4 Ways to Prep Your Dog for Back to School
Back to school shopping lists have been printed, the stores are all carrying notebooks, pencils, markers, and paper. Cue the Staples commercial “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Parents put in a lot of footwork to make sure their kids are ready for back to school, but have you thought about how back to school time will affect your dog? In this month’s newsletter, we’re going to give you some tools and ways to prep your dog for back to school — for longer, quieter days, and more time alone.
If you’re fortunate enough to be off during the summer, or if your kids were home a lot on their summer break — entertaining (or being entertained by) the dog, you’re going to need these tips because your dog might be one sad pup in a few short weeks when the kids head back to school. If you think about it from the dog’s perspective, right now life is good! Someone’s around to let them in and out, take them for walks, play ball, and snuggle with on the couch. I think a lot of dogs’ perfect worlds would include having a person with them at all times. Dogs are social animals, they enjoy having their family with them. Naturally, they love hanging with us whenever they get the chance.
We owe it to our dogs’ to help ease that transition from “constant entertainment” to “home alone all day.” It can hit some dogs awfully hard to lose their playmate (or personal butler, depending on your dog), so here are some things you can do to help your dog.
Practice Alone Time
If you know your dog is going to be alone six hours every day and you also know that school starts in four weeks, you’ve got a ready-made plan! Start by leaving your dog home alone for increasingly longer periods of time — a little more each week until you’ve reached the perfect duration for your circumstances.
If you can, vary the amount of time your dog is left alone so it’s not always for a longer duration of time. Mix it up, but keep increasing the average time your dog is alone. For instance, maybe Week 1 you want to leave your dog alone for up to 3 hours. Go out for an hour once or twice, then for three hours, then maybe only for two, and even maybe for 15 minutes. Week 2, you’ll increase that average time alone to 4 hours (plan your errands so you’re gone for 2 hours, then 3 hours, then 1 hour, 4 hours, 3 hours, etc.).
Giving your dog something to do while you’re gone is helpful. My dogs get frozen stuffed Kongs when I leave the house. Here’s a quick and easy article (with video) to show you how easy it is to stuff a Kong. It’s something I’ve done for them since they were puppies. I do it to help prevent separation anxiety. By giving them something to do as I leave, they’re otherwise engaged and don’t pay much attention to my leaving. In addition, I’m pairing something good (peanut butter stuffed Kongs!) with my leaving. Most days, when my dogs see me get the Kongs, they’re wagging and running to their beds in anticipation. They hardly bat an eye when the garage door opens, I grab my keys and walk out the door.
If your dog doesn’t already know how to get goodies out of a Kong (or other food stuffed toy), it’s easy to teach.
Some dogs are more comfortable if there’s background noise to help dampen the sound of car doors slamming, trash trucks banging, and street noise. There are lots of different options to help your dog. The first is to leave a radio on for your dog. Pick a station you like and leave it on at a reasonable volume level. It should be loud enough to help cover the street noise, but not so loud that it bothers your dog. Dog’s ears are far more sensitive than our own, so don’t blast the speakers.
At our house, the dogs love Through A Dog’s Ear (TADE). The music on TADE is composed specifically to benefit the canine ear (and mind). It’s simple sound that has been clinically shown to calm dogs. It’s pleasant for you, too! Sometimes, if I really need to concentrate, I’ll turn off the radio and put on TADE. My productivity skyrockets!
Start playing the music now, before the kids go back to school, so it’s not an indicator to the dog that you’re about to leave your dog alone. Play it while you’re home, play it while you’re out running those short errands mentioned in “Practice Alone Time” above, play it whenever you get a chance.
Midday relief, at least for the first month or two, might help your dog get adjusted to all that time alone fairly quickly. You can ask a retired neighbor to come over around noon to visit with your dog and let him out (or take him for a short walk). If you don’t want a neighbor in your house or there isn’t one available, check out local dog walkers. The idea is to give the dog a little bit of entertainment and social contact at least once during the day.
There’s still some time before the kids go back to school. If you start now, by the time the house gets quiet in the fall, your dog will hopefully be content to lounge around the house while everyone’s at school and at work.
Did I leave out anything?
If you do something for your dog that I didn’t list here, let me know in the comments! I’m sure the other readers would appreciate it!