Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallager
OFF THE LEASH
So you parents and teachers (and kids) have a solid week or so back to school. This is the time when you start to get the hang of things again, get in a routine and get rid of the jitters. I can’t say that your schedule will be running smoothly yet, we aren’t robots after all. But there is one thing that often gets left by the wayside — our pets. Back to school means school, sports, music, after-school programs and a thousand other things. Almost none of these things revolve around home though, leaving your pet with a huge change from summertime, when people are around more. Let’s talk about a few things to keep in mind for our furries as everyone gets into the new schedule.
After a summer full of playing in the yard, swimming in the lake, nature hikes and petting all day, the start of school is a big change. Instead of playing all day, our pets now sit home alone most of the day and sleep. Try to factor in activity as you go about your new routine. Walk the dogs to the bus stop with the kids. Plan an after-school walk involving the family where you can discuss the school day. When sports start, walk your dog before or after the game, or take them and walk at halftime.
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. I do recommend returning after your run though. This is a great time to decompress from a day and evening full of activity. Spend some time outside with the dog, which gives them needed exercise, and you needed space. If you have a jealous spouse, switch off nights of domestic duties versus dog exercising. 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. Backpacks then get strewn in a trail from the front door to wherever. Sometimes they get put on their proper hooks, but often after the first day or week, this routine deteriorates and they are within easy reach of dogs. 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. A harmless box of raisins that got forgotten at lunch can become fatal kidney failure to a dog, so make sure that backpack/lunch-box placement is a paramount lesson. Gum, grapes, raisins or little candy bars are big-time no-no’s that are small enough to get forgotten.
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 meetings, friend dates, sports practice and club meetings. Often it seems like families rush out of the house in the morning and aren’t really settled back home for another 12 hours. Many times, our pets can get lost in the shuffle as a (much loved) after-thought.
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 (at least in order to be in compliance with laws.) 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. Engaging toys that help exercise their mind are a great thing to leave them with. Make sure you have watched them with the toy first and assessed its safety though!
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. Integrate what the kids are working on at school (if they will tell you) or sport sessions. 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.
Going back to school is often a breath of fresh air for parents, because life can return to a scheduled routine. However, this routine often means more time away and fewer activities with pets. Try to offset this as much as you can, especially in the early days.