Pets may need a new routine with kids back in school

08/22/2014 10:01 AM

08/22/2014 12:13 PM

Chances are the kids aren’t alone in suffering from the back-to-school blues. It’s a pretty sure bet the family dog is not happy about her playmates disappearing from morning through much of the afternoon.

After all, summer spent playing tug-of-war, chasing sticks and being lavished with hugs and love is pretty sweet from a dog’s point of view. And a lonely dog might exhibit behavior that ranges from mildly irritating to downright disruptive.

Liz Stelow says that while some dogs take changes in schedules in stride, for others, the return of kids to school – or worse, college – can mean a distressed dog.

The staff veterinarian in the Behavior Service of the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at UC Davis says if owners come home to chewed-up table legs or soiled carpets, take a video when the dog is alone to see how and when these behaviors are happening.

“If they find that the dog is panicking, the owners should take the dog and the video immediately to the dog’s vet for diagnosis and treatment,” she says. “If the dog looks pretty calm but chews things anyway, boredom is the likely problem.”

Tracy Dick, PetSmart marketing director of hard goods, suggests the Motorola Scout1000PU Indoor Pet Camera ($150) for those who want to keep an eye on their cats and dogs.

“Knowing what a pet is doing can help pet parents take steps to help them better enjoy the day,” Dick says.

Stelow suggests the following diversions to help ease your dog through the transition from vacation to the school year:

“The food-motivated dog can get his meals presented in food toys or food puzzles,” she says. “This way, he spends otherwise idle time in the acquisition of food instead of chewing Grandmother’s hand-woven lace pillow.”

Leave the TV on if your pup enjoys tuning in. Animal Planet is a good bet.

If an adult is home during the day, Stelow suggests extra walks might be in order. If everyone is out, she suggests hiring a dog walker to help Buddy get some exercise. And a family stroll with the dog is good for the whole bunch.

One final caveat from the vet: Tell the kids not to greet the dog too enthusiastically when they return.

“It sends a message that the owner leaving is not as good as the owner returning,” she says. “In the very sensitive dog, this can feed separation distress. Instead, the owners should make a happy show of leaving (as long as the dog is being left with something wonderful as a diversion). Then, the return home should be a non-event; even ignore the dog for a few minutes until he is calm.”

Felines also can be a bit confused this time of year.

“The family members who played with them during summer are suddenly gone all day, and there are new household routines,” Dick says.

Brain-teaser and treat-hiding toys make great boredom-busters for the dog, Dick notes, suggesting several options in the store’s Toys “R” Us Pets collection. But don’t forget your feline friends.

For cats, Dick says, “furniture and scratching posts like the new ones from Martha Stewart Pets and National Geographic are a stylish and practical way to keep those claws busy in the right way.”

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