Back-to-school time is different than usual this year. But whether kids are going back to classes or doing distance learning from home, schedule changes can be stressful for dogs. The sudden switch from long summer days of playing with the kids to living in an empty (or busy) home can be a tough adjustment. Here are some tips from behavioral experts on making this yearly seasonal transition as smooth as possible for your dog.
Curb Boredom Through Enrichment Toys, Puzzles, and Games
• Stock up on toys and fill them with desirable treats like small amounts of peanut butter, frozen banana slices, and dog food. These can be made up ahead of time and put in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.
• Hide those treats around the house for them to find. Make a game out of it.
• Use positive reinforcement training. Encouraging your dog to work and think for their treats is a fun activity for both you and your pet.
Ease Your Pet into a New Routine
Before school starts, begin getting your dog accustomed to the soon-to-be new schedule. Get up early, take your pup out for a rigorous walk, and introduce the activities they can do when everyone is gone, says Mary R. Burch, a certified applied animal behaviorist, and the AKC Family Dog Director.
Determine Bathroom Breaks
By the time school starts, you should know how long your dog can stay alone at home without needing a bathroom break. Burch suggests taking your pup out for a sufficient time in the morning and having the first person to get home in the afternoon take them out again. “If you aren’t sure about whether or not the dog can go all day without a trip outdoors, have a pet sitter come in at lunch to take them outside,” she says.
Do a Trial Run with Background Noise
Burch suggests leaving on the television or radio when you’re away to see if it makes a positive difference for your dog.
Consider Taking Your Pet to Classes, Too
If you feel your pup could benefit from basic training or an active class, try enrolling them in a Canine Good Citizen or Agility class. “If you don’t have the time, teach your dogs some tricks at home instead,” Burch suggests.
Get Up Early to Exercise Your Dog
Even though your mornings may now be more hectic with getting your kids out the door to school, try not to cut corners for your canine companion. Only taking your dog for a short walk in the morning can lead to trouble later in the day, says Dr. Jessica Taylor, a North Carolina–based veterinarian.
“Pets that normally spend their day playing, going in and out with kids, or being stimulated with people around them, can experience stress and anxiety when they are suddenly left alone. Aim to get up a bit earlier to allow for a long walk or 20-minute play session in the yard to get their energy out,” says Dr. Taylor. “Then your pet can rest during the day while you are gone and be ready for playtime again when you come home. You can also consider a pet-walking service for a mid-day activity session.”
Harness the Power of Distraction
We all have our routines as we leave the house — picking up the keys, checking the back door, turning out the lights, and saying goodbye to our dog. But our pets pick up on these cues and can associate them with separation and stress, says Dr. Taylor.
“Try to make coming and going as low impact as possible and vary some of your routines to prevent the wind-up behavior of some pets. A toy or treat can divert your pet’s attention from you leaving and help them get out energy — just make sure they’re safe and non-toxic for pets.”
Keep Building the Bond with Your Dog
Once the day is winding down, ensure you and your family are still setting time aside to spend with your dog. “Maintaining the human-animal bond is essential for a happy pet and pet owner,” says Dr. Taylor. “This could mean snuggle time on the couch or learning a new activity on the weekends or evenings. Discuss with your family and veterinarian what level of activity would be best for your pet based on their breed, age, and medical conditions.”
While not everyone loves the back-to-school season, these simple steps to ensure a smooth transition will help prevent you and your pup from getting the blues.