While some parents may be excited to send their kids back to school canine companions may not be so willing to lose the company. When summer’s spent frolicking together are suddenly over and the kids start riding the bus again some dogs begin to suffer from a common ailment among pets in America.
In a September 3rd report by Sue Manning of The Associated Press, Dr. Nick Dodman of Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts states that nearly 20 per cent of the United States’ 80 million dogs suffer from separation anxiety.
It is something familiar to the many pet parents with full time jobs. However after months of companionship with the kids on summer break dogs get into a routine that is hard to break. This stress and anxiety can lead to destruction and bad behavior.
According to an article PetMD “behaviors that may be seen include vocalization, destroying objects, digging, or even depression.”
That’s right- depression. A study by the University of California reports that dogs may in fact feel basic jealousy stating “when they see a loved one show affection toward another what appears to be a real being, they engage in real behaviors to try and draw the affection back to them.” It has also been reported that dogs feel other basic emotions such as love and fear. Why not depression?
After weeks of playtime with the kids the pooch may become confused when the fun halts so suddenly. If your dog has a case of the back to school blues there are actions that pet parents can take to ease the transition. Try these 7 tips to ease separation anxiety during the busy back to school season.
Think like a dog
Put your ears up and your nose to the ground. Take a look around your home. Is there anything that looks like fun to chew? It is important to think like your dog. Does he open cupboards? Does he like shoes, wires? Some pet parents may benefit from child locks and garbage cans with lids. Remember that your dog is close to the floor- so take a look at your home from his perspective by sitting on the floor. When using a crate be sure that there is nothing the dog can pull into the crate and destroy. Provide plenty of safe toys for your pooch to distract him from other temptations. You can even try rotating the toys so your dog has a different group of toys every day. The golden rule is that if you don’t want it chewed don’t leave it on the floor.
Start crate training
Although crate training is easier to do when the dog is still a puppy with time and patience an older dog can be crate trained. The crate should never be used as a punishment option. The key is to create a safe space in the crate for your dog. He should want to go into the crate willingly. Start by crating the dog for short periods of time while you are still home. Slowly lengthen the time. Next try leaving the home for short periods at a time while the dog is in the crate. Increase the amount of time you leave each time by five minutes. The crate should soon become a place that represents calm and safety.
Sounds and smells
Try leaving the radio on a soft rock or talk radio station for the day. You can also leave the TV on- try Pet TV– a fast growing network made just for pets to watch. Some areas of the world may even be able to get Dog TV– designed just for dogs. The key is to pick something that will sound soothing to the dog- alarming, loud and shrill sounds will only make his anxiety worse. Leaving a blanket, toy or piece of clothing with the child’s scent for the dog can also help with the stress of the separation. Make sure the item is something that the dog can get dirty or hold in his mouth. Dogs rely on scent so much in their lives and the scent of the child should help ease the transition.
Create a fun departure
Pick out a new, special bag of treats for the dog and use them only when the kids go off the school in the morning. The kids can give the dog a treat before they leave to condition it into believing the departure is a good thing. Make sure it is a treat that the dog really likes and only use it for departures. Make sure the dog is calm and submissive when you give it the treat. Over time this will manipulate the dog’s perception of people leaving the home. I recommend using Benny Bully’s liver treats.
Say your goodbyes early
If the family must say goodbye to the dog with hugs, kisses and waves of emotion that is fine. However these actions create excitement in the pet and confusion when the family walks out the door right after. It is better to say your goodbyes early to help with the separation anxiety the goodbyes may cause. One hour before your departure say goodbye to your pooch- give hugs, kisses and all the love and affection you want. When it is time to leave give your dog the special treat and leave without a word or a second glance. Do not allow your dog to follow you to the door and do not acknowledge the dog at all. As hard as it may be it is best to ignore the dog as you are leaving.
Dog daycare facilities have been popping up rapidly since the 1990’s and many large pet product retailers like Pet Smart have their own in store doggy daycare. Some dog daycare’s are in home facilities and can be more cost effective. Dog walkers are also a more economical way to keep your dog’s mind stimulated throughout the day. However many kennels provide excellent care for the pets they board. Alder Creek Kennel in Pembroke, Ontario provides a daily routine for the dogs they board. They focus on the dogs over all experience and it is rated very high by its clients. Peever’s TLC Kennel in North Algona, Ontario also focuses on the pet’s experience and provides safe and secure grounds for dogs to run and play.
The last resort
If all else fails your veterinarian may have a prescription alternative that would best suit the animal. Many pet supply retailers sell calming treats for pets that can be given upon departure. Of these varieties I recommend Pet Naturals of Vermont calming treats. If the medication route is not an option pet parents may want to try the Thunder Shirt– a dog shirt designed to simulate the warmth and embrace of the mother dog. It wraps around the dog and applies gentle and soothing pressure. These options are usually expensive and considered by most pet parents as a last resort to control and prevent separation anxiety.
Want more great pet stories? Check out Paws For Reaction- a place for pet parents.