The dog days of summer are nearly behind us and for many parents, that means it’s back-to-school time! While back-to-school is an exciting time for kids and parents, big changes in the daily routine can be a difficult time for dogs, especially those that had playmates and family members around all summer long.
As summer draws to a close and school starts up again, everything at home changes. Moms and dads get up earlier, kids that are normally home during the day are away at school instead. We take fewer vacations, spend less time outside, and have fewer days of carefree fun with the pups.
Dogs can really struggle when it comes to drastic changes in routine, especially if those changes mean suddenly spending a lot more time at home alone. Not surprisingly, many pet parents report changes in their dogs’ behavior as younger kids start school, older kids move away to college, and parents return to work. Most common behavioral changes include chewing furniture, urinating or eliminating in the house, attempting to escape, barking excessively, and showing signs of restlessness and/or anxiety.
A vast majority of these behavioral changes can be attributed to the change in their day-to-day routines – the sudden schedule changes, the drastic reduction in both mental and physical exercise, and a lack of stimulation they’d grown accustomed to over the summer.
The good news is, with some patience, understanding, and a bit of effort, you can help your four-legged family members adjust quickly and avoid the back-to-school behavior blues!
• In the days and weeks leading up to the official first day of school, slowly start adjusting your schedule so it isn’t such a sudden, drastic change. If your new back-to-school schedule means your dog will need to be fed, walked, and allowed to potty at different times of day than he’s used to, gradually adjust his schedule instead of just springing it on him one day.
Likewise, if your dog will be spending a lot more time alone once school starts, begin leaving her alone for gradually longer amounts of time in the weeks leading up to the first day of school. A slow transition will be far less stressful on both you and your dog.
• To make your dog more relaxed during the day while you and the kids are away from home, plan to exercise him in the mornings before school. Even just a brisk 15-20 minute walk or active playtime in the backyard will help to expend some of the energy that could make him restless during the day.
• If your dog has specific dietary needs or is in need of frequent feedings throughout the day, an automatic feeder can help to ensure she gets the nutrition she needs, when she needs it.
• If you’re confident that your backyard is 100% secure, both from an escape artist pooch or from intruders, an automatic dog door can be a lifesaver for dogs that can’t “hold it” all day.
Remember, the goal is to set your dog up for the best chance of success, not test whether or not he will fail. To make sure your dog is relaxed, comfortable, and happy while he’s home alone, make sure he’s got access to favorite toys and a comfortable place to nap.
A favorite trick among pet parents that have to leave their dogs alone for a portion of the day is to stuff a Kong toy with peanut butter and offer it to the dog right before leaving. This irresistible treat keeps the dog occupied during those first several moments when anxiety about being left alone is at its worst. Just be certain that whichever toys or treats you leave behind can be safely played with or consumed while unattended.
• Instead of leaving your dog, who’s grown accustomed to the busy hustle and bustle of summertime with the family, all alone in a quiet house, turn on the television or play a radio softly before heading out. Consider a DVD made especially for dogs that’ll provide entertainment or relaxation while you’re away.
Also remember, although you’ve been at work all day and the kids have been at school, your dog’s been eagerly awaiting your return – don’t forget to exercise and play with her again as soon as you get home, no matter how tired or just not in the mood you may be. (A nice walk around the neighborhood is a great way to unwind after a long day at the office or school!)
If all else fails, consider sending your dog to school, too! Enroll your furry, four-legged student in doggy daycare or hire a dogsitter, walker, or trainer to stop in and pay her a visit during the day while you’re away.
Do you have any tips for helping beat the back-to-school dog behavior blues? Please share them in a comment below!