5 Ways To Help Get Your Dog Ready For Back To School Life
By Katya Lidsky
Now that things are returning to somewhat normal(ish), we may still need to help our pets transition back to the way things were before a global pandemic changed everything. Remember when we weren’t home all the time? Remember when meetings and appointments consistently happened in real life and not on Zoom? Yeah, it’s hard enough for us humans to remember, so imagine how challenging it might feel for our animals. They don’t get to write in a journal or call a therapist or watch the news to make sense of things. They get the energy, routines, and feedback we give them – so what do we give them?
How can we get them used to our absence again as we go back out into the world, return to work, and the school year picks up? Here are five ways you can teach your dog, or remind your dog, how to be okay with your leaving for long stretches of time. With these five tips to guide you and a hefty dose of patience, things should go more smoothly as a new schedule develops for your whole family, including the dog.
- Set aside a week to practice slowly, mindfully increasing the amount of time you’re away from home. On day one, do stints of leaving for five minutes at a time, several times throughout the day. Day two, move up to 10-minute increments. On day three, try a few half-hour breaks away from home. By day four, move up to a full hour of being gone twice or three times that day, and on day five you will double your time away for up to two hours at a time. Then on day six you’ll leave the house for a single four-hour stretch and maybe a few short stints peppered before and after. This does not have to be exact, and it’s not about how much or how fast your dog adjusts. It might be that your pup needs more or less time based on the responses they give you. But the point is to gradually teach your dog to accept your departures as part of life because you always come back-. That through coming and going, they are still safe.
- Each time you are away from your pup, pair your absence with an activity that is of high value and stimulating, such as frozen wet food in a Kong or lick mat or a bully stick. From now on this activity will only exist when you’re gone as a project for your dog to focus on, like a crossword puzzle. When you come home, immediately take that Kong or stick up and clean or put it away for the next time you leave. It does not live freely on the ground, not if you want to keep it valuable and useful! (If you have multiple pets, please make sure to separate animals when you’re using these treats.)
- Consider using a crate or sectioning your dog off to a room or small area of the house. This is not only beneficial for potty retraining or to prevent destructive behaviors from happening should anxiety crop up, but it also gives your dog less space to navigate and manage when nobody is home. This often allows them to rest, chill out, and enjoy some calm. This sets them up for a greater chance of success. I recommend playing classical music to help set the tone and keep them relaxed. (And it’ll help you relax when you leave and return too!)
- Exercise your dog before you go out for a long period of time. Whether it’s by taking a walk, engaging in play, or finding a way to meaningfully interact with your them, providing focused time before your departure will relieve some extra energy and become a nice part of the routine where both of you connect.
- Make sure to keep your energy neutral upon leaving the house and returning! We do not want to give our pets the message that when we leave everything good walks out the door. So staying balanced will help them tolerate being left at home while you go make the big bucks, until eventually they come to not mind it or even appreciate the chance to be alone.
Your dog may protest or dislike these changes at first, and that is totally okay. Animals
too have feelings and opinions, and sometimes the best we can offer someone we love is our understanding. Just to witness and bear their feelings. Yet with structure and consistency, you can expect things to improve in time, especially if you remember to aim for progress not perfection and let the process evolve. You will look back one day and see how far you and your dog have come. How resilient you are as a team. And it will give you a swell of pride that you did this. You communicated, you listened to each other, you worked through it. And it will make you realize how much more you can do together.
Just don’t give up! When things are hard and we put in the gentle effort, that’s precisely when a relationship can transform us. The love we feel for a being we care about grows in accordance with the investment we make. And it’s worth it. Your dog is worth it. You are worth it. Because on the other side of this adjustment is coming home to a true friend who is genuinely happy to see you, who finds such joy just sitting beside you on the couch to watch TV after a long day. That sort of pure companionship is good for you.Katya Lidsky is a writer, Life Coach for Dog People, and the co-host of The Animal That Changed You podcast. She lives in Austin with her human and furry family as well as an endlessly rotating cast of foster pets. www.katyalidsky.com