As we enjoy the last days of summer, and prepare for fall changes, it is possible that pet caregivers may not think about what it means to the family dog. Dogs thrive on routine; it makes them feel secure, and they don’t understand why the kids go back to school, and aren’t around for playing and giving extra love and snuggles. College students leave, and older adults may be preoccupied with missing the kids and reorganizing their own lives. The result can be a lonely dog who just mopes around and sleeps more than usual, or becomes destructive. A little planning can forestall most problems.
- Maintain routine as much as possible. Although your dog’s caregiver may change, her routine shouldn’t. Plan to eat, walk, and play at the same times, but avoid spending all your time with the dog. Gradually accustom her to your absence by leaving her alone for short periods, and then work on up to being gone for several hours If your dog has been clingy to the kids all summer, regularly interrupt her shadowing them around the house by baby-gating her into another room for brief periods.
- Keep comings and goings low key. No huggy/kissy, “I’ll miss you” scenes that will often fuel anxiety in your dog. Ignore your dog for a few minutes before you leave and after you return to help lower his excitement level, and reduce the tension level he feels.
- Those old T-shirts you were planning to throw out can serve a new purpose—leave an item of your clothing in your pet’s bed while you are away. Your familiar scent may comfort her.
- EXERCISE. EXERCISE. EXERCISE. A tired dog is a good dog—for good reason. A dog who has gotten some serious exercise will seldom get into much trouble.
- Leave the television or radio on, or better yet, play the heartbeat music therapy CD, Canine Lullabies, which is available from Terry Woodford. For more information, visit www.caninelullabies. This amazing CD actually does reduce anxiety and settles hyperactivity.
- Provide diversions. Every dog deserves at least a couple Kongs. These toys are uniquely shaped of durable rubber and have hollow centers which can be filled with “good stuff.” Unstuffing Kongs can keep dogs busy for hours as they go for the nuggets stuffed inside. A simple stuffing can be just a little peanut butter rubbed inside the Kong, some kibble, a few doggie treats, and maybe a couple small chunks of cheese. If your dog has never had a stuffed Kong, make it easy to remove the stuffing at first, so they succeed at their removal work. Gradually make their job more challenging by packing the stuffing tighter. For creative ways to stuff your Kong, go to www.kongcompany.com. Most dogs love raw baby carrots, so you might hide a few around the house for him to play “Find It.”
Help your dog beat the back to school blues, and if problems arise, remember punishment for anxiety or inappropriate behavior is NEVER appropriate. A dog misbehaves because he is anxious or upset, not out of spite or to get even. No matter what he does while you are gone, punishment will only intensify the problems. Good caregivers know that positive reinforcement, persistence, and patience can correct just about any difficulty.