogs who don’t know how to cope with their owners’ absence. If the animal is left alone at home, it will start crying or barking. Some smash furniture, others pee on the carpet. This disorder usually affects puppies in the first few months of life. It’s more common in certain breeds, including Labradors, Border Collies, and German Shepherds. But the pandemic has triggered the onset of separation anxiety episodes in dogs of all breeds and ages.
Sugus is “a pandemic dog,” explains Alonso. He spent his first months of life in a house where someone was always around. In Spain, the quarantined dog population has increased by 38%, according to the National Association of Pet Food Manufacturers. Large numbers of animals have grown up in houses that were always full of people, normalizing what was once unusual.
At the Alonso home, confinement was severe. They only walked the dog or went shopping once a week. Sugus was happy. Many dogs were. According to a study by Applied Animal Behavior Science, 65% of respondents said their dogs experienced less stress, were happier and played more during the pandemic.
But the situation changed for Sugus. As his owners returned to normal, he was left alone longer and longer. At first he accepted it with resignation, but when Alonso returned to personal work he lost it. He started barking and whining whenever he was left alone. His owner tried to muzzle him, leaving him in relatives’ houses and giving him prizes and treats. “I couldn’t even go shopping in peace,” she laments. She eventually went to a dog trainer.
Coach Carmen Martínez considers Sugus’ case to be paradigmatic. “Teleworking is a double-edged sword,” she explains. “In our society, many dogs spend too many hours alone at home. This is a social species that tends to live in groups. Spending so many hours alone is not in their natural pattern,” says Martínez. But confinement and remote work has made some people go to the other extreme. “They were followed for many hours and when people resumed activities, the families started having problems.”
That was not the case with Arancha Naranjo. The 38-year-old from Extremadura in eastern Spain combines teleworking with days in the office. She always does it next to Margot, a nine-year-old mutt. Your job at the advertising agency Bungalow25 allows dogs in the workplace. “Margot has never had separation anxiety,” she explains over the phone, “but we work long hours and I don’t like her being alone for so long.”
Julio Gálvez, the company’s deputy creative director, agrees, also because he has a dog, Yogi, who has a hard time staying at home alone. He also understands that policies keep workers and give them a better quality of life. “Dogs are part of the family,” he says.
Every morning, Yogi and Margot arrive at the office, greet each other, give each other cuddles and lie down on their beds. Meanwhile, all around them, the clicking of keyboards, the beeps of notifications, and whispered conversations create a familiar monotonous hum. The dogs here are relaxed. “I wish more companies were like this,” says Naranjo. “My dog is happier and so am I.”
Some tech companies, including Amazon, Google, Squarespace, and Etsy, were already allowing dogs in offices before the pandemic. Others have started doing so in recent months to keep their workers. But they are still rare in Spain. Naranjo knows her case is an exception, but she believes it should be the rule. “I understand that a dog is not a baby, but I encountered a lot of misunderstandings in other jobs where the hours were long and I couldn’t take Margot with me,” she says.
“It should be more common,” agrees Enric Rodríguez, ethologist and author of a book on dog training. “Dogs fulfill an important task in our society as companion and sometimes even service animals. It is time that we adapt our lives to them.”
Another option, which is becoming more common, is to leave the dogs in daycare or rent a walker to entertain the dog in the absence of its owners. Animal Solution, a zoological nursery in Madrid, confirms that inquiries have increased since the return to the new normal. “Nursery has always existed, but in recent years the sector has become more professional,” says its owner, Luis Sousa, a veterinarian with more than 30 years of experience. They have room for just over a dozen dogs, and they’ve put up the No Vacancy sign several times in the past few months.
Nuria Alonso bought a digital camera that records the dog in her absence and transmits the image live to her cell phone. “I watch it two or three times an hour,” she explains. Yours is a common solution. According to a study by PreciseSecurity, sales of this type of device have skyrocketed. They’ve been growing at a rate of 18.4% for years, and annual sales are expected to surpass 300 million units by 2023.
Dog walkers, cameras, daycare, family support: these are the most common interventions for separation anxiety disorder, but all failed in the case of Sugus. Alonso admits she is frustrated and hopes the manager’s help can solve the problem. Hundreds of people are in the same situation: 26% of Spanish households have a dog, one of the highest percentages in Europe. The pandemic has brought all of these owners closer to their dogs than ever, but routine has separated them again. Now the employees are demanding measures to maintain the work-life balance. Many dogs, like Sugus, also protest in their own way.