CRITTER CHATTER: Smoothing Out the End of “the Dog Days of Summer”

by Dr. Phil

Back to school can be a tough time not only for parents and students, but household pets as well.  During summer vacation pets get to spend more time with kids, maybe sleeping late with a teenager, chasing Frisbees with middle or elementary school children or even hiking or swimming with the whole family.  Back to school means its time for more firm schedules and quieter households.  Pets suddenly go from lazy breakfasts to the frenzy of kids eating on the go while searching for homework papers, lost books and misplaced backpacks often followed by frantic dashes out the door and then abrupt silence and time alone.

To help your pet’s transition from summer to school mode, it’s a good idea to prepare them for frenzied morning activity and corresponding lessening of activity during the day.  About two weeks before school starts, begin preparing your pet for children’s absence.  Set out lunchboxes and other items associated with school at breakfast time, and start a new daily routine that includes play times in the early morning and extra attention after school. Evening is still ideal for exercise and family time. Establishing a routine early on helps a pet deal with changes and also encourages your children to become more responsible and caring. At the end of the school week, long walks, a nice hike or picnic will help your pet reconnect with the whole family.

If you routinely create your animal while you are at work and the kids are at school, start using it a few hours every day before school starts. A Kong Classic Toy that can be stuffed with a little peanut butter or soft cheese makes for a tasty in-crate treat.  Whether crated or not, give your pet a special toy and have your kids give it to them right before they leave for school and then put it away once they come home. Interactive toys help keep pets busy and stimulate their minds. My dog Charlotte will loves a hard elk antler. I do not recommend rawhide-type chews unless you are with your pet.

During the summer, the house is jam-packed with laughter, voices and activities, so try leaving the television or radio for a little noise and happiness.  You can hide favorite treats throughout the house, although this sounds better in theory because my dog always finds them within five minutes of me “hiding” them.  A well-made, washable soft chew toy, such as goDog Dragons, also makes for a great “blankie” to help soothe your pet while the house is empty.  Always make sure that toys are safe and not too “chewable”.  Be careful of noise squeakers because sometimes they can be extracted from within the toy, leading to a bowel obstruction.

A once or twice a weekly stay at a doggie day care center gets your pooch off the couch and away from TV for some interactive play and socialization and helps burn off some energy. Most dogs are exhausted at the end of the day, and a good nights sleep, especially during the transition period, is helpful.

Getting back into the groove of school is not easy for adults or the four and two legged kids, but a little advance preparation will help smooth the transition and keep your pets and kids happy and motivated.  And maybe even give your pet a little quiet time alone after the frenzy of school departure.

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