How to Avoid the Back-to-School Blues for Your Dog
Often, the family dog is as depressed as any teenager when the school bell rings to chime in the new school session -- it's the end of all those sunny day adventures, romps in the park, and trips outside with the family. And bad behaviors can develop. But there's a lot you can start doing now to prepare your dog for the large shift in family culture that can occur as school starts.
- Master schedule -- It is helpful to have a family schedule, including parent working hours, children working hours, school hours, and all family member's recreational activities/clubs/groups. Take a close look at this calendar -- where will you schedule time for the dog?
- Task list -- What dog tasks need to be taken care of? Who will be responsible for each? Tasks include feeding, walking, play time, training (including attending class or lessons, if needed), cleaning up the yard, grooming, etc.
- Doggy daycare -- While this can be a great option for many dogs, other dogs are not appropriate candidates. Exceptionally fearful, sensitive, or reactive dogs, or dogs with true separation anxiety, may not tolerate a daycare situation well -- in fact, it can often exacerbate existing behavior problems or create new ones. Choose a doggy daycare very carefully.
- Dog walkers -- In many places, dog walkers and/or runners can be hired at reasonable rates. Here is a really nice article from DogTec's Veronica Boutelle, "How to Choose a Dog Walker," which provides questions to ask while you are interviewing candidates.
- Pet sitters -- Including lunch breaks and commute times, an average working day can easily be more than ten hours. This is a long time for a dog of any age (let alone puppies!) to be home alone, particularly if they are crated while the owners are away. Even if you provide your dog with plenty of physical exercise and don't require a dog walker or runner, it's a good idea to have someone stop by during the afternoon to allow for a potty break, give meds if needed, or a short walk or play session. If you'd like to give your dog even more fun, many trainers offer "day training" options. In addition to day training, I also offer established clients "doggy adventures," where I pick up their dog and take him swimming or hiking in the woods, training, playing, and exposing to lots of new scents.
- Refresh crate training -- If your dog has been out of his crate most of the summer, now is the time to remind him what a wonderful place it is! You can provide your dog with lots of stuffed Kongs, chew toys, marrow bones, meals, food dispensing toys, etc., both while you are home and while you are gone for short periods. Use common sense -- do not leave your dog unsupervised with any toys or treats that may be dangerous. Stuffed Kongs are usually a pretty safe bet, provided they are of appropriate size and strength for the dog.
- Stock up! -- While you're out shopping for school clothes and supplies, stop by the pet store! Leaving the first day will be less stressful for both you and your dog if you feel well-prepared.
- Introduce Through a Dog's Ear (TADE) -- Through a Dog's Ear is a musical program designed to promote calmness and relaxation in dogs. Start now, when your dog is naturally relaxed, for optimal results.
- Start readjusting feeding times -- If your dog is fed on a different schedule during the summer (e.g. later breakfasts because you like to sleep in) start slowly transitioning him back to his school feeding timetable. This goes for all elements of his routine, including exercise, play time, snuggling time, etc. The more you can start easing him into a reasonable facsimile of what will be the schedule during the school year, the easier it will be for him to adjust.
- Do something special -- I know you're busy, but I also know you love your dog. Try to find the time, in between all the other crazy running around and obligations, to set aside some special time for him. Take a class together, join a hiking club, join a Dog Scouts troop, decide on a fun training project or trick you'd like to teach, and make the time to do it. Your dog will thank you!
Until school starts, have fun. Get out together, splash around in the creek, take a long walk in the woods, squeeze in one more weekend camping trip, or plan a nice afternoon on the boat. But also be mindful to start gradually increasing the amount of time you are away from home to help get your dog ready -- take the kids to the park for a day without the dog, and if possible, make sure to leave him something fun to work on at home while you are away (a new marrow bone, if you are comfortable giving them).
Following these steps should go a long way to preventing the back-to-school blues from infecting your favorite canine this school year. If you find after all this preparation that your dog still has a hard time adjusting to the new schedule, it's a good idea to consider calling a qualified behavior professional in your area -- it's back to school for the dog as well!