School will soon be back in session, and pets will be trying to adjust to the back-to-school change in routine. Your pet’s daily schedule looks a lot different when the kids are back in school and you are at work. After spending the summer enjoying endless adventures and quality time with family, your pet may find the empty house too quiet, and may experience difficulties adjusting to the many changes, but your preparation can help your pet easily acclimate to the new normal. Our Lebanon Animal Hospital team shares star student Stella’s daily routine as she adjusts to her new back-to-school schedule.
Gradually introduce your pet to new routines
Time: 7 a.m.
Stella: Mornings are a lot busier these days, but my family works together and takes good care of me. The children are back at school, and that means we all wake up much earlier than during the summer. At first, waking up at this new time was a challenge, but I was soon waking up early on my own. Mom lets me outside, while one of the kids fills my bowl with fresh water and gives me kibble—breakfast time! The best part of our new routine is eating breakfast earlier. After I eat, Dad takes me out for a jog around the neighborhood—the same as we did in the summer! I like running as fast as possible, and I always feel calm and refreshed when we get home.
Prepare your pet for their new back-to-school schedule a few weeks before the first day, ensuring each family member knows and practices their pet care responsibilities. Stella’s family shares these tips:
- Take it slow — As Stella’s family has done, gradually introduce your pet to changes in their routine. Start practicing these changes a few weeks before the first day of school to give your pet plenty of time to adjust.
- Include the whole family — Before the school year starts, create your family’s pet care responsibilities list, and decide which family member will be responsible for each one. Every family member should help ensure your pet’s needs are met to help make the morning rush go smoothly.
- Exercise your pet daily — Although time is at a premium once the whole family is busy with school and work, your pet needs their exercise more than ever to help keep them calm during the long hours home alone. If a morning walk or jog is not possible, you can help your pet burn off energy by playing a game of tug—any game or exercise that leaves your pet ready for a nap.
Keep hellos and goodbyes to your pet emotionally neutral
Time: 8:15 a.m.
Location: Front door
Stella: Every day, Mom gives me a yummy treat—a Kong filled with xylitol-free peanut butter. I immediately take the Kong to my bed where all I can think about is reaching that delicious creamy goodness. I spend a lot of time focusing on finishing every last bit of my treat, and then I see that the humans are gone for the day. I feel a bit sad, but focusing on my Kong makes our goodbyes much easier.
Avoid expressing over-the-top emotional morning goodbyes to help your pet remain calm as they face the quiet day home alone. Stella’s mom distracts her with a xylitol-free peanut butter-filled Kong, and suggests these nonemotional hello and goodbye tips:
- Distract your pet before leaving — Some pets get anxious watching their family prepare to leave for the day. To make this transition easier, give your pet a high-value treat to focus on, and calmly slip out the door.
- Return home calmly — If your pet gets overly excited when you arrive home, wait for them to calm down before showing them attention. By doing this consistently, you teach your pet that you expect them to demonstrate calm behavior before they receive their hug.
Keep your pet entertained while home alone
Time: 10:30 a.m.
Location: Living room
Stella: I miss my family while I am home alone during the day, but I have a lot to keep me busy until they return. Someone hides all my favorite toys around the house, and I make it my mission to sniff out each one of them, which takes time and good detective work, but I feel so satisfied once I have found them all.
Your pet will become bored when home alone for hours at a stretch, which can lead to mischievous or destructive behavior. Stella’s family keeps her entertained during the day by doing the following:
- Leaving toys around the house — Keep your pet mentally engaged by hiding their toys around the house, which offers them the opportunity to track down each toy, and keeps them mentally engaged and less likely to engage in destructive behavior.
- Providing background noise — After a summer full of commotion, your pet might find the empty house too quiet, which can make them feel anxious. Background noise can ease your pet’s anxiety, so play calm music, or a television on a low-volume setting during the day.
- Giving your pet a view — Pets often enjoy looking out a window as the world outside goes by. Keep in mind that this pet entertainment strategy is a good one if your pet does not react by barking at passersby, who—along with your neighbors—will surely find the noise a nuisance.
Spend quality time with your pet
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Front porch
Stella: When my family gets home in the afternoon, I love playing with the children in the backyard. They think we’re playing fetch, but I know we’re playing keep away. After I’ve been fed and my family has had their dinner, the kids work on homework inside, and Mom and I go for an evening walk. When we get home, we sit out on the front porch and enjoy some quiet time together, just the two of us. Life gets pretty busy this time of year, and I know my family has a lot of important things to do out in the world, but I feel good knowing they always make time for me.
After the new school year begins, your family members interact with friends, teachers, and colleagues all day long while your pet is home alone. Your pet thrives on your family’s companionship. Stella’s family describes how they prioritize spending time with her every afternoon and evening:
- Schedule time for your pet — Back-to-school time can get busy, and some days you may feel like you do not have enough hours in the day to get everything done. No matter how busy life gets, remember that your pet thrives on your companionship, so schedule time to enjoy each other’s company.
- Ensure each family member participates — Students often arrive home before working parents. Your children likely need to burn energy after school as much as your pet who has been home alone all day. Ensure the kids play a game or two with your pet after returning from school. After putting the dinner dishes in the dishwasher, working adults can finally relax. Use this time to decompress during a relaxing walk with your pet, and then wind down the evening by providing them with some quiet cuddles and conversation before heading to bed.
Stella is a star student pet, and her family gets an A+ for helping her adjust to the many changes that come with a new back-to-school schedule. However, not every pet adjusts as quickly as Stella, and if your pet exhibits separation-anxiety signs—excessive barking, destructive behavior, or escape attempts—they may need more support. Make an appointment with our Lebanon Animal Hospital team to discuss your pet’s anxiety treatment options.