Back-to-School Tips for Families with Dogs

Aug. 6, 2009

As summer ends and kids head back to school, families can avoid behavioral issues with their dogs that often accompany this transition. By providing training and the right combination of food, shelter and entertainment, families can help their canine companions adapt to a new schedule.

“When kids go back to school, the stress can be huge on the family, including the dog,” said Nikki Winchell, dog behavioral therapist and trainer, Bark Busters USA. “This abrupt change in routine can seriously affect our furry friends, who are creatures of habit. But with a little understanding and preparation before the first day of class, families can avoid many of the back-to-school behavior problems their dogs might display.”

Separation Anxiety

With everyone gone to work or school during the day, dogs left alone can become stressed, often resulting in destructive behaviors and endless barking. These tips can help reduce the potential anxiety of separation.

• Pay less attention to him: While your dog may be the center of attention when the kids are home all day, you need to change this scenario before they return to school so that he can adjust more quickly to the quiet time. About a week before school starts, pay increasingly less attention to your dog each day.

• Start early: A few weeks before your children return to school, get your dog used to being alone. Begin by separating him from the kids and the rest of the family. For example, if you frequently take your dog with you to run errands, leave him at home.

• Practice leaving the house: Go through the motions of leaving the house, go out the door, but then come right back in again. The dog will cease associating the routine of your leaving the house with your departure. This will help him to be more relaxed when you actually leave.

• When you leave: As the last person leaves the house for the day, don’t confuse your dog by saying in a sweet voice, “It’s okay, Buster—we’ll be home soon. Be a good boy.” If he is feeling concerned that you’re leaving, your happy, high-pitched voice can make him think it’s okay to feel anxious. Dogs are pack animals and so they expect their leaders to be strong when they leave the pack. Therefore, ignore your dog for about 10 minutes before you leave.


Dogs sleep a lot during the day, but when they wake up, they want something to do. It doesn’t take much to entertain a dog, even when you’re not at home.

• Toys: Dogs love toys, but they can quickly get bored with or destroy them. Buy high-quality, virtually indestructible puzzle toys that your dog will always enjoy, such as those that hold treats like the Buster Cube™ and KONG™. Every few days, rotate what toys are available to him. This gives your dog something new and fun to hold his interest.

• Scatter food: Dogs are natural foragers who enjoy looking for food on the ground—and will literally spend hours doing so. Scatter a variety of foods—such as bits of raw vegetables, dog kibble, and other foods that won’t attract wasps—around the yard when you leave. Try hiding a few treats so your dog spends extra time looking for them. And always provide lots of fresh, clean water to keep your dog well hydrated.


Dogs need to have their own “home,” a place where they feel secure and comfortable. If your dog doesn’t already have a place of his own, create one for him.

• Crate: Most dogs love the safety of a crate. Because they are descended from animals that live in dens, a crate is a natural shelter for a dog because it has the same characteristics of a den. If your dog hasn’t been crate trained, don’t start training him the day the kids leave for school. That’s too late and can actually add to his stress. When your dog has become accustomed to his new crate, do not leave him there for extended periods of time. If you plan to be away longer than 10 hours for a dog and 6 hours for a puppy, ask a friend to come by to let your dog out to toilet during that time.

• Laundry room: If your dog will be inside all day and you are concerned about him toileting in the house, enclose him in a small room (which inhibits the tendency to toilet) and has an easy-clean floor of vinyl or tile (in case he has an accident). Place a soft bed and toys in the room for him too.

• Doghouse: If your dog will be kept outside while you are gone, be sure he has shelter in which to get out of the weather. Dogs are more relaxed when they are covered and in familiar surroundings. Place the doghouse next to the house so that he feels like it is an extension of the larger “den,” and provide a blanket or other comfy bedding.

Nikki Winchell is a dog behavioral therapist and trainer with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. Bark Busters trainers, who have trained more than 500,000 dogs worldwide, are renowned authorities in correcting dog behavior with all-natural, dog-friendly methods. Bark Busters training is the only service of its kind that offers guaranteed lifetime support. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit


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