Back-to-school to-do list: Help your dog get ready for school year by creating a routine

This back to school thing is happening, but your children and you parents are not the only ones in the house that will experience big changes in the coming weeks.

What about Fido? Your dog can get very confused when all of the sudden you’re up before dawn and out of the house.

“Dogs are very aware of patterns,” says Lauren Hays, a certified animal behavioralist at Fidelio Dog Works. “Dogs love routine. They thrive on routine. It can become a problem if someone is gone when they are expecting them to be home.”

Animal Behaviorist Lauren Hays enjoys a playful moment with her 3-year-old Labrador retriever, Foxx. SUZANNE MAJORS DAVIS FOR WESTLAKE PICAYUNE

For dogs that have anxiety or fear-based aggression, a change in a routine can be particularly difficult. “Anything they can do to keep continuity in routine is going to help,” says Dr. Hunter Bowen of Firehouse Animal Health Center.

That might mean starting to slowly back up the time when the dog gets fed to more closely mimic the time when he will be fed during the school year. “If you’re going to have to change, make that change gradually,” Bowen says. “That’s a lot better, it’s a more gentle change and it’s one less change to deal with on the first day of school.”

Some dogs are social eaters, meaning that they won’t eat unless a human is with them. You might need to give them the time to eat while you are in the kitchen making school lunches or breakfast, rather than feeding the dog at the end as you’re rushing out the door.

Dr. Hunter Bowen works at Firehouse Animal Health Center.

For dogs that have anxiety or a lot of energy, getting some exercise before you leave for school is going to help. Give them a walk or take them for a run or play fetch with them in the morning.

Bowen also recommends that you involve older kids in this so you as the parent can get some alone time to get yourself ready in the morning.

“Even a short walk is better than no walk,” Bowen says. “A five minute walk is light years better than nothing.”

A walk to a dog “is like watching a movie with their nose,” Hays says. It’s keeping their brain active.

For families that know that they have one or two really long days filled with early morning and late afternoon practices or meetings, enrolling the dog in a dog day care, might be a good solution, Hays says, if you can’t meet their exercise needs.

Why is exercise so important? It’s a natural anxiety medicine. It releases those endorphins. It also helps Fido settle in for the day.

Some dogs — especially those that are herding breeds or working breeds — need to be given a job or something to do. That might mean that you given them a dog puzzle with kibble inside while you are gone or you teach them new tricks when you’re home.

When you do leave, don’t make a big deal about it. Just say goodbye and walk out the door; no prolonged goodbye that allows the dog to pick up on your anxiety as you leave.

If your dog isn’t adapting well to the change in routine, you will know if you see pools of drool in the crate, or he is panting, or you find that there are things in the house that has been destroyed. Also watch for the dog who looks exhausted.

What do normal dogs do while you’re gone? Most of the time they really are sleeping. Bowen filmed his dog after he was finding that his dog was destroying things in his apartment a few years ago. What he found was that the dog spent 90 percent of the day sleeping on his bed. He only spent 10 minutes destroying things.

It helped reaffirm for Bowen that his dog actually would be fine using a kennel, and when he slowly introduced it, his dog took to it very quickly. No more coming home to destroyed things.

If you decide to introduce a kennel, make sure it is big enough for the dog to stand up, sit up and turn around in. It should have some bedding and perhaps a water dish. Go with the smallest kennel that will allow those things to happen and not any bigger because dogs like to feel safe in a confined space.

While dogs might sleep all day, they really do need attention when you are home. “Remember, dogs are social animals,” Hays says. “They aren’t built to be solitary.”

They want you to hang out with them, rub on them, “keep them feeling part of the group,” she says.

It’s easy for the routine to become that the dog gets ignored when you’re at home, she says, because they can be easy to overlook. They often will let you know, though, she says. “Now you have a behavior problem.”


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