As September approaches again, that means it’s back to school time for many households. With all the hustle and bustle of getting the kids ready and off for school, it can be easy to forget the dog. While back to school is usually an exciting, fun time for the humans in the home, for your dog it can mean loneliness and boredom.
All summer long, there was most likely someone home with your dog — the older students on break, or little ones with a babysitter. Now that everyone is back to their fall schedules, your dog may feel neglected and can even fall into depression.
Depression and anxiety
According to veterinarians, dogs can suffer from depression just like us. Watch for symptoms such as listlessness, lack of energy, loss of appetite, hiding or cowering, and not wanting to play.
Other dogs suffer from separation anxiety. Unlike depression, separation anxiety manifests itself in erratic behavior, including excessive barking and whining, frantic clawing at doors, windows, or fences to get out, destructive chewing, and going to the bathroom in the house. Dogs with separation anxiety will be ecstatic when family members get home, whereas a depressed dog may not even get up from his bed.
If your dog displays any of these symptoms, she is probably upset by the recent change in schedules.
This change can be particularly hard on your dog if your child is starting kindergarten and you are going back to work for the first time. At this crucial time, it is important to not disregard your dog’s feelings — he loves you and he will miss you when you are not around.
Back to school scheduling
So what can you do to prevent or help relieve depression in your dog? If your dog has never experienced “back to school,” it is going to take some time. If your dog has gone through this routine in past years, he may remember the routine and settle in more quickly. A simple routine can help alleviate any stress your dog feels. Even if your dog does not suffer from depression or anxiety per se, he will still appreciate this simple routine, which will ensure she gets enough attention and exercise.
Morning exercise: Don’t forget to exercise your dog. Create a schedule with your family that gets everyone involved. Each morning someone should get up a little bit early, even just fifteen minutes, to take the dog out for a walk or a romp in the backyard before the day starts. Not only will this let your dog know you still care, but getting out that extra energy means she is less likely to be destructive while you are gone.
Time to leave: When it is finally time to leave, don’t make a big deal of it. Pet your dog, but don’t get emotional — your dog can sense your emotions and if you are upset, he will be more likely to be upset. Distract him with a new toy (or an old one he hasn’t seen in a while) or a treat-stuffed toy. For anxious dogs, leaving a radio or TV on can help.
Afternoon break: If you can, schedule someone in your family to go home around midday to let your dog out for some quick exercise. Not only does it break up the length of time she is left alone, but it also relieves some energy. If no one in the family can do it, consider asking a neighbor or hiring a dog walker. Taking her to a doggy daycare a couple of times a week is another great option.
Back home: When you return home for the day, again don’t make a big deal of it. If you act like you have been gone forever, especially if your dog has anxiety, he will think you have been gone forever. The best thing to do is ignore him when you first get home, then after a few minutes, calmly greet your dog and take him out to go to the bathroom if needed.
Evening exercise: It’s easy to forget the dog, even when you are home. You have had a long day, you had to cook dinner, help the kids with homework, and now all you want to do is sit on the couch. But your dog has been waiting for you all day and most likely has unspent energy. After her dinner, be sure to take her out for some exercise and play time.
Following this routine will help your dog not notice your absence so much. Keep a watch on his symptoms though, and if they get worse or do not improve, take him to a veterinarian to rule out any medical conditions that might be causing the symptoms.