Our dogs look to us for more than just food and shelter. Our companionship is just as important to them as theirs is to us. It can be really hard on them when our kids head back to school in the fall. When the camaraderie and exercise they got from the kids ends cold turkey, they can exhibit everything from depression to destructive behaviors. There are things you can do to ease their anxiety, however, and help ensure a healthy and low-stress transition.
Start Preparing Them in Advance
Prior to the kids going back to school, begin leaving your dog alone in the house for short periods of time. Gradually lengthen the kids' away time until they are gone for a couple of hours at a time. This helps condition your dog to the idea of being alone, and makes him feel safe in knowing that the kids will return.
Exercise Before the Separation
Sometimes separation anxiety has a lot to do with excess energy. This is one of the easiest symptoms to treat. Even though your morning routine might already be crammed full as it is, finding time to walk your dog or provide several minutes of active play will really help. In our house, the kids took turns playing with our dog each morning, and that earned them a free pass from helping with the dishes that evening.
Leave Interactive Toys to Play With
In addition to excess energy, boredom can also worsen separation anxiety. Make sure your dog has interesting and interactive toys available while the kids are gone. It is also a good idea to rotate toys often so that they always have something new to play with. Our dog had a special toy that she loved, so we used that to our advantage by only letting her have it while everyone was away.
Help Them Feel Safe While the Kids Are Gone
Leave an unlaundered article of your kids' clothing with your dog while they are gone. Dogs rely on their sense of smell as heavily as we rely on sight. The smell of your kids via a tee shirt or pair of socks can go a long way in easing you dog's anxiety while they are away.
Don't Make a Big Deal of Coming Home
When the kids get home, make sure they ignore your dog for the first several minutes after arriving. This helps de-emphasize the separation. After several minutes they can pet and cuddle, but they should do so in a non-excited fashion.
We love our dogs and suffer with them when they are unhappy or stressed. But when they exhibit bad or destructive behavior when we're gone, it's sometimes easy to forget that they have reasons for acting out. Understanding those reasons and doing our best to alleviate them will result in a much happier household.
"Separation Anxiety," The Humane Society of the United States
"Dog Training for Separation Anxiety," ThePuppyDogPlace.com
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