By Dee Perez, Dogs for the Deaf Grant Writer
Back to school . . . whether you love it or hate it, for families with kids it’s a busy time of year and changes the whole family schedule. While you’re busy sorting out bus schedules and school supplies, don’t forget about your furry family members.
After a summer spent with kids home from college or little ones at home with a babysitter, the transition back to long days at home alone can be really difficult for dogs. They may feel neglected, lonely and bored.
Some dogs become depressed when everyone gets back into the fall routine. These dogs might seem listless and have low energy. They might stop eating, stop wanting to play, or hide and cower as if they’re afraid.
Some dogs display signs of separation anxiety when they feel abandoned. Separation anxiety usually shows up in erratic behavior like excessive barking, whining or frantic clawing at doors, windows or fences to get out. Anxious dogs might start destructive chewing or go potty in the house. While all of this may look like bad behavior, whatever you do – do not punish your dog for this. He’s not trying to be bad – he’s afraid, and he’s trying to find a way to alleviate his stress and anxiety. Rather than get angry, find a way to help your dog make the transition to a new schedule with the following tips. You’ll both be much happier and less stressed!
Exercise in the morning. Even 15 minutes of walking or playing fetch can help your dog burn off excess energy and stay calm during the day. It also helps your dog know you still care about her. Yes, morning schedules are often frantic, but this one change can mean a huge difference for your dog, resulting in less chance of destructive behavior during the long day alone.
Leaving the House: Pet your dog good bye, leave them with a favorite treat or toy, and go. Don’t make a big deal of leaving for the day. If you seem emotional when you leave the house, your dog will pick up on that feeling and become emotional himself. Kongs stuffed with peanut butter or treats are a good choice that will keep your dog occupied. Also, hiding small treats around the house or yard helps keep dogs productively focused. Leave a radio or TV playing on low volume to help your dog feel less anxious.
Mid-day break: If possible, try to have someone come home at mid-day to let the dog out for some quick exercise. This breaks up the time they have to spend alone and relieves pent-up energy. Doggy day care or dog walkers are also great choices.
Back at home: Anxious dogs will be ecstatic when you get back home. Depressed dogs may not acknowledge you. When you come home, stay calm and quiet. You might try to ignore your dog for a few minutes. This gives the dog a chance to calm himself. Then after a few minutes, greet your dog calmly to let her know you love her, and let them outside to potty. If you act like you’ve been gone forever, your dog will THINK you’ve been gone forever. Act like it’s no big deal, and it won’t be.
Evening: With homework, dinner and household chores, the last thing you may want to do is take the dog for a walk. But your dog has been waiting for you all day and probably has lots of energy they need to release somehow. If you take your dog out for a walk or play time, she will release the energy then, instead of by chewing up the new drapes. Plus, we can all use the exercise ourselves.
Also, spend a few minutes of quiet time with your dog. Call them over for a few belly rubs and ear scratches.
Following this routine should help make the back to school transition much easier for your dog. All your dog really wants is to love you and make you happy. Taking just a bit of time to help your dog adjust to a new schedule will show him that you care, too.