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Posted on Tue, Aug 24, 2010 : 10 a.m.

Back-to-school blues? What you can do to limit impact of sudden changes in schedule for your dog

By John Spieser


Mishi says: Don't forget about me!

Photo by Liz Spieser

Changing seasons and changing schedules can mean changing “times” for your dog.

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!

John Spieser is a professional dog trainer and owner of Dogheart. He can be contacted at



Sat, Sep 4, 2010 : 9:32 a.m.

John, we enjoyed your article, and referenced it in our own blog post on the subject, found here: Thanks and keep up the good work! The DogWatch Hidden Fences Team

John Spieser

Sat, Aug 28, 2010 : 9:06 a.m.

I'm glad this subject generated some healthy discussion. That is the idea! @ Loka : The irony is that "Mishi" was posing for the photo. We let her out of the crate immediately after taking the picture. 5 minutes later she was back in there (by choice) snoozing away. Some dogs really like crates. Lorrie makes a good point about it not being just the absence but the demands of more activities etc. We all need to stay in tuned with our dogs. Thanks all!

Lorrie Shaw

Thu, Aug 26, 2010 : 6:19 p.m.

Great topic! I cannot stress enough the need for preparing any dog for back to school time. It's hard for them to be without members of their tribe - especially the kids, as they get used to doing so all summer. Nuisance behaviors and separation anxiety are very difficult to manage. Having a plan to get dogs back into the routine of the school year is important, not just because everyone is gone all day at school - but all of the extra-curricular activities that kids get involved in - which many times limits quality time spent with pooches, too. Dogs need to see more than four walls day in, day out. As John illustrated, it takes a village - not just for the everyday, but the unexpected stuff that comes up, too.


Tue, Aug 24, 2010 : 2:52 p.m.

treetown, I also suggest covering the crate on all sides except the front, the darkness makes it cave like and dogs like it. About the size of the crate, the first one I bought was the large one, but after a day took it back to get the extra big one. Seemed silly to only have a crate the dog would out grow in 5 months. The extra large ones usually have a divider you can put somewhere in the inside to make the area smaller they can use. Luckily my dog never soiled in the crate, the drive is too high not to go in the den. I also took an old wool blanket to line the bottom with that I didn't care to throw it in the wash. Just wait until he's through the chewing phase or the pup is liable to shread and eat it. I don't know what kind of dog you have but I hung sleigh bells on the backdoor knob and trained the dog to ring the bell when he had to go out.


Tue, Aug 24, 2010 : 2:38 p.m.

@ bunnythsanks for the advice, but we are already in compliance;) The crate is in our bedroom, and we have a door in the room to the fenced off yard, so that is a win. She is also in close proximity to the back door, she can see it from where her cage sits as long as our bedroom door is open. I am deabting on when to make the move to the next size crate. I want her to be comfortable, but I don't want to give her enough room to soil on one end and sleep on the other. The only hiccup so far is the cat. she came in as a young kitten when we had two dogs already. They got along fine for the most part, but both oth of them went to a better place in the past year. she is not too fond of this puppy. The exuberance and curiosity are most likely the primary reasons. That being said, she is probably just as big of fan of crate training as we are, since she gets her freedom to roam through the house without being harrased.


Tue, Aug 24, 2010 : 2:09 p.m.

treetown, I suggest at bedtime you move the crate to the bedroom, your bedroom is more heavily scented with your smell than any other room in the house, it will be calming for them to smell mommy and daddy. Then during the day move it to a more centrally located room such as the front room of the house, most dogs like to be near the doors where they can see who is coming and going. If you notice how your older dogs were they normally position themselves where they can watch the front door and the side door or what have you.


Tue, Aug 24, 2010 : 1:30 p.m.

We just brought a new pup into the house and going head first into crate training. We used it with our other dogs but gave up after a while thinking they were ready to roam free. She has done pretty well sleeping at night, and it keeps her from making messes and getting into things when we are, and when we are not home.


Tue, Aug 24, 2010 : 12:29 p.m.

@Ed LOL, I think. I guess seeing a greeting card for someone entering preschool was my last straw with the back-to-school stuff. Von Maur is already stocked up for Halloween!


Tue, Aug 24, 2010 : 12:14 p.m.

@loka, crates can be great! I covered my dogs crate with black fabric to create a "den" feel for him, he loves it, now that he is older he has the run of the house when I am gone and have for some time left the crate door open for him. Even when I am home he will go in there to take a nap, dogs can feel very secure in them. For a dogs safety I would suggest crate training. Should an emergency arise and you need to transport your dog he wouldn't freak out. Also, they can be handy when you have to leave your pet with a relative for a few days, the dog having his crate with him will give him a comfort of home. I was against them at first, but now, after having a dog that is crate trained I see the benefits.


Tue, Aug 24, 2010 : 12:09 p.m.

Good grief! Hasn't the back-to-school angle been beaten to death regarding stories? What's next? How to help your plants acclimate when school starts?


Tue, Aug 24, 2010 : 11:16 a.m.

I'm not a dog owner but I would htink he would feel better not locked in a cage.

Patti Smith

Tue, Aug 24, 2010 : 10:25 a.m.

I'm convinced that my dog misses me when I go back to teaching eery September. He will follow me to the door, wagging his tail. When I said "Momma's going to work", the tail stops wagging. I'm sure he sleeps most of the day and doesn't really notice my absence as much, but it still makes me sad when he follows me like that!