It's that time of year again: the time for early morning starts, big yellow buses and tons of after-school activities. The beginning of the school year is a stressful time for most parents as they attempt to get their children back into the routine of homework, soccer practice and wearing matching socks. Believe me, I know how you feel. Trying to get my 8-year-old fashionista daughter to decide on an outfit requires plenty of deep breaths and a whole lot of patience.
But for pets, the back-to-school season can be equally hard to handle. Dogs and cats form strong bonds with kids during the summer months, and dealing with an empty house when school time rolls around can leave pets feeling anxious and depressed.
In your harried rush of packing lunches and whisking kids off to the bus stop, it's important not to forget about your furry family members. Here are a few tips for making the transition back to school easy on your pets.
Pets are creatures of habit. A few weeks in advance of the first day of school, it's a good idea to get your pets used to the typical "school day" routine. So, if you will be waking up earlier to help your kids get ready, try setting the alarm clock to get your dogs used to the new rise and shine time. If your pet's feeding schedule will alter at all with the start of school, make sure to get them on that schedule well in advance.
With all of the other tasks you have to do each day to get your kids ready for school, walking your dog or playing with your cat might not be high on the priority list. But it should be. Tiring your pets out before your kids leave for school is one way to relieve their stress (and yours) so that they can cope better while home alone. Plus, a tired dog and cat is likely to spend most of the day sleeping rather than worrying, pacing or destroying your house.
Don't underestimate the power of interactive games and toys. These fun items are a great way to keep your pets busy and engaged when you and your children leave for the day. Puzzle toys that force dogs and cats to search for treats will hold their attention and help them expend energy. And believe me, when you offer your pet a tasty treat, such as some peanut butter in a Kong toy, he won't even notice when you sneak out of the house.
Kids take a lot of stuff with them to school. Just think about the backpacks, the sports equipment, the notebooks; the list goes on and on. But if you've ever left for a trip before, you know that packing bags and bringing things out of the closet can make your dog's stress level shoot through the roof. In the weeks before school, introduce your dog to your child's school supplies and make them feel positive reactions to those items. For instance, let your dog sniff your kid's backpack and then give him a treat. This will make the first day go a lot smoother.
Summer is playtime bliss for both kids and pets, since both groups have very little responsibility (oh, to be young again). Fetch time can be anytime. Chasing each other around the house happens on a whim. Digging and running in the backyard is something that occurs morning, noon and night. But school puts an end to flexible schedules and cuts back on the amount of time that your kids spend with your pets. Even if your children are wrapped up in after-school sports and activities, or have busy play dates with friends, make sure you carve out a couple hours a few times a week for your kids and pets to interact.
If you feel guilty about leaving your pet home alone for the entire day, or your dog just isn't adjusting to the back-to-school routine, it may be time to consider a dog daycare or having a pet sitter come for a few hours each day. Separation anxiety in dogs can be a real problem, and if your dog is hurting himself or showing high stress levels when you're gone, having a caretaker handy may be your best option. Daycare will give your pup a chance to socialize and get rid of energy, while he learns new things in a new environment. When they get home, your dog and your kid can swap stories about all the exciting things that happened to them during the day.
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