Lots of unexpected changes happened in our lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Americans adapted to new routines and embraced the comforts of working from home. With our furry friends always by our side, we felt more at ease. Now, as many of us have returned to the office, leaving our pups behind, we wondered — who really has the stronger case of separation anxiety?
In this study, we collected responses from 1,000 employed dog owners to learn how they manage separation from their pets as workers endure the Great Return to the office. We explored the top methods used to soothe anxious pups and how owners would love to see more pet-friendly benefits offered by their employers. Dog owners also shared how they use pet technology to ease separation and provide the best care for their pets.
The love people have for their pets these days is profound, and it’s never been more so since the pandemic lockdown. How has all that bonding time affected owners’ attachment to their pets and vice versa?
According to our survey, the bond between pets and their owners has never been stronger: 86% of our respondents said they view their dog as part of the family. Some took that a step further, with 81% seeing their dog as their child — mostly millennials (84%). Perhaps that’s because more millennials than ever are delaying having children or opting out altogether.
Although pet ownership doesn’t come with the same responsibilities as child care, raising a dog is still a big commitment that’s not always easy. One of the leading problems that dog owners can face is separation anxiety, as reported by 71% of our respondents. And while owners must soothe their beloved pets during separation, they must also cope with their own feelings: 80% reported feeling guilty for leaving their fur baby home.
Pet owners can begin to ease their concerns and their pet’s anxiety by first talking to their vet about the situation and possible treatment plans. Based on your pet’s behaviors, they may suggest training, soothing methods, or anxiety medication. You may also find it helpful to visit your pet during your lunch break or ask someone you trust to check on them. Alternatively, enrolling your pup in a doggy day care is another option to improve your dog’s socialization.
We found that many owners invested time and money in attempts to comfort their pups in their absence. Nearly all respondents had used a soothing method (98%) such as a crate (31%) or toys to chew on (16%), spending an average of $327. Another example of this might be counter-conditioning, which trains a dog to associate being left alone with something positive, like special food or toys. Pup parents were most likely to give their dog a special bone (40%) or take them on a long walk before leaving (38%) and least likely to use pheromones (2%).
During the height of the pandemic, a surge of Americans became new pet parents, bringing support and company to both parties. Others already owned dogs, but became more used to being home with them during remote work. Many people have returned to in-office work and are now reconsidering their positions.
Has trying to balance work and pet care shifted their priorities?
Dogs make great companions and can significantly improve the quality of your life. A previous Barkbus study showed that dog owners enjoy better physical, mental, and financial health than non-dog owners. Our research also revealed that dogs could improve your social life — including your love life!
Overall, 57% of owners got a dog because they were working from home. Almost 25% adopted or purchased their dogs since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. Feelings of isolation might have led some people to become “pandemic pup” parents. Others might have felt they finally had time for a pet because they were working remotely.
As Americans return to the office, many desire pet-friendly job benefits to make the transition easier and more affordable. They’re also willing to take action if their current employer isn’t meeting their needs. Half of the respondents had already left a job because it wasn’t pet-friendly, with Gen Zers (60%) being the most likely to do so.
Cost and separation anxiety issues may be a couple reasons why 77% agreed that pet-friendly employers are now more attractive. Over 20% of workers use a doggy day care service during workdays, spending an average of $148 monthly. Millennials (73%) were most likely to be lured to a new job by employer-sponsored doggy day care stipends.
For some dog parents, satisfaction may only come from more time with their furry loved ones. Most pet owners (70%) were willing to take a pay cut for the ability to work from home again, and 52% reported plans to quit their job for one that allows more time for caring for their dogs. But until they do, owners are doing their best to stay connected to their pets with the resources available today.
Like any loving parent, pet owners always seek the best for their fur babies. As the pet tech industry grows, the range of available products will surely meet any owner’s needs. In this section of our study, we explore the most popular tech gadgets owners have invested in and how those investments allow them to stay connected to their pets even when at work.
In this age of evolving technology, there’s no shortage of gadgetry that can improve our lives or that of our dogs. Pet tech aims to keep your doggo effectively cared for and entertained in your absence. According to our study, 85% of dog owners reported purchasing an average of $253 on pet technology, with the most popular item being an automatic pet feeder (54%).
The next most commonly purchased gadgets were GPS trackers and automatic pet doors. These pet tech devices offer peace of mind and convenience. Your dog can let themselves in and out through the automatic door if you have a fenced yard. They’ll get more exercise and take care of their business right away, making them more comfortable and easing any stress you have about rushing home to let them out. And if they escape while you aren’t home, a GPS device on their collar can help you track them down!
Another popular piece of tech that dog owners purchased was a pet camera (37%), which they checked an average of four times during their workday. Employers may think pet cameras decrease workers’ productivity, but some researchers and pet parents feel differently: Eye contact, even virtually, can release oxytocin in our brains. This chemical relieves stress, boosts mental health, and actually improves productivity.
Employees reported spending an average of 31 minutes per workday checking on their pup. They may have done so via a pet cam, returning home, or even calling someone to check on their dog. Worrying about a pet could be a distraction at work, which employees could avoid better with a pet-friendly employer and access to supportive pet benefits.
Dogs will always be a prime example of unconditional love. Our four-legged best friends accompany us in moments of stress, sadness, and pain. The pandemic was an uncertain time, but many of us were never alone with our pets by our side.
Understandably, separation is hard for both person and dog after such a long bonding period. There’s no way to quantify who really has it worse because separation anxiety is a shared experience between a pup and its owner. This article shows that you and your dog aren’t alone in your struggle. In time, it’s likely you’ll adjust to the new normal or find a better way to live your best lives.
Barkbus surveyed 1,000 full-time employed dog owners to explore the separation anxiety of dogs and their owners. Respondents ranged in age from 19 to 76. By gender, 56% were male, and 44% were female. By generation, 14% were Gen Z, 52% millennials, 25% Gen X, and 9% baby boomers. However, baby boomers were not used individually due to the sample size.
This sample size contained a margin of error of +/-3% with a 95% confidence level. To help ensure accurate data, we required all respondents to identify and correctly answer a decoyed attention check question. Survey data has certain limitations related to self-reporting. These limitations include telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory.
Barkbus is a luxury mobile dog grooming service aiming to end traumatic trips to the grooming salon. They currently service Southern California — Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego — with plans for national expansion.
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