Back to School Means a Change in Your Dog's Routine
By: Dr. Amanda Landis-Hanna
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It’s hard to believe that summer is winding down to a close. In northern Virginia, it is finally getting cool enough to barbeque without melting! But with this weather change comes the start to a new school year. Traffic is worse in the middle of the afternoon, backpacks are in every store, and finally college football is almost here (War Eagle!). What do these changes mean for your dog? A change in routine.
Many people don’t realize how closely dogs are tied to their routines. Just like humans, they learn to get up at a set time of day, when everyone is getting ready for breakfast or work. They learn when the dog-walker comes, as well as the mailman. They learn when to expect the family home, and which children will play before TV. But many dogs have a tough time transitioning from summer to fall, since their constant playmates may now be gone for many hours a day.
If your family participates in day camps during the summer, your dog may not notice as much of a change in the routine. But if your family has been home with her for a large part of the summer, she may feel a bit lonely when you return to the school year routine. A few minor adjustments may help:,
- Consider leaving a radio on for her. Many dogs enjoy music, especially if it is your favorite station. She may associate certain tunes with your family. Talk radio is another option, if she seems to enjoy the sounds of voices.
- Slowly transition her to the new routine. Rather than wait until the first day of school to change the routine, use the week before to help her practice. Get up and prepare the family, just as you will for school. Get everyone loaded in the car, and run an errand, or go to the park for an hour. Then come home and play with your dog. These short, brief interruptions can help her learn that you will be coming home at the end of the day, since she doesn’t read a clock the way that you do.
- Get a dog-walker, or consider adjusting the dog-walker schedule. Many dogs thrive of time with a dog-walker. It can be a professional, or a dog-loving neighbor that wants an excuse for a mid-day walk. Companionship and a treat can be a great disruption to the solitude. You can even see these spurts of activity on your dog’s Voyce data!
- Evaluate your local doggie day care options. A dear friend of mine is a teacher, and swears by this option. When she returns to school in the fall, so does her pup. She reports her dog seems sad when the school year ends, because he enjoys day care so much! She also notes that his activity reports on his Voyce are much lower during the summer, since he stays at home with his mom.
- Increase quality time. It is very easy to fall into a routine during the year: get up, go to school, eat dinner, and go to bed. This type of routine doesn’t always leave a lot of time for your dog to get the attention and exercise she needs. So when you are designing your routine for the fall, consider adding in 15 extra minutes for a walk or a ball-throw in the morning, or a 30-minute bathing “date” every week. If you have a long-coated or double-coated breed, such as a Cocker Spaniel, Golden Retriever, or St. Bernard, daily brushing is required to prevent matting of her coat. So use this time to bond and snuggle, so she remembers how important she is to your family.
- Take her along. Sophie loves riding in the car, and enjoys a number of our activities, such as practice on a soccer field. She is excited to watch the kids run and to spend some time outside. And the kids love knowing they get a kiss at the end of practice. Just make sure to never leave her in the car, and check each location to make sure your dog is permitted.
Most dogs respond well with one (or more) of these adjustments. If, however, your dog becomes destructive, or seems to be increasingly anxious, discuss it with your veterinarian as she may have separation anxiety. You may see a spike of activity right after you leave home in the morning, followed by moderate intensity activity if she paces. Anxiety can be treated with medication and/or training, and you may see an improvement of her Voyce data as well, as she becomes more calm and better adjusted to the new routine.
So as you head into the school year, remember it is a big adjustment for EVERY member of your family. Maybe she deserves a new toy with all your back-to-school shopping.
If you have photos of your dog in school colors, please share them on social media and tag #Voyce!