When children go back to school, this abrupt change in routine can seriously affect our furry friends. But with some preparation before the first day, families can avoid many of the back-to-school behavior problems their dogs might display. Some of the behavioral issues that families should prepare for include separation anxiety, boredom, jumping and destructiveness.
How should families minimize separation anxiety?
Dogs left alone can become stressed, often resulting in destructive behaviors and endless barking. To reduce these behavioral concerns:
- Pay less attention to your furry family member: While your dog may be the center of attention when the kids are home all day, you need to change this scenario before they return to school so that he can adjust more quickly to the quiet time. At least a week before school starts, pay increasingly less attention to your dog each day.
- Start early: A few weeks before your children return to school, get your dog used to being alone. Begin by separating him from the family. For example, if you frequently take your dog with you to run errands, leave him at home.
- Practice leaving the house: Go through the routine of leaving the house, go out the door, but then come right back in again, slowly increasing your time. The dog will cease associating the routine of your leaving the house with your departure. This will help him to be more relaxed when you actually leave.
- When you leave: As the last person leaves the house for the day, don’t confuse your dog by saying anything. Your happy, high-pitched voice can make him think it’s okay and make him feel anxious. Dogs are pack animals and so they expect their leaders to be strong when they leave the pack. Therefore, ignore your dog for about 10 minutes before you leave.
What to do to decrease boredom?
Dogs sleep a lot during the day, but when they wake up, they want something to do. It doesn’t take much to entertain a dog, even when you’re not at home.
- Toys: Dogs love toys, but they can quickly get bored with or destroy them. Buy high-quality, virtually indestructible puzzle toys that your dog will always enjoy, such as those that hold treats like the GameChanger™ and KONG™. Every few days, rotate what toys are available to him. This gives your dog something new and fun to hold his interest.
- Scatter food: Dogs are natural foragers who enjoy looking for food on the ground—and will literally spend hours doing so. Scatter food or try hiding a few treats so your dog spends extra time looking for them. And always provide lots of fresh, clean water to keep your dog well hydrated.
How do we make our dogs feel “at home”?
Dogs need to have their own shelter, a place where they feel secure and comfortable. If your dog doesn’t already have a place of his own, create one for him.
- Crate: Most dogs love the safety of a crate. Because they are descended from animals that live in dens, a crate is a natural shelter for a dog because it has the same characteristics of a den. If your dog hasn’t been crate trained, don’t start training him the day the kids leave for school. That’s too late and can actually add to his stress. When your dog has become accustomed to his new crate, do not leave him there for extended periods of time. If you plan to be away longer than 10 hours for an adult dog and 6 hours for a puppy, ask a friend to come by to let your dog out to toilet during that time.
- Confined area: If your dog will be inside all day and you are concerned about him toileting in the house, enclose him in a small room (which inhibits the tendency to toilet) and has an easy-clean floor of vinyl or tile (in case he has an accident). Place a soft bed and toys in the area for him too.
- Doghouse: If your dog will be kept outside while you are gone, be sure he has shelter in which to get out of the weather. Dogs are more relaxed when they are covered and in familiar surroundings. Place the doghouse next to the house so that he feels like it is an extension of the larger “den,” and provide a blanket or other comfy bedding.
What about those unusual behaviors?
When dogs are stressed, they can begin to exhibit unusual behaviors, such as jumping up or even biting. It is not uncommon for children to come home from school and be greeted by the dog in an unnecessarily rough manner, even knocking a child to the floor. After being left alone all day, the dog has pent-up energy—and when he sees the kids, his excitement might cause him to overreact.
- Train the kids: Parents need to train their children to avoid going right to the dog’s area as soon as they get home. Kids should ignore the pet for several minutes to allow the dog to settle down. With young children, it is always best to have a parent present to reduce the chance of a problem. Once your dog learns the routine, he will relax.
- Train your dog: It is amazing how quickly dogs learn what is acceptable and what is not. The bottom line is, have clear rules and expectations.
Since dogs like routines, implementing these changes in advance will help promote a smooth transition for our canine family member and minimize unwanted stressful behaviors.
Vicki and Richard Horowitz, of Woodbridge, are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit www.dog-training-new-haven-ct.com.