Bark All About It!
Can you believe it? Summer's almost over! How time seems to fly by at warp speed during the summer is something I'll never come to terms with. For your dog, making the transition from school's-in-session to summertime fun is easy--instantly he has his buddies to play with all day long. Walks are extended, visits to the dog park and swimming at the lake quadruple--it's heaven, those dog days of summer. But what about the reverse? Think about what it must be like for your canine buddy when he suddenly finds himself alone in a quiet house. The first few weeks of school can be a real downer for Fido. Read on for my 5 Tips on How to Ease this Transition for Your Dog.
Start preparing him now
I know. Like you don't have enough on your plate with all the back-to-school preparations and hoopla. But this one pays off in a big way. Since you can't really sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk, explaining all the changes in the schedule that are about to take place, you'll need to prepare your dog in a way he can understand. If you start making slow changes to his summer-time routine, by the time school starts, you'll have yourself a well-prepared dog who doesn't spiral into a serious case of separation anxiety. You'll need to slowly increase his "alone-time". Be sure you're practicing in the same space he'll be left in while the kids are at school. Will he be in the yard, in a dog run, gated in the kitchen, loose in the whole house? Wherever it is, this is where you'll need to increase his time alone.
Exercise him before the house empties
A physically tired dog will be much less likely to carry tension and anxiety with him throughout the day. Beginning a week or two before school starts, take him on brisk walks or jogs earlier and earlier in the day. It'll prepare both him and you for the slap-in-the-face-school's-back-in-session alarm clock. By making sure your dog has had his share of attention and exercise before the whole family scrambles out the door, he won't have that "Wait! What just happened here? Where'd everybody go?" look on his face. He'll be much more likely to settle in quickly for a nap. (After he's devoured his departure treat!)
Keep him mentally stimulated
For the first few weeks of the back-to-school routine, be sure to give your dog something exciting and different than what he's used to. If you leave your dog outside while you're away, knuckle bones are a great treat. They can get a bit messy, but the first few hours of chewing pleasure will have your dog looking forward to your departure! Think about ways to change up your Kong-stuffing routine as well. I like to soak my dogs' food in chicken broth, add some fresh veggies, stuff the Kongs and freeze several for use throughout the week. Here are some other great Kong recipes to consider. My dogs are so distracted by their tasty treats, they probably don't even notice when I leave. For dogs with more serious separation anxiety, consider easing their back-to-school transition with some time at a local dog daycare. Every two to three days is a great schedule, as most dogs need a day or two of rest after a full day of dog play.
Creating excess exit drama will only serve to stress your dog out. Remember, dogs don't understand too much of our verbal language (outside of individual words we teach them, like sit/stay), but they do understand inflection and tone. If you depart with sadness and sympathy in your voice, with the accompanying body language, your dog will interpret this as something he should be upset about. Don't add to the stress of an already stressful situation. If you must say something (complete silence can be too difficult for some), keep it short and light, like "See you later Buddy! Hold down the fort while we're gone!"
Return the doggish way
Huh? What's that mean, you ask? Well, when a canine member of the family leaves and returns to his pack, he's careful not to over-excite them. He greets them calmly and acts subdued for a time, during this "reunion", of sorts. After the excitement has settled, he'll interact more playfully with them. It's best when we humans mimic this behavior. Walk through the door calmly, speak quietly with subdued petting for the first several minutes of your arrival. If your arrival signifies instant party-time or class-reunion style greetings, you can imagine his anticipation anxiety will begin to skyrocket. Your 'no-big-deal' attitude will send a strong, helpful message to your pooch.
Remember, start these preparations early to make your dog's transition to the new schedule one that he handles with ease. He's been your kids' summertime entertainment and provided everyone with companionship. You owe it to him.
Enjoy your dogs,