The new school year is just weeks away. The stores are loading their shelves with supplies, parents are counting the days, and kids are mostly blissfully unaware, as summer holidays come to an end. As the days of August tick by, someone else who is also blissfully unaware of the impending routine change is the family pet. Pets love routine, dogs more so than cats and if your pet has not been through a school year yet, the change from the relaxed summer holidays to the more stressful, time-scheduled September, may cause the family pet great stress.
Pets in the summer have a relaxed schedule, as do we. Morning times are relaxed, confinement in crates is not common, and there is almost always someone to play with them. Contrast that with the school year when everyone is up at a specific time in the morning, the energy (good or bad) is elevated, while everyone is getting ready and then suddenly – everyone is gone, your pet is alone, confined in a crate or room and it is so quiet. This is very different from the summer and can be quite stressful. This stress may be handled well by some pets and taken in stride or may cause any number of issues in others.
As mentioned above, cats seem to handle the routine change fairly well and dogs, not so much. Dogs can ‘act out’ with barking, pooping or peeing in the house, and being destructive when the familiar routine is changed. Practicing the new routine before it is needed helps your pet adapt and helps you to assess any problems which may arise. Confining dogs to a specific small room or crate limits the potential damage to the house and keeps your four-legged family member safe. If your dog is not used to confinement, the time to introduce it is not the first day of school but rather, 2-3 weeks before school starts.
Practice confinement throughout the final days of summer and make it enjoyable. Use a favourite toy or treat to capture your pet’s attention, when confined. To start, make the confinement short, 5-10 minutes. During this time, your pet should not be able to hear or see you. When the confinement period is over, open the door to the crate or room and let your pet out. This next part is important – DO NOT make a big fuss over them and instead, take them outside immediately to see if they need to poop or pee. Once they have eliminated, then go about your day as if nothing was different. Practicing this new routine allows your pet to become comfortable with confinement and instills the knowledge that you always come back.
Practicing this new routine before the new school year will prevent stress in your pet and ultimately, reduce your stress. Have a great school year!
Written by Dr. David Kerr, DVM