This part of the year is normally a very happy and wonderful time for parents with school-age children. It means that the kids are going back to school and the house will be quiet once more. Well, this isn’t quite the same as a “normal year”. The COVID-19 lock downs and mandates have thrown a monkey wrench into all of our schedules for months on end. With that said, many school districts are doing the best job they can in getting kids back into the classrooms and creating a sense of social normalcy once again. That could be a great thing for parents and kids, but what about our dogs?
Remember, our dogs never received the memo about COVID-19. For the last six months, they have been experiencing a house full of people with all sorts of things to do. They were probably walked more than they ever have been in the past. They have probably watched more TV on more laps than they can remember. They have probably been on the receiving end of constant hugs and kisses. For many of them, this “new normal” is about to change into “a different new normal”. As our kids go back to school (where allowed), we are really getting back to the “regular normal” for this time of year. What was the “regular normal” like and how did we deal with it?
This same thing takes place every year and it is something that is easily solved if you start now to prepare for it. Two big issues that your dog may experience are boredom and separation anxiety. Both of these could lead to bad and annoying behavior such as destruction and continued, crazy barking. Here are some simple things you can do to make sure that your dog doesn’t cause problems when school starts again:
Most dogs sleep a lot during the day. But when they wake up, they want something to do. Make sure that your dog has stuff to do when he gets up that doesn’t involve the kids who are now at school:
- Scatter feed. All dogs are natural foragers who love the hunt for goodies. Before you leave the house, scatter some food and goodies such as bits of raw vegetables, dog kibble, and other foods that won’t attract ants around the yard or house. Hide a few really yummy treats, too. Your dog now is looking for these goodies and not focused on “where is everybody?” Be sure to leave out fresh, clean water to keep your dog well hydrated.
- Toys. Dogs really enjoy toys It is important that you give them toys that they can’t easily destroy. Classic Kongs are always great. Also, a simple, empty water bottle can provide your dog with hours of amusement. We don’t suggest plush toys because that could send the wrong signal that “pillows are also toys”.
Dogs can often become stressed when, all of a sudden, everyone is gone. This specific and focused stress can result in destructive behaviors and continual, annoying barking. Separation is a big thing to resolve, but attacking it preemptively can really help. We have some ideas:
- Start early. Get your dog used to being alone in the house a week or so before the kids are gone to school. Start by separating your dog from the kids and the rest of the family. For example, if you normally take your dog with you to go on errands, leave him at home instead.
- Pay less attention to your dog. Your dog may often be the center of attention when you are home. You need to change this. About a week before school starts, pay less and less attention to your dog each day.
- Practice leaving the house. Get your keys and go out the door, but then come right back in again. Your dog will start to disassociate the connection between your getting your keys and your leaving the house.
- When you leave. When the last person leaves the house for the day, don’t say “goodbye” to your dog in a high, baby-like tine. In his eyes, this shows submission and weakness and lack of protection. 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.
Dog Walker / Friendly Neighbor
If everyone is going to be out of the house all day, think about hiring a dog walker or asking a friendly neighbor to stop over in the middle of the day to spend a little bit of time with your dog. This will minimize the impact of the sudden change of environment and will help your dog ease into his new normal.
After a few weeks you can probably cut back on the mid-day visits and eventually eliminate them entirely. On the other hand, it never is a bad idea to give your dog a little social interaction in the middle of the day. It could help cut down on the crazy reception you will probably receive on your arrival in the evening. Simple mid-day activities could include:
- Walk through the neighborhood
- Play ball in the back yard
- Sit and watch TV with dog walker or neighbor.
Remember that it is important that you start these new routines BEFORE everyone starts back to school. This gives you time to practice and your dog to learn your new “school-time” routine.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over fifteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.