Soon the school bells will be signaling the start of another school year–a time that can be stressful for pet parents AND their dogs. Separation anxiety is sometimes the result when, after a summer of togetherness, families head off to school and leave their dog home alone for extended hours. With some pre-planning and careful attention to your routine, though, you can help prevent separation anxiety in your dog during this back to school period.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety occurs when dogs feel frightened and distressed at the absence of their owner. This type of attachment problem can be mild or severe. A mild case is often exhibited when the dog is pacing, over-grooming, and panting, whereas a severe case of separation anxiety can be quite a challenge for the owner. The dog soils the house, cries nonstop, barks or howls, and destroys furniture and other objects around the house. Often times, the dog starts to show behaviors associated with separation anxiety after being left alone for only ten or fifteen minutes.
Triggers for Back to School Stress in Your Dog
Does your family include school-age children–or teachers–who will experience a change in schedule with the upcoming school year? If so, that change in schedule can cause stress for your dog. After a summer of fun with the whole family, the empty house during school hours means a big change for your dog.
The additional stress of making lunches, catching buses, adjusting to classes and more can also spell more stress for your dog. We all know that dogs pick up on our stress, even when we try to hide it.
If your home includes an older child headed off to college, that change can also trigger anxiety in your dog.
Even if your household doesn’t include a member impacted by the school calendar, your dog can still notice the change in the calendar through other signals:
- the sound of school buses in the morning and late afternoon
- the sound of school bells, if you live near a school
- the sound of school bands practicing, if you live near a practice field
- the sound of evening football games, if you’re near a field
- the sight of children walking to school through your neighborhood
Signs of Separation Anxiety
Does your dog suffer from separation anxiety? Just like people, every dog expresses stress in a different way but these are common signs:
- destructive behavior — From chewing furniture to digging at the carpet, anxious dogs can be destructive. Look for signs of digging in the carpet at the door or near the windows, a common sign of a dog panicked about being left alone.
- scratching at windows and doors — Like digging in the carpet near the windows and doors, scratching on the door and door frame as well as on the windows is a sign of anxiety.
- excessive barking or howling — If you have a puppy cam so you can see or hear your dog while you’re away, listen for sounds of stress.
- nervous behavior when you prepare to leave — We signal our departure to our dogs in ways we don’t even realize. Does your dog begin to show signs of anxiety as you prepare to leave? Watch for pacing and whining; drooling and panting are also common signs.
- house soiling accidents — Once you rule out potential health issues, house soiling by dogs who haven’t had previous issues can be a sign of anxiety.
- overgrooming — From simple overgrooming to licking raw spots on their fur, dogs can cause injury to themselves with worrisome, often repetitive behaviors.
- pacing — Watch for pacing and signs of hyperactivity.
- depression — Not all dogs are vocal and overactive about their anxiety; some fall into a quiet depression.
- attempts to escape — One of the most worrisome signs of separation anxiety, some dogs who are experiencing stress may attempt to escape the house.
Preparing for Back to School Changes Now
Begin preparations for the new back to school routine BEFORE that first school bell rings.
You’ll also want to tie those departures to all things GOOD. Purchase some extra tasty dog treats that your dog only gets when you are leaving. Without ceremony, toss a few of these extra good treats for your dog as you leave.
If you have seen your dog becoming stressed in anticipation of your departure, such as when you pick up your car keys, toss the treats right before you pick up the treats. Help your dog associate that departure with good experiences!
Talk to a positive reinforcement trainer or an animal behaviorist about your dog and how you can help your dog gain confidence. Training classes, either in groups or individually with your dog, may help your dog gain the confidence he needs to be comfortable in your absence.
How to Help Your Dog
Both before the school year begins and throughout the school days, you can take simple steps every day to help relieve–or if your dog isn’t presently experiencing, it, PREVENT–separation anxiety:
- Keep up your routine as much as possible. Exercise your dog before you leave, even if it means getting up 20 minutes early. You’ll both start the day benefiting from the extra exercise and time together.
- Consider a calming CBD treat. BioHemp+ Bites, a bacon, beef and jerky flavored treat, works on the endocannabinoid system to help control stress. BioHemp+ Bites also includes capsicum which activates the TRPV1 receptor. When CBD and capsaicin bind to the TRPV1 receptor, there is a significant likelihood of reduced stress.
- Give your dog a job. Hide your dog’s favorite toys or stuffed treats in the house and teach him to play “Find It.” Hide four or five goodies before you leave then tell your dog “Find it” as you leave.
- Rotate the toys. You don’t have to give your dog a new toy every day…just rotate his favorites!
- Give your dog an interactive game. Long-lasting interactive toys that require your dog to “work” for a treat can prolong the fun during your time away.
- Leave the television on or play soft, relaxing music.
- Consider hiring a dog walker or pet sitter to come by during the day to give your dog attention.
- Check out doggie day care. Consider enrolling your dog in doggie day care a day or two a week. If he’s a social dog, he’ll enjoy the company (and he’ll be so tired the next day that you’ll have the extra benefit of a sleepy dog who’s happy to nap at home!)
- Consider crate training. Some dogs feel comfortable being confined to a small space such as a crate or a small gated area of the house. If your dog starts to feel agitated when crated, take him out and do not try to force it. In some cases, confining your dog to a small area where he has viewing access to the outside world is enough to make him feel comfortable and eliminate separation anxiety. You can place his crate or bed in front of a sliding glass door or a clear window. If your dog is triggered by the sight of children walking to school, you’ll want to move the crate or choose a gated area in a quiet room, such as a bedroom.
- Stay calm. Be calm in your departures and arrivals every day (and, if your dog has an accident or destructive behavior while you’re away, never lose your cool–you’ll only create more stress in both your dog and yourself.)
Back to school time can be difficult for pet parents and their dogs. With a little pre-school preparation, though, you and your dog will be earning high marks for calm, relaxed behavior. And that’s something to wag about!
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