Keep your four-legged family member happy at home after summer break
Back to school can mean back to shelter or rehoming for hundreds of pets adopted over summertime.
Now that summer is over, those with children in the home have a major change in schedule, and that can cause some anxiety and even depression for furry family members who are left alone at home.
In this week’s KFOX Pet Pals, Kandolite Flores finds out why and speaks to a local pet expert who shares tips for pet owners to keep their dogs happy at home and avoid this decision.
Charlie Moreno, local dog trainer and behavior consultant who owns Tails to Go, tells KFOX14 that some pets are OK spending time alone and are used to a certain schedule because they've been trained, while many others are just expected to go with the flow.
Pet parents with children in school can have their hands full, and sometimes that means they neglect to consider the impact it may have on their pets. To avoid issues, destruction and frustration and to ensure that rehoming or returning to a shelter is a last option, Moreno suggests being proactive.
"In a lot of cases, the kids have been home all summer and spending a lot of time with the dogs, and all of a sudden they're gone. For many it's their first back-to-school experience and they're not used to it. So this is where you get the dogs that get confused because they're going to be doing normal dog stuff, digging, barking and chewing on stuff, and we don't want that, so it's important to teach them to be calm. They go from a state of high arousal; energy and then all of a sudden they're left alone in the house," he said.
It's up to pet parents to condition their dogs to get used to a schedule change and know there will be mistakes and learning lessons. First it's important to know departure cues, which are motions and sounds that dogs can detect letting them know when their human is going to leave. Some of these cues include grabbing your car keys or purse and opening the door to leave. All of which can set our pets off and trigger anxiety, but if we condition them to goodbyes, it can help prevent those emotions and let them know that everything will be OK.
"Try to repeat those on a regular basis, not just when you're going to walk out of the house, and reward them when you come home and they're calm. Make sure you reward them; that way they realize not everything is so bad when you're gone. It's important to repeat and treat when training and to have patience. Allow your dog to learn and succeed," said Moreno.
Kennel training is another option and always recommended, but it doesn't work for every dog.
"Some dogs do really well in crates and some don't do so well. Oftentimes people think that most dogs have separation anxiety and it's misdiagnosed. If they aren't doing well in the crate and that's what you started off with, it's not necessarily separation anxiety, it's isolation distress or what I call confinement phobia. It's when they just panic because they're in a small, enclosed area," said Moreno.
He added it's important to try different environments and see what works best for your pet. If a crate doesn't work, an open area with a baby gate is another option, or if they're loose in the home, make sure you dog-proof and pick up any items you don't want to get chewed up. You can also leave white noise or calming music to drown out any outside noise that can stress your dog out and lead to excessive barking.
If you leave your pup in the backyard, make sure they're secure and have plenty of shade, water, dog toys and food puzzles.
Food puzzles can be used indoors and outdoors to help stimulate dogs mentally while treating and rewarding them, too. If you have multiple animals who aren't good at sharing food you should either separate them if you leave these out or only give it to them supervised. You can buy one online or at a pet store or even make one of your own. If your pup is still freaking out, there are more options you can try.
"There are pheromone collars and that helps them calm down because it helps produce serotonin, which is a calming hormone. Other dogs will do well with a thunder coat. It's de-pressure therapy," said Moreno.
For example, the ThunderShirt is a compression-fit jacket thought to comfort pets with pressure the same way swaddling does for an infant.
All of these options should be considered and tried out with patience. Pet owners need to be understanding of their dog’s personality and not have unrealistic expectations.
Returning or rehoming should always be a last resort, but many pet owners do it every year out of frustration. It's important to remember not only the commitment you made when you adopted or brought a new pet home but to keep in mind that dogs will be dogs, and any dog can learn new tricks and should be a part of the family schedule, since they're a member, too.