It’s that time of year again when we see children walking to school with loaded backpacks and bright yellow busses become part of the morning commute. While some mothers are thankful for a little break in their days, others experience the blues realizing the reality that another year is passing and our kids are growing up. As a dog trainer, I expect business to pick up with dogs who have suddenly started becoming anxious, attention seeking, and even destructive - (chewing, digging, eating toys, etc) in their homes. While some are surprised by this, it’s not really such a strange phenomenon when you consider that dogs also suffer from the Back to School Blues.
Our dogs are creatures of habit and thrive on routine. When kids are home for the summer, routines may go out the window but our pups get used to the higher energy in the house, extra playtime and more attention that comes their way. When school season comes back around, the house is suddenly quiet and our four-footed friends have no idea where the children went or what to do with themselves! They may start to seek out alternatives to the boredom - like finding every dirty sock and chewing on it, searching the yard for that bone that she may have buried two years ago (under your prized rose bushes) or even seeking refuge in the soft sofa pillows that must suddenly be unstuffed. These are all natural dog behaviors, and if left to their own devices, your pup would continue to find all kinds of ways to entertain himself - but there are things you can do to help ease back into a quiet daily routine without your home being destroyed or your sanity challenged.
Back to School season should be considered a great time to reconnect with your dog by spending some time together. A daily walk around the neighborhood can help start the day and get the endorphins flowing with a little exercise. You might consider taking your dog to a class to brush up on skills and build a stronger bond while you and your dog learn something new through positive reinforcement. Not enough time for that? If you are a working parent, have a tight schedule, or even if you're a pet parent who really wants to do the right thing without spending hours each week focused on the dog, you can consider the many ways to mentally engage your pup without much effort through puzzle toys or games.
Puzzle toys can be a great way to engage your dog for an hour or two and tire them out so they won’t have the extra energy to get into trouble.
Recent research shows that engaging your dog mentally is 30% more effective in tiring them out than physical exercise. The use of puzzle toys and games have been shown to help decrease anxiety in dogs as well. This can be as easy as taking a few extra minutes to put meals inside a food dispensing toy instead of the typical bowl, hiding special toys/treats around the house or yard to play “hide-n-seek” or loading/plugging in some of the new self-entertaining electronic toys that are now available. Once homework is done in the afternoons you can have your children create DIY toys for the next day - a fantastic way to give them something to do while teaching responsible pet care and use recycled materials in a way that is positive and fun for all.
A daily walk is great, training with your dog is even better, but adding extra enrichment will help you keep your dog well-behaved, and generally healthier all year. Remember, our dogs are social, emotional beings so to keep the "Back to School Blues" at bay, it's important to find creative, manageable ways to keep them engaged until next June when the children will be home again to play a good old fashioned game of fetch or run through the sprinklers with your happy dog chasing behind.