The summer months often mean family members spend more time at home, and our pets get to enjoy more of the day socializing with the humans they love. Once the school year starts up again, calendars fill up with after school activities, PTA meetings, and the like, and the house that was once filled with human companions can now become quite empty. Your beloved pup can become depressed, suffering from his own version of the Back-to-School Blues.
According to veterinarians, dogs can get depressed, just like us. Watch for symptoms such as lack of energy, loss of appetite, and not wanting to play. Dogs suffering from depression may not get up from bed when their family members come home.
Other dogs suffer from separation anxiety. This manifests in erratic behavior that can include excessive barking or whining, frantic clawing at doors, windows, or fences, chewing, and going to the bathroom in the house. Dogs with separation anxiety will be ecstatic when family members get home.
Many pet parents notice a spike in separation anxiety in their pets when the kids go back to school. It’s not just an anecdote. Studies have proven dogs miss us when we’re caught up in everyday life and can’t give them the attention they desire. A survey of Petplan’s policy holders showed that 26% of pet parents with school-aged kids saw signs of separation anxiety as the school year set in. Only 10% of those without kids surveyed saw these signs, so it is reasonable to correlate this sudden increase in separation anxiety to the increased alone time pets face when kids go back to school.
You can help your dog work through his back-to-school-blues by creating a routine and considering a few activities that will allow for quality time with Fido.
Exercise: Ensuring your dog gets exercise in the morning and evening will go a long way to helping relieve his depression and anxiety. Get up a little earlier in the morning to ensure your dog has time to go out and play in the yard or go for a walk. Even 15 minutes of quality exercise will help your dog expend extra energy while letting him know you care. In the evening, you might be tired and ready to relax on the couch, but your dog has been waiting for you all day. He likely has unspent energy that he needs to burn off. Make sure to take him out for some exercise and play time after dinner. Create a morning and evening exercise schedule that gets everyone in the family involved. That way your dog gets attention from all of his human companions.
Morning departure: When it’s time to leave in the morning, don’t make a big deal of it. Give your dog a nice pet without getting emotional. If you’re upset, he’s more likely to get upset, too. Try distracting Fido with a new toy or a treat-stuffed toy to keep him occupied as you scoot out the door. For dogs that are a bit more anxious, consider leaving a radio or TV on to keep him company throughout the day.
Afternoon walks: If someone in the family can come home midday to take Fido out for a short walk or some play time in the yard, consider that. It helps break up the amount of time he’s home alone, but it also relieves some energy in the middle of the day. If no one in the family can make it home, ask a neighbor or consider hiring a dog walker to provide that midday break. Doggie day-camps are also great options to consider. Your dogs will be able to spend time in the company of other doggie friends and will be less likely to be lonely throughout the day
Coming home: Don’t make a big deal of it when you come home from work or the kids come home from school. If you act like you’ve been gone for a long time, especially if your dog will think so, too. Calmly greet your dog and take him out for a potty break or go on a walk to spend some quality time with him.
When the family is home, ensure that Fido feels like he’s part of the family and getting enough attention. Kids who are learning to read can spend some time reading out loud to him. This is a great way to give your kids the opportunity to practice their reading skills in a safe and non-judgmental environment, while giving your dog the opportunity to bond with his little friends. When it’s time to relax after a long day, get the family together on the couch for some quality snuggle time. This simple act is a great way to bond and ensure that everyone in the family settles into the new school year routine.