Back to School Routine: Don’t Forget Your Pet

By Animal Behaviorist Diane Anderson

If you have children or work for the school system, you know what the month of August means: back to school. Not only does this event change your daily routine significantly, but it can also cause behavior issues in your pet.

Pets, both dogs and cats thrive on routine. Have you ever slept in past your pets’ breakfast time or tried to skip a daily walk? They have amazing internal clocks and are resistant to change. Try your best to keep important activities (bed time, feeding time, exercise, potty and play time) on or close to the same schedule they’ve been on over the summer.

Make time for your pet. With all the running around that comes with a new school year, your pet may begin to feel neglected. Set some time aside for them every day. Include your pet in as many activities as possible. Can your dog ride with you to pick up the kids from school or attend their soccer practice?

If behavior problems do arise in your pets you can follow these steps to set everything right.

cat laying on hamockFor cats, make them a safe room. Cats do not like change, so make this safe room a place that looks and smells the same every day. Place their bed, food, water and litter in the room. Visit them, but do not let them out for up to two weeks, or as needed for their behavior to return to normal. When they are ready, let them decide when to leave the room, by leaving the door cracked for them. Gradually move their ‘belongings’ back into the house.

Dogs tend to suffer from separation anxiety. During the summer they most likely receive more attention and get accustomed to company during the day. All of a sudden they find themselves alone for hours on end and begin to dread you leaving them. To fix this issue we use simple desensitization.

bored looking dogYour dog begins to experience stress as soon as you start your ‘getting ready routine.’ Doing things like putting on your shoes, grabbing your keys, wallet or purse etc. To help your dog get through this you will want to stage your exit. Go through your routine, then just when you would normally head for the door, set everything back down and have a seat. Repeat this until your dog no longer shows signs of stress.

Next, add stepping out the door for 5 seconds, then come right back in, set your things down and have a seat. Repeat this gradually adding time as your dog shows you he is ready. Your goal is to work up to 20 minutes. If your dog is going to exhibit sings of separation anxiety he will most likely do so in the first 20 minutes. Activities such as baking or chewing relieve stress in the dog and take place directly after you leave. If your dog can make it 20 minutes, odds are he can make it until you return.

For more advice on behavior issues, visit our online behavior library.