Back-to-school time involves transition for the entire family, as parents and children begin to adjust to a new routine, but it is a confusing time for dogs who have enjoyed extra attention and playtime during summer vacation. Think about it—there is nothing better in a dog’s eyes than having his humans around for extended periods of time. When the kids go back to school, they have activity filled days with friends and fun and extracurricular activities often take some of the after-school time, keeping them ( and moms and dads) busy day in, day out. Suddenly the dog is left alone with lack of activity and attention! Dogs are very attached to their humans, and it is difficult for them to suddenly spend 8 hours or more alone each day, and even when the children do come home, they are often busy with schoolwork or school activities. This can result in boredom and separation issues, which can cause a normally well-behaved dog to behave badly—barking excessively, chewing on furniture, or soiling in the house. Tactics to help the family dog transition to the new home-alone schedule include:
- Pumping up the exercise. Don’t use busyness as an excuse for not spending time with your dog. Schedule time EVERY day for some physical activity—a long walk, or an active round of fetch. (Leaving the dog alone in the yard does NOT count as exercise.) Get up a little earlier to interact with the dog, which will make your dog feel less ignored, and will also lower his energy level so that he will be less likely to do something naughty.
- Adding mental stimulation. To reduce boredom while everyone is gone, make your leaving a good thing. Buy some new SAFE toys and give them just before you leave so that they associate your leaving with getting something good. A stuffable, chewable toy like the Kong is a great toy to keep him occupied. Something that has a familiar scent like a kid-scented T-shirt or sock will often comfort the dog. Leave the TV or radio on. Animal Planet on TV can entertain the dog reassure him that everything is normal.
- It is important to stay low key when leaving in the mornings. No big goodbyes. Just leave quietly without causing any anxiety. And make returning “no big deal” too. It is especially important for dogs that have anxiety that you act calm, quiet, casual, and don’t immediately enthusiastically greet your dog. If you act like leaving or returning is not a big deal, then it won’t be a big deal for the dogs. When you come home after a long day, you may be tired, but after calmly greeting your dog, remember that he needs to be played with. A long walk, or playtime will get out all that pent up energy from the day and lets your dog know that you love him. It is also a stress reliever for the humans involved!
- If at all possible, someone should go home during lunch to help relieve the stress of no one being home for 8 hours. If that is not possible, consider having a friend walk her, or paying a dog walker. Taking your dog to a doggy day care a couple times a week is a great option too.
A dog is not an “until” dog…..”Until you get too busy” or “until you have no time.”
A dog is a forever dog! You made a commitment to your dog, and keeping that commitment is not always easy, but it might make the difference between a happy dog and a destroyed house!