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7 ways to help your dog adjust to back

Jun 23, 2024Jun 23, 2024

Your kids aren’t the only ones who might need extra TLC during back-to-school season. After a summer tagging along with his bipedal siblings, your dog now has to adjust to hours without them. And when those small humans do get home, they’ll probably have to prioritize homework over fetch. This new reality can leave a pup feeling a little down.

In some cases, dogs will misbehave or act out, says Sarah Byosiere, an animal behaviorist who used to run the Thinking Dog Center at Hunter College. “So [have] a little bit of patience for one another and also a little grace for yourself,” she advises. “You’re not a terrible pet parent if things aren’t going as smoothly as you thought they would.”

Here are a few ways to make the transition easier on your dog — and yourself.

If you still have time before the first day of school, introduce your dog to the new routine now “so that it’s not abrupt,” says Rachel Malamed, a veterinary behaviorist in the Los Angeles area. If your dog is going to be walked and fed at 7 a.m. instead of 8:30, start that schedule a few days early, so on a hectic first day your dog isn’t dealing with yet another unexpected change.

You may also want to practice leaving your dog alone, particularly if your dog has experienced separation anxiety in the past or just hasn’t been left behind much over the summer. Listen from outside the house, or watch on a webcam to gauge how he or she reacts.

“I start introducing two short departures in advance in the weeks leading up to those changes,” Malamed says. “Gradually building up the time that they’re left alone, but making sure to come back before the dog shows any signs of panic or anxiety. Because the whole point is to keep it positive.”

If you know your dog will have to endure long stretches of alone time (and your budget allows), it’ll also help to hire a dog walker or enroll in doggy day care, says trainer Nicole Wilde, author of “Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety.”

“And it doesn’t have to be every day,” she says. Some dogs are wiped out after only two or three days of day care per week.

Once the school year starts, keep an eye out for changes in your dog’s behavior. Some signs of anxiety, such as barking, being destructive or having accidents in the house, are very noticeable. But others, including lethargy, trembling or a change in appetite, are subtler.

If you notice these things or your pup seems otherwise out of sorts, you’ll first want to consult your veterinarian to rule out a physical injury or ailment. And sometimes, “when animals are stressed, they can also get sick,” Malamed explains. “So there’s an intrinsic relationship between stress and physical illness.”

If your dog gets a clean bill of physical health, but his behavior doesn’t improve, you may need to enlist a behaviorist or trainer to help.

Even if your dog has full run of the home when you’re gone, it’s important to designate a comfortable, safe spot for your pet.

Byosiere recommends having “your kids work with you to create a cozy space for your pups.” They can help figure out dog beds, blankets, toys and even pick out dog-friendly, slow-tempo music (there are calming playlists on Spotify and YouTube). If your dog stays in a crate, the kids can similarly pick out a favorite blanket or toys to leave. Your dog will wind up with a happier place to hang out, and the exercise may help your kids feel better about being apart from their pet.

If your dog is particularly bonded to the children, Wilde advises leaving behind a couple of their belongings — such as old T-shirts — so your pup can snuggle up with their scent.

As tough as it is to leave behind a furry best friend, experts caution against overwhelming your dog with hugs and other drama before you walk out the door. Instead of showing your pup how much you’ll miss him, this will likely just cause more stress. “If the kids are like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m so sorry we have to go,’ that’s not going to help,” Byosiere says.

The same principle applies when you get home. Byosiere recommends teaching your kids a routine of greeting the dog without making it seem like your absence was a big deal. “We walk into the house nicely, [then] let’s go put our backpacks away, ignore the dog. Let’s go to the cookie jar and get a snack for the puppy, and then we’ll go outside and you can give the dog a treat,” she explains. “We’re not going to go to the crate and rile them all up and get them all excited while they’re in there. We’re going to open the door gently, let them walk out, and then when we get outside ... we can make a big deal then.”

For many dogs, getting a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter or doggy cheese treat is a fair trade for a couple hours without you. Freezing the Kong in advance can provide even more entertainment, since it will take your dog longer to lick out all the deliciousness.

Wilde advises giving the toy to your pup a few minutes before you leave so he doesn’t associate the gift with your immediate departure. For dogs allowed to roam the house, Malamed suggests hiding bits of dog food or treats around for them to discover.

As the school year ramps up, do your best to make quality time for your dog when you can. Going on long walks, and teaching new tricks or commands are a couple ways to keep your pup engaged and happy. “People get busy with work and children get busy with homework and after-school activities, so it’s important to make sure that families carve out individual owner’s time for their pets,” Malamed says.

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