Back to School Blues for Your Pet?


It’s that time of year again – another round of back to school for the kids. Many pets do just fine with the transition (or may even enjoy having some quiet time during the day). But some of you might have noticed your pet’s behavior seems different or off with the change. Your pet may even be exhibiting undesired behaviors such as anxiety, destructive behavior, or inappropriate bathroom habits.

In order to better understand what might be going on with your pet’s behavior change, let’s think about how your pet viewed the summer:

  • More fun and playtime with the family
  • More time to snuggle
  • More snacks that fell on the floor
  • More vacation trips
  • More time to exercise

Additionally, whatever your summer was like, by the end of the summer your pet was accustom to that routine. So now, on top of less time together and fewer snuggles, your pet may also be adjusting to a different routine. But the word routine is actually a key in getting your pet back on track. Pets do well with routines. So whatever your new routine needs to be – figure it out and stick to it as best you can. Obviously some daily things will change, but solidify the basics (wake up time, meal time, bathroom time, bed time). Additionally – and this is a very important step – build a regular, dependable play time in for your pet each day. If you try and have the play time around the same time each day, your pet can have that to look forward to (and he or she will start to expect it!). Play time can be as simple as a game of fetch, chasing a laser pointer, or even working on behavior commands. Make sure to add in some snuggle and affection time as well. For times when you and your family cannot interact or play with your pet – make sure you have different toys and/or environmental enhancements (window views, music playing, etc.) to keep your pet entertained. Be sure to rotate those toys so your pet does not get bored with the same thing.

If you are seeing undesirable behaviors, be mindful they could indicate a medical problem or a more severe anxiety issue, and your pet may need a veterinary exam. However, if the problem is truly behavioral (and mild in severity) then there are some basic things you can try:

  • For anxious behavior, do not try and comfort your pet because that actually reinforces the anxious behavior. Instead, wait until your pet is calm and then praise that correct behavior. If your pet is having trouble calming down, redirect him or her into an enjoyable activity. Then, praise the good behavior.
  • For an undesired behavior such as chewing an inappropriate item or barking too much, find a way to interrupt the behavior (say “No”, clap your hands, etc.). Then, redirect them into a good behavior (chasing the laser pointer, chewing a dog toy, etc.). Finally, end on a good note by praising them for exhibiting the correct behavior.

So remember, help your pet know the new routine as soon as possible. Keep your pet occupied with appropriate toys and environmental stimulation when your family is unavailable. Finally, make sure you are building time in each day for play and snuggles. Behavior changes can be a challenge, and we certainly encourage you to speak with one of our doctors about any ongoing concerns you may have!

Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS