You and your kids may be excited to go back to school, but your pet may feel differently about their daily routine changes. While students are thinking about new school supplies and seeing their friends and teachers, your pet may be lamenting the loss of their long daily walks and constant companionship. Our Dove Mountain Veterinary team has five tips to prepare your pet for the new routine, helping them beat the back-to-school blues.
#1: Give your pet a consistent schedule
Your pet prefers a predictable routine as much as you do. Your summer routine has likely been flexible, but once school starts again, the whole family—including your pet—must transition to a new schedule. Create a back-to-school schedule for your pet, and stick to it. Write out the schedule—assigning each family member a task—and place it where it is visible to everyone. Identify who is responsible for:
- Feeding your pet in the mornings and evenings
- Letting them outside
- Walking—ideally in the morning before everyone leaves for the day, and once in the afternoon
Hold each family member accountable to their pet care responsibility. If the schedule needs to be tweaked, have a family discussion about alternatives, and perhaps assign that pet care responsibility to another family member while trying to keep your pet’s daily routine as consistent as possible. Sticking to a schedule makes for smooth morning routines, and helps your pet feel calm and confident because they know what to expect each day.
#2: Avoid long goodbyes and overexcited hellos with your pet
You may feel a lot of guilt when leaving your pet each morning. When your pet hears your keys jingling and sees you grab your bag, they know what’s coming, and they become unhappy—cue their pathetic cries and sad puppy-dog eyes. Before you know it, you are hugging them and apologizing for leaving. While you may feel better having dissipated your guilt after showing your pet some love, they likely feel more anxious and confused. The best way to reduce your pet’s anxiety when you head out the door for the day or return home is to remain calm. When you are leaving, simply walk out the door without a fuss. When you return home, wait a few minutes to greet your pet, and then acknowledge them once they are calm. Before the new school year begins, practice leaving the house for short periods to help your pet adjust to the calm goodbye-hello routine.
#3: Exercise your pet before you leave for the day
You may have difficulty finding time for your pet’s daily walks as your family’s days become more hectic during the school year, but your pet’s wellbeing hinges on their daily exercise to burn off energy and feel calmer. If you and your pet take a 30-minute morning walk, they will be less likely to exhibit destructive behavior when they are home alone for the day. Discuss your pet’s exercise routine as a family to ensure their daily walk remains a priority no matter how busy life gets.
#4: Keep your pet’s boredom at bay
If your pet has had companionship and excitement all summer, they will need some time to adjust to hanging out solo in a quiet, empty house. Lonely pets can become destructive because they are bored, so before you leave home for the day, provide them with these intellectually stimulating toys, treats, and activities:
- Interactive toys — Interactive toys, such as puzzle feeders or treat-dispensing toys, can keep your pet entertained for hours.
- Frozen treats — Stuff a Kong with xylitol-free peanut butter and freeze overnight. Right before you head out the door, give your pet the Kong, and they will be so busy enjoying their treat, they will not realize you have left.
- Playdates — Consider enrolling your dog in day care for a few days during the school week, where your pup can spend their day playing and socializing with others, and will likely be exhausted at day’s end. You might also consider a pet sitter who will walk your dog during the day.
#5: Look for separation anxiety signs in your pet
Some pets find the routine change extremely challenging, and they may develop anxiety, and become destructive when alone. Pets’ separation anxiety signs include:
- Excessive barking
- Destructive chewing
- Soiling in the house
- Digging and scratching at doors or windows
The new school year is an exciting time, but remember—your pet may have difficulty adjusting to their new routine. If your pet begins exhibiting separation anxiety signs, contact our Dove Mountain Veterinary team to discuss behavior resources and treatment options.