Before you know it, the school bus will be rounding the corner, and your morning routine will shift from easy and unhurried, to harried and hustling. As your family scrambles in their daily dash of grab-and-go, your pet watches in wonder and concern.

Don’t let your pet experience the back-to-school blues—learn how one family successfully handled the transition in this guide from Town and Country Animal Hospital.

Begin your dog’s transition early

Pepper, the terrier, is one lucky dog—he has three kids to play with and follow around the house. Pepper had a great summer full of long days in the backyard, running through sprinklers, fetching toys, and playing a starring role in every imaginary adventure. But when September approached, Pepper’s adult owners realized that their bold and busy terrier may have difficulty adjusting to his family suddenly being gone for 8 to 10 hours a day. So, they began taking short trips away from home, a few hours at a time, to help the transition seem more gradual.

Give your dog consistent exercise

When Pepper was a puppy, his family quickly realized that a tired dog is a well-behaved dog. If Pepper does not get regular exercise, he can become destructive, unruly, and bark incessantly. His owners designed a family schedule assigning morning and evening walks, and playtime, to various family members, and implemented the new routine before school started, to ensure its effectiveness. The schedule includes taking Pepper, who enjoys being social, to Town and Country Animal Hospital’s K-9 Playcare twice a week.

Design a safe space for your dog to spend the day

With all the time that would be on his paws, Pepper’s owners know he could cause some serious mischief around the house, so they set up a safe, comfortable place for Pepper to spend the day. Pepper’s “pup-cave” includes his crate, favorite toys, and an Adaptil pheromone diffuser, to help him feel calm and relaxed, plus soft music to keep him company, and cover up outside noises that may cause alarm. His family also has ensured his pup-cave has no windows, because neighborhood activity tends to upset him.

Provide long-lasting toys and puzzles to preoccupy your dog

Pepper’s owners plan to give him a food-stuffed Kong or similar toy, to build a positive association with their daily departure and his confinement. Chewing and licking are naturally satisfying and tiring behaviors for dogs, which is why, afterward, Pepper often takes a long nap.

For variety, the family plans to provide Pepper with a food-dispensing puzzle toy, but first they will carefully supervise Pepper’s play, to ensure he will not chew or swallow the plastic pieces. For each food toy Pepper gets, his family reduces his morning and evening meals to prevent weight gain.

Avoid dramatic actions when you leave and return to your dog

Pepper’s family used to shower him with hugs and treats when they left home, but learned that their guilty apologies and amends made Pepper anxious. Their veterinarian at Town and Country Animal Hospital warned that Pepper could be developing separation anxiety, and they should watch for the following signs:

  • Panting
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive vocalizing, before or after departure
  • Destructive behavior while alone
  • House soiling
  • Over-the-top greetings on their return

Because separation anxiety can progress to general anxiety, Pepper’s family quickly realized they needed to change their greeting habits. The entire family will now bid a casual farewell, and greet Pepper only after he becomes calm.

With a calm family, distracting toys, and a pleasant place to go while they are gone, Pepper learns not to panic, and that his family will always return.

Protect your curious dog from school-time toxins

When the first day of school is over, and the exchange of polite greetings, Pepper and the kids will be eager for some after-school play. Before rushing to the backyard, the kids will hang their backpacks on hooks, and place their lunchboxes on the counter, out of Pepper’s reach, because many items commonly found in school bags are harmful to pets if ingested, including:

  • Medication
  • Small toys or school supplies
  • Chocolate
  • Raisins
  • Grapes
  • Nuts
  • Xylitol (i.e., a sweetener found in many sugar-free snacks, candy, and gum)
  • Plastic or foil wrappers

Let your dog learn something new

The kids aren’t the only ones going back to school this year. After discussing Pepper’s high energy levels and intelligence, his veterinarian at Town and Country Animal Hospital recommended the family enroll him in a training class. Since Pepper already knows basic manners, his owners selected nosework, where Pepper will learn to use his nose to sniff out birch oil for a food reward. In addition to nosework, many other classes are satisfying for a returning canine student, such as:

Pepper is a lucky dog—his owners have prioritized his physical and mental well-being, to ensure he doesn’t feel left behind when school starts. After a few weeks, Pepper will learn to accept his new schedule, but during those long, leisurely naps, he’ll no doubt be dreaming about next summer, and the fun times when the family is at home together again. 

For additional information on separation anxiety in pets, contact Town and Country Animal Hospital.