Before we know it, the kids will be heading back to school, as many school districts now have the first day before the Labor Day holiday. When children return to school, the stress on every family member can be huge — including the family dog. This abrupt change in routine can seriously affect our canine companions, who are creatures of habit. But with a little understanding and preparation before the first day of class, families can avoid many of the back-to-school behavior problems their dogs might exhibit. By providing training and the right combination of food, shelter and entertainment, families can help their canine companions adapt to a new schedule.
With parents at work and no children to play with during the day, dogs left alone can become stressed, often resulting in destructive behaviors and endless barking. Following these guidelines can help reduce the potential stress of separation and help return dogs to normal in a few weeks.
- Start early: A couple of weeks before your children go back to school, get your dog used to being alone. Begin by separating your dog from the kids and the rest of the family. For example, if you frequently take your dog with you to the store, leave him at home.
- Pay less attention to him: Dogs may be the center of attention when the children are home. You need to change this scenario before the children return to school so that your family dog can adjust more quickly to the quiet time. Pay less attention to your dog for increasing amounts of time about a week before school and extend the amount during the days that follow
Dogs sleep a great deal during the day, but when they wake up, they want something to do. It doesn’t take much to entertain a dog, even when you’re not at home.
- Scatter food: Dogs are natural foragers who love to look for food on the ground — and will literally spend hours doing so. You might even try hiding some treats so your dog spends time looking for them. And always provide lots of fresh, clean water to keep your dog well hydrated.
- Toys: Dogs love toys, but they can quickly get bored with them or destroy them. First, buy high-quality, virtually indestructible toys that your dog will always enjoy, such as those that hold treats like the GameChanger™, Buster Cube™ and KONG™. Second, every few days, rotate what toys are available to him. This gives your dog something new and fun to hold his interest.
Dogs need to have their own “home.” Just as we feel more at ease in our home, so do dogs. If your dog doesn’t have a place of his own, create one for him.
- Crate: Most dogs love crates. However, 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. Although your dog will soon enjoy his new den, do not leave him in his crate for extended periods of time. If you find you will be away longer than 10-12 hours for a dog and 6-8 hours for a puppy, ask a friend to come by to let him out to toilet.
- Laundry room: If your dog will be inside all day and you are concerned about him toileting in the house, enclose him in an area that is rather small (this inhibits the tendency to toilet) and has a floor of vinyl or tile in case he makes a mistake.
When dogs are stressed, they can sometimes exhibit unusual behaviors, such as jumping up or even biting. It is not uncommon for children to come home from school and be greeted by the dog in an unnecessarily rough manner, knocking a child 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 immediately entering the dog’s area as soon as they get home. Kids should ignore the pet for 5-10 minutes to allow him to settle down. With young children, it is always best 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 as the way to train them. It’s simple, and it works.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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