By Lindsay Pollard-Post
The end of summer’s carefree days and a return to classes, schedules and after-school activities is an adjustment for everyone in the family—including our dogs. Being left alone while their families go to school or work is especially difficult for dogs because they are highly social pack animals who need and thrive on companionship. But by doing our “homework” now, we can help our canine companions beat the back-to-school blues.
Dogs can become anxious, depressed or withdrawn if kept isolated from the people they love for very long. That’s why, no matter how crazy our schedules are, it’s important to prioritize quality time with our canine family members.
If back-to-school means that your dog will be left alone during the day, come home on your lunch break to give your friend some much-needed attention, exercise and a chance to relieve him- or herself. If that isn’t an option, consider hiring a dog walker or a trusted neighbor.
Daily walks are like recess for dogs. They’re essential to dogs’ health and happiness because they help them burn off pent-up energy, give them a chance to see new sights, sniff the “news” on the fire hydrants and socialize with other dogs and people. Games of fetch and opportunities to run, bark and dig in a safe, fenced-in area are also important to dogs’ well-being.
A sense of predictability and having things to look forward to help dogs feel secure and cope with changes, so maintain a consistent schedule for feedings, outdoor breaks (a minimum of four times a day), playtime and walks. Dogs’ active minds need something to do, so giving them “puzzle” toys – which require them to work to dislodge a treat — and a variety of chew toys will help fill the long hours until your return.
Whatever you do, please don’t ever lock your best friend in a crate. Forcing dogs to spend every day in a box is like detention that never ends, and it’s extremely harmful, both physically and psychologically. According to animal behaviorist Paul Loeb and Suzanne Hlavacek in their book Smarter Than You Think, “Your dog is a social creature and doesn’t want to be isolated in a box any more than you would want to be isolated in a box. You see, dogs want the same things that we want: love, attention, good company, and good food. Not solitary confinement.”
Many dogs who are “crate-trained” develop separation anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and other behavioral issues. As Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist at Tufts University, explains, “For [some dogs with separation anxiety] crates are an imposition, a misery, and an obstacle to be overcome at the expense of broken teeth and fractured claws. Owners return home to find these dogs bug-eyed, in a frenzy, and salivating profusely, and may even come home to find the crate splattered with urine, feces, and/or blood.”
Some people lock up their pup in hopes of speeding up housetraining, but that’s like expecting a kindergartener to ace an algebra test on her first day of school—and then punishing her when she fails. Puppies can’t “hold it” for long because their bladders don’t fully develop until they are 4 to 6 months old, so accidents are inevitable. Dogs who repeatedly soil their crates often lose the urge to keep them clean, which prolongs the housetraining process. It’s much kinder (and more effective) to set puppies up for success by keeping a regular schedule of feedings, playtime and potty breaks and making sure that someone is there to let them out every few hours during the day.
Even if you haven’t been a perfect dog guardian in years past, it’s never too late to learn ways to take better care of your canine companion. By following this advice, you’ll be sure to ace Compassionate Dog Guardianship 101 this school year.