Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH
Back to school is coming soon! Parents are happy, kids are excited or sad, and our pets are…wait, what? Why do our pets care? Often the summer schedule is much different from the school-year schedule, especially in those families where someone can be home with the kids.
They are going from days of playing sprinkler chase and taking trips to the lake to long days of quiet. Some dogs appreciate this, while others miss the hustle and bustle of summer.
After a summer full of playing in the yard, hose chasing, lake swims, nature hikes and runs around the house, our pets often experience a sharp decline in exercise when school starts back up. Try to factor in activity as you go about your new routine. Often, as school sports start up kids get more exercise, while dogs get less. Plan some family hikes, after-dinner walks, or walks to drop the kids off at school. I have said it before, I’ll say it again — use your dog time for some headspace. When dinner is done, homework is done (or being done), backpacks are packed and showers are being taken, take the dog and run. Ideally, this will be round trip and you’ll be back by bedtime. This is a great time to decompress from a day and evening full of activity. It is a wonderful time to enjoy the cool night air with relative silence, while connecting with your dog and meeting their needs.
Whether you pack a treat or your child gets them at school, often snacks get forgotten in backpacks. Kids typically start out doing well and put the backpack on their hook, but after a few weeks things relax, and a trail starts from the door. Between lunches, snacks and pre-practice foods there are plenty of chances for leftovers. Dogs are great at smelling, and even better at finding snacks. Make sure to reiterate that many snacks can be very dangerous to dogs, so all packs (lunch remnants, etc) should be far out of reach. Raisins and grapes are a commonly packed snack that seem benign but are dangerous. Macadamia nuts are another, while sugar-free gum has a tendency to spill from many backpacks. Make sure that kids are aware of these dangers, and that picking up anything with extra snacks is a priority.
This is probably the biggest adjustment that pets need to make as school starts up. Mornings are rushed, then the house is empty while people go to work and school. After school there are games, meetings, play dates and practices. Often it seems like families rush out of the house in the morning and aren’t really settled back home for another 12 hours. These frantic shuffles end in a bunch of tired humans and very well-rested pets. Brushing, walking or playing with a pet can be the last thing on a long to-do list, and often is left to carry over for days. There isn’t much that you can do about having to go to work and taxi kids around town. Kids also must go to school, and many of us must go to work. However, you can counter this by making sure that your pet gets face time when you ARE home. Find time to exercise/pet them before leaving in the morning, leave them with a fun and safe toy, then have a before-bed routine that involves the pets. This can be cats chasing toys, dogs going for walks, brushing, or teaching and practicing new tricks. The more you can engage your pet when you are home, the more their daytime boredom can be offset.
While “weekend warrioring” (intense physical activity) isn’t recommended, weekends can be a great time to enjoy nature walks and swimming time that involves dogs. Take a nature walk or walk around town and integrate what the kids are doing at school. Take practices outdoors to involve dogs. Use any weekend downtime to spend time with any cats who are social. If you have days that you know will be exceptionally long, look into doggie day-care or dog walkers for mid-day visits. Cats are more self sufficient during the day, but don’t forget to shower them with a little extra love after long days alone.