Summer is a great time filled with swimming, hiking, and playing in the yard with our faithful friends. As the summer comes to a close and parents send their children back to school, it is important to remember that our four legged friends may feel lonely after having their best buddies home all summer. As a result, pets may begin to exhibit new behaviors related to boredom or anxiety. Close to 20 percent of the nation’s 80 million dogs have separation anxiety per Dr. Nick Dodman of Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts. Dogs with separation anxiety may show symptoms of barking, howling or whining for long periods of time. This is stressful for the dog and also can cause problems with neighbors who may be disturbed by the noise. Other dogs may begin to destroy items in the house including doors by scratching at them or damage blinds and curtains attempting to look out the window. Both of these can lead to your dog becoming injured. Other dogs may begin to have accidents in the house.
Pets are creatures of habit and it is important to establish clear rules and a set schedule to ensure they will be happy and well adjusted. This is especially true of dogs, because they tend to depend on their owner’s attention more so than cats. It is important to set and follow a daily routine that works for their lifestyle all year long. The schedule should include feeding, walks to one spot for elimination, walks off the property and appropriate play at approximately the same time every day. Establishing a routine your pet can depend on will help them weather any changes that may occur.
Some important rules to follow to help lower stress on your dog during this transition time include:
- Make your departure a happy time with toys and treats. Save a special toy that your pet really loves and have your children give it to them just before they are ready to go out. Put it away again once the children come home so it remains the “special toy.”
- Create a place in the house where the dog feels safe. This can be room where they will be unable to get injured or in trouble. Most cage trained dogs enjoy spending time in their kennel where they feel safe.
- Keep your dog entertained. Hide favorite pet treats around the house for your pet to discover while you are away. Rubber Kongs or hard hollow bones can be stuffed with a little peanut butter or cream cheese and can even be frozen for a long lasting treat!
- Start the new routine before school begins. Once school begins it is important to encourage your children once home from school to care for their pet’s needs and jump into a fun game of “fetch” or before starting other after school activities.
- Doggie Day Care a few days a week is also great for the very social dog. It helps them to use up excess energy and be able to socialize with humans and dogs during the day when they may feel lonely.
If after a few weeks of following a set schedule you don’t notice an improvement in your pet it is important to see your local veterinarian. During your visit the veterinarian will be able to assess the situation further and help come up with a plan to help with separation anxiety. Behavior modification and/or medication may be prescribed to help with the symptoms. It is important to get treatment for your pet as soon as possible. Earlier treatment will lead to a better outcome. With proper planning, back to school can be a stress free time for you and your dog.