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The Ruff Report: Dogs, Safety and Behavior

Tips to help pets cope with back-to-school transition

Children are not the only family members that you need to start preparing for back-to-school season. You need to get pets ready, too, or you might have to deal with big behavioral problems when school begins, a leading dog trainer warns.
 
The back-to-school transition that children and families make is anything but routine for dogs, according to Liam Crowe, dog behavioral therapist and CEO of Bark Busters USA. Many dogs will spend more time alone as children go back to school and parents go back to work, which can result in boredom, separation anxiety and unusual behavior, he said. 

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“When kids go back to school, the stress can be huge on the family, including the dog," Mr. Crowe states in a media release. “This abrupt change in routine can seriously affect our furry friends, who are creatures of habit."

Families can help their pets adapt to a new schedule with training and the right combination of food, shelter and entertainment, Mr. Crowe said. "With a little understanding and preparation before the first day of class, families can avoid many of the back-to-school behavior problems their dogs might display.”

Separation anxiety

Many dogs will be left alone as everyone goes back to work or school. They can become stressed, which often results in destructive behaviors and barking. Bark Busters offers these tips to help with separation anxiety:

Pay less attention to your dog. The dog may be the center of attention when the kids are home all day during summer, so you need to change this scenario as school begins. Pay increasingly less attention to your dog each day, ideally before your children return to school, to get your dog used to being alone. Begin by separating him from the kids and the rest of the family. For example, if you frequently take your dog with you to run errands, leave him at home.

• Practice leaving the house. Go through the motions of leaving the house, go out the door, but then come right back in again. The dog will cease associating the routine of your leaving the house with your departure. This will help him to be more relaxed when you actually leave.

• When you leave. As the last person leaves the house for the day, do not confuse your dog by talking in a sweet voice. If he is feeling concerned that you are leaving, a happy, high-pitched voice can make him think it is OK to feel anxious. Dogs are pack animals and so they expect their leaders to be strong when they leave the pack. Therefore, ignore your dog for about 10 minutes before you leave.

Boredom

Dogs sleep a lot during the day, but when they wake up, they want something to do. Bark Busters offers these tips to entertain a dog when you are away from home:

• Toys. Dogs love toys, but they can quickly get bored with or destroy them. Buy high-quality, virtually indestructible puzzle toys that your dog will always enjoy, such as those that hold treats. Every few days, rotate the toys to give your dog something new and fun to hold his interest.

• Scatter food. Dogs are natural foragers and will spend hours looking for food on the ground. Scatter food - such as bits of raw vegetables, dog kibble and other treats that will not attract wasps - around the yard when you leave. Try hiding a few treats so your dog spends extra time looking for them. And provide lots of fresh, clean water.

Shelter

Dogs need to have their own “home,” a place where they feel secure and comfortable. Bark Busters offers these tips to give your dog a secure place:

• Crate. Most dogs love the safety of a crate. They are descended from animals that live in dens, so a crate is a natural shelter for a dog because it has the same characteristics of a den. But do not start crate training your dog the day the children leave for school. That is too late and can add to his stress. Do not leave a dog in a crate for extended periods. Ask a friend to come by to let your dog out to toilet if you plan to be away longer than 10 hours for a dog and six hours for a puppy.

• Laundry room. If your dog will be inside all day and you are concerned about him toileting in the house, enclose him in a small room (which inhibits the tendency to toilet) and has an easy-clean floor of vinyl or tile (in case he has an accident). Place a soft bed and toys in the room for him, too.

• Doghouse. Make sure your dog has shelter in which to get out of the weather if he will be kept outside. Dogs are more relaxed when they are covered and in familiar surroundings. Place the doghouse next to the house so he feels like it is an extension of the larger “den” and provide a blanket or other bedding.

Unusual behavior

Stressed dogs can exhibit unusual behaviors, such as jumping or biting. Children will come home from school and sometimes be greeted by the dog in a rough manner. After being left alone, a dog has pent-up energy and might overreact when he sees the kids. Bark Busters offers these tips to deal with unusual behavior:

• Train the children. Parents need to train their children to avoid going to the dog’s area as soon as they get home. Kids should ignore the pet for five minutes to allow him to settle down. With young children, it is best to have a parent present. Once your dog learns the routine, he will relax. 

• Train your dog. Dogs quickly learn what is acceptable. They have a language of their own and once we understand it, we can easily control them by “speaking their language.”

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Dan Morrison, executive director of Southeast Area Animal Control Authority in Southern California, says some of the unusual behaviors pets may exhibit include: excessive pacing, barking or meowing; urinating or defecating inside the house; escape attempts; destruction of furniture or toys; unusual chewing, digging or other frantic behavior.

Owners should avoid the temptation to punish or scold a pet for unusual behavior during the adjustment period, Morrison advises, because the behavior may be rooted in fear and punishment could exacerbate that insecurity.

"Back-to-school is a wonderful time for families, but it can be anxiety-provoking for pets, especially for some shelter pets who haven’t had stable homes before,” Morrison states in a media release. “If pet owners know what to look for and are equipped with preventive and healing techniques, this annual rite of fall can be more pleasant for everyone.
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