Ease Pet Anxiety During Back to School Days
This time of year you and your kids have much to look forward to. Heading back to school means children make new friends, play new games and learn new things. You will enjoy the freedom of no longer planning summer activities and schlepping to and from camp. But what does Fido have? Loneliness, boredom, and separation anxiety.
Back To School Days Can Really Freak Fido Out
Here is a list of the most common ways dogs tell you they are freaked out:
- Excessive Barking
- Destructive Behavior
- Destructive Chewing
- Peeing and Pooping in the House
SOLUTIONS FOR ANXIETY
Stick to a routine as much as possible. Dogs are creatures of habit. Feed Fido at the same times every morning and every evening. Keep your behavior consistent when you leave home and when you return.
During my childhood we had a wonderful Beagle named Romeo. He was adorable, smart, energetic and fun. But as we got involved with school, our friends, and after-school activities, Romeo was left to fend for himself. We didn’t connect how our change in routine was affecting him until it was too late. Romeo became an increasingly irritable dog. He began to growl, snap, and eventually began biting people. When he bit a 5-year-old girl’s face my parents felt forced to give him away. My folks found a man on a farm who adopted him. Luckily he wasn't euthanized but I still cried and cried. Please don’t let that happen to you and your kids.
Make sure your dog gets enough exercise. It may take quite a bit of effort on your part, and on the part of your children, but it is crucial that your dog still gets enough playtime, companionship and exercise. Remember, if your dog runs around enough that translates into long naps while you are out. Long naps for your dog during your absences equals far less stress for both of you.
Introduce fun chew toys to keep your dog busy for hours. My top 5 suggestions are:
- Kong Extreme Dog Toy
- Kong Wobbler Treat Dispensing Dog Toy
- Tug-A-Jug Treat Puzzle Toy
- Linkables Treat Dispensing Puzzle Toys
- Smarter Toys IQ Treat Ball
Crates are kind—When I first got my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy, my vet Dr. Marc Siebert at Heart of Chelsea Animal Hospital suggested crate training. I argued that it sounded cruel but Dr. Siebert explained that dogs are descendants from wolves and wolves crave dens. A dog crate with a comfy bed and a few favorite toys can be your dog’s safe haven. A “safe house” can help lessen your dog’s anxiety while you and the kids are not home.
Tips: You want to avoid keeping a dog confined for more than 4 hours. Enlist a friend, neighbor, or dog walker to give the dog a relief and stretch break. And, remember that any unsupervised dog should only have access to safe toys. I learned the hard way. My little Buddy ate the fluffy, stuffed eyes off of an Ostrich toy. The fabric expanded inside his intestines and he had to have surgery to remove it. The experience was traumatic for both of us and it was a painful $1500 bill!
No yelling—If you come home to a destroyed piece of furniture, soiled carpets, shredded clothes, or turned-upside-down kitchen, the tendency is to want to scream at your dog for his “crimes.” That is the worst thing you can do. Your dog is acting out due to fear and anxiety. If you begin acting like a crazy person your dog will become even more agitated. A dog will not understand that you are yelling about something that took place hours ago. Your dog will not connect your yelling to his/her bad behavior and will instead think you have lost your mind and are no longer a safe protector.
Desensitize your dog to your comings and goings. A week before school starts practice a few preparation exercises. Leave your dog alone for short periods of time (15–20 minutes intervals). This will help show your dog that you come and go which will reduce fear that you aren’t coming back. Dr. Siebert said, “Don’t make a big deal when you go out, or when you get back home. It may help your anxiety but it won’t help your dog.”
Your dog will pick up on your nervous energy and that will only make things more frightening. When you leave, do so calmly. I say a simple, “I’ll be right back.” When I return I greet my little Buddy with a nice hello but then busy myself for 10 minutes. The purpose is to keep sending the message that it is normal for me to come and go.
Okay, I confess, I often sing a little snippet of a song, “Mommy always comes back, she always comes back, she never will forget you.” I sing that when I go out and when I come home. I also sing it as Buddy drifts off to sleep at night. I sing it softly and calmly in my attempt to reassure Buddy that his world is safe. I’m happy to report it has worked marvelously for nine years now. My neighbors say Buddy doesn’t bark while I’m out, and I come home to a calm home with nothing destroyed and no signs of upset—ahhhh, a dog parent’s dreams come true.
If you know of any additional tips please leave a comment here.