Helping Dogs Adjust When Kids Go Back to School

It’s not unusual in my neighborhood to see moms and dads at school bus stops with their dogs in tow. And it always makes me smile to see how happy these dogs are when their little playmates step off of the bus. I have fond memories from my own childhood in Ireland when our sheepdog, Bruno, would leave his sunny spot in the farmyard and head down the avenue in time to meet the school bus when it pulled up at our gate. He had it timed perfectly and was always so excited to have his pack together again. We felt the same way about being back home with him.

Bruno was an outdoor dog and lucky enough to have lots of distractions around the farm while we were at school, but the same isn’t true for indoor dogs. Just like children, dogs can suffer from back-to-school blues. Come September, changes in the family’s schedule that leave a quiet house during the day, can result in the family dog feeling lonely and abandoned.

“People sometimes forget that dogs are creatures of habit and anytime there’s a change in a household it’s potentially stressful for the dog,” said Barbara Fassett, a dog trainer and owner of Bark Busters of Dutchess County.

This is especially true in families where the dog has been the center of attention during the summer months. Fassett said that dogs who exhibit out-of-character behaviors—for example getting into the garbage or laundry basket (because the clothes smell like “his people”)­—when home alone are likely suffering from separation anxiety or boredom.

Naughty dog

With a little understanding and preparation before the first day of class, families can help their dog adjust to the new schedule and avoid behavioral issues. Here are some tips from Fassett and the Bark Busters Home Dog Training company:

  • Start early: Before the school schedule begins, get your dog used to being alone. Fassett advises engaging in activities where the dog is not included to get him used to being home alone.
  • Give less attention: Dogs may be the center of attention when the children are home during the summer. You need to change this scenario before the children return to school so that your family dog can adjust more quickly to the quiet time. Give the dog less attention for increasing amounts of time about a week before school and extend the amount during the days that follow.
  • Alleviate Boredom: Dogs sleep a great deal during the day, but when they wake up, they want something to do. Fassett advises using puzzle type toys and food dispensers—she likes the Game Changer or the Kong—to occupy dogs when home alone. Instead of giving the dog extra food, which can lead to weight issues, save a portion of his regular meals for the food dispensing toy.
  • Provide a special space: Dogs who feel insecure when their family leaves will feel less stressed if they have a small space or a “den” of their own. For some dogs, a crate works well. However, if your dog hasn’t been crate trained, don’t start training him the day the kids leave for school. That’s too late and can actually add to his stress. Dogs who don’t like crates might enjoy a small space like the laundry room.

When the Family Returns Home

“Families need to make their return to the ‘den’ as normal as possible for the dog,” Fassett said. “As much as the kids might want to run and cuddle and fuss over the dog, they should be taught to ignore him for the first few minutes. This gives the dog a chance to calm down.”

It also helps to avoid unwanted behaviors. The dog already has lots of pent-up energy from being home alone and in the excitement of greeting the family, the dog may resort to unwanted behaviors such as jumping on the kids, scratching them or knocking them down.

Dogs Need Exercise  

With homework and after-school activities, it’s easy for a family to get overwhelmed. However taking proper care of the dog cannot fall through the cracks and that includes exercise.

Dog jumping ant catching ball.

“Families have to figure out how to fit playtime and exercise into the routine, that’s part of responsible dog ownership,” Fassett said. “Playing ball in the yard for 20 minutes or going for a nice long walk will help get rid of a dog’s pent-up energy. I always tell my clients that a tired dog is a good dog.”

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Carole R
Carole R9 months ago

Animals have feelings, too.

Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

thanks for sharing

Margie FOURIE1 years ago

Animals have feelings too.

H M1 years ago

What happens if the kids move away for college?

Janis K
Janis K1 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Jaime J
Jaime J1 years ago

Thank you!!

Ruth C
Ruth C1 years ago

There are no children in house.

Glennis W
Glennis Whitney1 years ago

Great information and advice Thank you for caring and sharing

Glennis W
Glennis Whitney1 years ago

Just so sad looking send him to school too Thank you for caring and sharing

Glennis W
Glennis Whitney1 years ago

He needs a holiday to get over their holidays Thank you for caring and sharing