As kids head back to school, Bark Busters, the world's largest dog training company, offers suggestions to help families avoid behavior problems with their dogs that often accompany this time of transition. By providing training and the right combination of food, shelter and entertainment, families can help their canine companions adapt to the new school schedule.
"When kids go back to school, the stress on every member of the family member can be enormous - including the family dog," said Liam Crowe, Bark Busters president/COO and a master dog behavioral therapist. "This abrupt change in routine can seriously affect our canine companions, who are creatures of habit. But with a little understanding and preparation before kids head back to school, families can avoid many of the back-to-school behavior problems their dogs might exhibit."
Bark Busters notes the following main areas of concern and suggests tips for families to consider:
With no kids to play with during the day and parents at work, dogs left alone can become stressed - which often results in destructive behaviors and endless barking. Following these tips can help reduce the initial stress of separation and help return dogs to normal in a few weeks.
- Start early: At least a week before the kids go back to school, start getting your dog used to being alone. Begin by separating your dog from the kids and the rest of the family. For example, if you frequently take your dog with you to the store or elsewhere, leave him at home.
- Ignore him: Dogs can be the center of attention when kids are home. You need to change this scenario before they return to school so that your family dog can adjust more quickly. Do this by ignoring your dog for increasing amounts of time about a week before school and extending the amount during the days that follow.
- When you leave: As you and the family leave your home, don't pamper your dog by saying in a sweet voice something like, "Don't worry - we'll be home soon. Be a good boy." Dogs are pack animals, and as such they expect their leaders to be strong when they leave the pack. It is best to totally ignore your dog for about 10 minutes before you leave, and as you leave the house, simply make a low "growl" with your voice. While this might sound peculiar, your dog will actually be relaxed by your voice. In the wild, the pack leader growls when she leaves the pack to indicate she will return soon and not to misbehave.
Dogs sleep a great deal during the day. But when they wake up, they want something to do. It doesn't take much to entertain a dog - even when you're not at home.
- Scatter food: Dogs are natural foragers who love to look for food on the ground - and will literally spend hours doing so. Before you and your kids leave the house, distribute dry food (or other treats your dog likes) over a wide area in your backyard. You might even try hiding some treats so your dog spends time looking for them. Also consider scattering vegetables, such as baby carrots. And be sure to provide lots of fresh, clean water to keep your dog well hydrated.
- Build a sandbox: Dogs love to dig, so rather than trying to eliminate this natural instinct, control where they dig by building them their own special place. Build a sandbox much as you would for a child, and teach your dog that it belongs to him. Bury his favorite chew toy in the digging pit and when he digs it up, praise him lavishly. Bury treats, such as pieces of cheese, and when he finds them, pet him and tell him he's a "good boy." Very quickly he will learn where to dig - and, more importantly, where not to dig.
- Toys: Dogs love toys. But they quickly get bored with them, or destroy them. First, buy quality toys that your dog will always love. For example, the Buster CubeTM and KONGTM when filled with treats are toys your dog will always love - and, they are virtually indestructible. Second, rotate the toys. Use two boxes for dog toys and rotate them every few days so the dog can look forward to new toys when you leave.
Dogs need to have their own "home." Just as we humans feel more at ease in our home, so do dogs. If your dog doesn't have a place of his own, create one for him.
- Crate: Most dogs love crates. Dogs are descendents of animals that live in dens, and a crate has the same characteristics of a den. If your dog hasn't been crate trained, don't start training him the day the kids leave for school. That's too late and can actually add to his stress. Rather, start training him in advance of the back-to-school transition. If all goes well, you may find that your dog sleeps peacefully all day in the crate.
- Dog house: If your dog will be kept outside while you are gone, make certain he has a shelter to get out of the weather - a place he can call his own. Dogs are much more relaxed when they are covered and in a familiar surrounding. Provide him a blanket, or some other soft, inviting surface.
- Laundry room: If your dog will be inside all day and you are concerned about toileting in the house, enclose him in an area that is rather small (this inhibits the tendency to toilet), and has a floor of vinyl or tile in case he makes a mistake.
When dogs are stressed, they can sometimes exhibit unusual behaviors - such as jumping or even biting. It is fairly common for young children to come home from school and be "attacked" by the family dog. Usually the dog means no harm. After being left alone all day, he has pent-up energy - and when he sees the kids, his excitement might cause him to overreact.
- Train the kids: Parents need to train their children to avoid immediately entering the dog's area as soon as they get home. Kids need to ignore the pet for 5-10 minutes to allow him to settle down. With young children, it is always best to have a parent there to reduce the chance of a problem. Once your dog learns the routine, he will be fine.
- Train your dog: It is amazing how quickly dogs learn what is acceptable and what is not. Dogs have a language of their own and once we understand it, we can easily control them by "speaking their language." Bark Busters specializes in using the natural, instinctual communication of dogs as the way to train them. It's simple, and it works.