Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back to School Anxiety

Lowcountry Dog Magazine
by Erin Thomas

So, you’ve gotten used to the kids being home all summer. The hustle and bustle, the midday grilled cheese sandwiches, a yard full of neighborhood playmates- what a fun time of year! But guess who else was used to having the extra company at home? Yep, your pup! Now that the house is empty and the kids have gone back to school, it’s like an empty-nest syndrome, except that the remaining occupant of the home is busy chewing the remote control and the couch!

The simple fact is that dogs are pack animals. It's natural for them to want to be with companions, canine or human. If the family's schedule changes and a dog finds himself alone for longer periods, he definitely may experience loneliness or anxiety.

"Any living being can have a hard time transitioning from a care-free life of fun, games, and cavorting outdoors all day with loved ones to being suddenly all alone inside the house with little to do," says Dr. Kat Miller, assistant science advisor for the ASPCA.

Separation anxiety can spark many different behaviors, including chewing or scratching at windows and doors, excessive barking, compulsive grooming, chewing or tearing up furniture or household items, excessive drooling, and even soiling the owner’s belongings. Most of these behaviors typically occur within the first hour of the owner leaving the pet. Although pet owners may believe that their pet is trying to punish them for leaving them alone, the dog is actually experiencing panic.

So, what can you do to make Fido feel better- and to stop the destructive behaviors? Have no fear, there is hope! Here are some helpful tips:

- Always tell your dog goodbye (or Ciao or Ta-ta or anything as long as it’s always the same!) every time you leave him. The idea is to condition your dog to hearing the phrase often and knowing that you always return later.

- Leave clothes with your scent on them around the house for an added sense of security while you’re gone.

- Leave the television or radio on while you’re gone. Human voices can provide reassurance that humans still exist during your absence.

- Hire a professional pet sitter for midday play-and-potty visits. Not only will this give you peace of mind, but it will give your pup the added human interaction, as well as the extra exercise!

- Leave your dog with an interactive toy (a Kong filled with peanut butter, for example) to help keep him busy, especially during the first hour after your departure when he’s most anxious.

- As difficult as it sounds, ignore the dog for several minutes before leaving the house and when you return. Excessive excitement (or consoling) will only emphasize that there’s a reason for him to be upset and may add to his anxiety.

- “Give your pet plenty of exercise and interaction when your family is home, or in the morning before he'll be left alone, and feed him breakfast afterwards,” suggests Dr. Bonnie Beaver, Executive Director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. "An important equation to learn is: tired muscles + full belly = a relaxed, sleepy pet.”

We all know just how tough it is to leave our four-legged companions at home, especially when you know that they suffer in your absence. Luckily, with a bit of knowledge and care, you can help make the periods of separation much easier. And best of all, getting your kids involved will not only make them feel as if they’re contributing to Fido’s care, but it will help Fido not miss those dog days of summer quite as much!

Erin Thomas is the owner of Summerville’s Lowcountry Pet Sitters, the area's premier in-your-home pet care service. For more information, please visit www.LCPetSitters.com or call 843-327-7487.

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