As families across Ohio prepare for the new school year, it’s important to keep in mind the family pet as well. Dogs can be sensitive to changes in the household and behavior problems can sometimes result. By providing training and the right combination of food, shelter and entertainment, families can help their dogs adapt to the new household schedule.
- Scatter food: Dogs are natural foragers who enjoy sniffing out food on the ground. Before you leave the house, scatter a variety of foods —such as bits of raw vegetables, dog kibble, and other foods that won’t attract insects—around the yard or house. Hide a few ultra-tasty treats, too, so your dog spends extra time looking for them. Be sure to provide fresh, clean water to keep your dog well hydrated.
- Toys: Dogs love toys, but they can get bored with or destroy them. Buy high-quality, virtually indestructible puzzle toys that your dog will always enjoy, especially those that hold treats like the KONG™ and Buster Cube™. Every week or so, rotate what toys are available to your dog to give him something new and fun to hold his interest.
With everyone away from the house all day, dogs left alone can become stressed. This stress can result in destructive behaviors and endless barking. Follow these tips to help reduce the potential anxiety of separation.
- Start early: A few weeks before your children return to school, get your dog used to being alone. Begin by separating him from the kids and the rest of the family. For example, if you frequently take your dog with you to run errands, leave him at home instead.
- Pay less attention to your dog: 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. About a week before school starts, pay increasingly less attention to your dog each day.
- Practice leaving the house: Go through the motions of leaving the house – but don’t leave. Pick up your keys and go out the door, but then come right back in again. 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: When the last person leaves the house for the day, don’t confuse your dog by saying soothingly, “Don’t worry, Buster—we’ll be home soon. Be a good boy.” If he is feeling concerned that you’re leaving, your sweet-toned voice can make him think it’s okay to feel anxious. Dogs are animals that instinctively rely on a defined social structure, and so they expect their leaders to be strong when they leave the group. Therefore, ignore your dog for about 10 minutes before you leave.
Dogs need to have their own “home,” a place where they always 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 dogs are descended from den-dwellers, a crate is a natural shelter 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 keep him crated for long periods of time. If you plan to be away longer than 10 hours for a dog and 6 hours for a puppy, ask a friend or hire a pet sitter to come by to let your dog out to toilet during that time.
- Laundry room: If your dog will be inside all day and you are concerned about him toileting in the house, use a baby gate to enclose him in a small room (which inhibits the tendency to toilet) and has an easy-clean floor (in case he has an accident). Place a soft bed and toys in the room for him too.
- Doghouse: If your dog will be housed outside while you are away, 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 your house so your dog feels his house is an extension of the larger “den.” Provide bedding and plenty of fresh water.
When dogs are continually stressed, they can begin to exhibit abnormal behaviors, such as jumping up or even biting. A child coming home from school may be greeted by the dog in an unnecessarily rough manner, even knocking her 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 him to settle down. With young children, it is always safest 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. Dogs have a language of their own, and once we understand it, we can easily control them by “speaking their language.” Bark Busters specializes in using dogs’ natural, instinctive communication methods to train them. It’s simple, and it works.
Back-to-school time can create stress on the entire family, including your canine pack member. Dogs are creatures of habit, and so any abrupt change in routine can seriously affect them. However, with a little understanding and preparation ahead of time, families can avoid many of the back-to-school behavior problems their dogs might exhibit. —Greg Schneider
Greg Schneider is a dog behavioral therapist and trainer with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. Bark Busters is continuing its mission to enhance the human-canine relationship and reduce the possibility of maltreatment, abandonment and euthanasia of companion dogs. For more details, call 1-877-500-BARK(2275) or visit www.BarkBusters.com to find a dog trainer in your area.