Abrupt changes to routine can bring on depression and anxiety in dogs.
Summer's end, back to school and the end of traditional vacation time for many pet parents requires a lot of preparation. There's getting school supplies ready, stocking up on materials for packed lunches, arranging activities and adjusting to earlier wake up times.
In the flurry of activity that often accompanies this time of year, it can be easy to forget the impact it might have on the family dog. It may sound like a joke, but pets that suffer from separation anxiety or depression can exhibit symptoms that seriously impact them and your home, such as:
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Clawing at doors, windows and other barriers in an effort to escape
- Loss of appetite
- Hiding or cowering
- Indoor defecation and urination
- Coprophagia (eating feces)
On their own, some of these behaviors may just indicate a need for further training. It is also important to see a vet to rule out possible underlying medical conditions that might be at the root of these kinds of issues. But if your pet was healthy and the turn in behavior coincided with a shift of routines at home, the back to school blues are a possible culprit.
Experts suggest a dog that has experienced the changes that come with this time of year may cue in and adjust on its own. But all dogs, particularly those that are going through major scheduling changes, can benefit from some simple preparations that make handling upheaval a little easier.
- Establish a routine: Morning and evening exercise are important to help dogs burn off energy and feel like somebody still loves them. If at all possible, have a family member, friend or dog sitter stop by to take the dog out for a mid-day break as well. This shrinks the amount of time your pet is on its own and helps burn off energy as well. If you can’t get anyone to your house, consider using doggy daycare a few times a week.
- Keep transitions abrupt: Everyone wants their pets to feel loved, but making a big deal out of departures and returns can heighten anxiety for dogs. This is important to teach children as well as adults. You can also be sure to have your belongings packed and ready by the door so you can quickly leave the house in an orderly fashion.
- Desensitize: Before the routine changes for real, give the dog practice being left alone. This can start with short periods of a few seconds on one side of a closed door and progress towards much longer lengths of time.
- Counter-conditioning: Your dog is smart and certain cues let it know you are preparing to leave. This could be putting on shoes or jingling of car keys. For mild cases of separation anxiety, try pairing exit cues with something the dog will love like a favorite treat. Frozen food stuffed into a dog chew toy is an excellent long-lasting activity to help a dog get past your departures.
- Provide distractions: Give your dog things to do when it is all alone at home. Make sure to leave plenty of toys around so it has an appropriate outlet for pent-up energy.
Remember, this is a transitional time and your dog has feelings just like people do. But as long as you continue showing your pet how much you care when you are around, it should be possible to help get through the changes in routine with minimal amounts of disruption to your lives.