How to help your dog with the back-to-school blues

Summer can be the best time for dogs. The kids are out of school, and they get more attention with everyone home. But when school starts again, an empty house can make your pets quite anxious. Here’s how to help them cope.

Veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson said that slowly easing dogs back into the routine, even for just an hour or two, can help get them ready for when the house is going to be empty.

Some behaviors dogs may exhibit — panting, pacing, whining, barking and chewing — are not necessarily signs of separation anxiety, but they are signs of boredom, Nelson said.

“One of the biggest things you can do is give them a lot of exercise,” which could help with the pacing and chewing behavior, Nelson said. “A tired dog is a good dog.”

It may be worth looking into a dog walker or asking a neighbor to give your dog a little bit of exercise while it is home alone.

Giving your dog an activity while you are gone may help, as well. “Give your dog something to do when you leave, like a puzzle toy or a frozen Kong stuffed with moistened food, some peanut butter, even bananas. Or all three,” Nelson said. And, tuning in the TV or radio to calming music can help it feel less quiet in the house.

Lastly, when you leave or come home, keep it cool. “If we’re nice and calm, they’re not going to get as worked up about it because you’re not making as big of a deal,” she said.

And when the kids get home, make sure your dog does not get into their lunchboxes and back packs, where it can get a hold of foods or snacks that may not be good for dogs, such as grapes, raisins or chocolate.

If your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety — excessive barking, pacing, destructive chewing, soiling in the house, digging and scratching at doors or windows, trying to escape its crate, among others — then seek professional care to help it cope with being alone, Nelson said. A dog that has separation anxiety can cause serious destruction and may injure itself.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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