Back-to-school blues? What you can do to limit impact of sudden changes in schedule for your dog
Photo by Liz Spieser
Ann Arbor is a town built around education and it is through all of our various school systems that many in our population are employed. This means that there are many folks out there who get summers or a portion of them off! Yahoo! I was a school bus driver for a couple years and I still remember the anticipation. Kids get a break from school, too.
Many of the people I work with adopt a “plan ahead” policy when it comes to bringing a new dog into their lives. A common thought process is: I have more time in the summer, kids are home from school--perfect time to get a dog. Good thinking! But don't stop there.
Remember that looming in the not-too-distant future, another transition will take place. Like, right about now. You're planning your return to work and/or preparing to integrate the kids back into the school schedule.
Meanwhile, Rufus, who is used to having his “group” around all day, is on the brink of unexpected aloneness. Bummer. Take note: Abrupt or dramatic changes in schedule or environment generally don't bode well for the dog. A dog subjected to such changes could slip into a pattern of nuisance behaviors, or even worse, develop separation anxiety. You can fend off these potentially serious issues by adopting a “plan ahead” policy throughout your dog's life.
Here are a few things you can do to limit the impact of changes in schedule or environment for your dog.
Plan ahead We usually know for ourselves when something is going to change significantly in our lives. Indeed, we prepare ourselves for these types of changes. Prepare your dog, too, and start sooner rather than later. If you know that your dog is going to have to endure a big change like long stints of alone time or a new environment in the future, then acclimate him gradually. Practice leaving him for reasonable time frames, based on what he is used to, and increase the duration incrementally. Try to access the required amount of time before it is essential. This way you can observe your dog's response to the change and still have time to make adjustments.
Increase physical activity The best “preventative medicine” for anxiety is an expenditure of physical energy. It is hard for a dog to be anxious when he is completely tuckered out. So, if you know your dog needs to endure a long stint of alone time then wake up an hour earlier and provide your buddy with some real exercise before you have to leave. Depending on your dog's physical status this could be anything from a stroll through the garden to a high-powered game of fetch. Just give him a good dose of what he needs, before you have to leave him, and be prepared to commit to the same remedy upon your return home.
Get help and create a safety net If your schedule is so demanding or your circumstances so uniquely difficult that you simply cannot provide sufficiently for your dog, then you must get some help. If you do rely on outside support to fulfill your dog's primary needs, I recommend you take the time and energy to make sure that your support people are handling your dog the way you do. They should be consistent with your practices and uphold the same standards of obedience that you expect from your dog. Otherwise your dog will respond to the inconsistency and offer back to you the same.
A responsible friend, relative, dog walker or neighborhood kid, with guidance from you, can be a valuable asset in times of great demand. But, once again, don't wait for the need to arise ... PLAN AHEAD. If you have a reliable person, or two or three, that your dog trusts and respects lined up ahead of time for those periods when life's unexpected challenges catch us by surprise, you may circumvent a greater and potentially catastrophic setback.
I'll explain here one of the reasons I am such a stickler for planning ahead. Something that I have observed over the years is that, not always, but often, separation anxiety is triggered in a dog by a sudden change in routine or environment. A full-blown case of separation anxiety can become a real life nightmare for those who care for and love an afflicted dog. I have worked with many cases over the years and although I have developed a personal strategy for affecting positive change it is, hands down, the most complex and difficult behavior I've confronted.
Dogs are creatures of habit and don't take interruptions lightly. The favor we can do for them is to smooth out the speed bumps and do what it takes to turn a potentially confusing situation into a seamless evolution.
Remember ... think ahead!