Monday, August 26, 2013

Get Your Pets Ready for Back to School Days Too

Pet Tales: Get your pets ready for school days, too

August 24, 2013 12:10 am

Back to school can be a tough transition for family pets that have enjoyed having children around all summer, said Katherine "Kat" Miller, director of anti-cruelty behavior research at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Actually, any abrupt change in household routines can be upsetting, she said.

Dogs and cats may urinate and defecate in the house, destroy furniture and flooring, or dig inside the house and out in the yard. Some may try to run away. Dogs may bark and howl. Animal experts say these are signs of "separation anxiety."

Pablo howled and barked when my husband and I left the house, but luckily he did none of those other yucky things.

There are tricks and techniques that can help, said Ms. Miller, who has a doctorate in animal behavior from the University of California, Davis.

• Try to spend more time away from the house and pets in weeks leading up to school. Gradually increase the time you spend out of the house.

• Train your dog or cat to associate being alone with good things like food. Leave them with a Kong toy or puzzle toy filled with food. It should keep them busy for at least 20-30 minutes. Don't know what those toys are? Go to a good pet store with knowledgeable staff (locally owned is a bonus) and ask them to show you.

• Give dogs 30 minutes of rigorous exercise right before everyone leaves for the day. For cats, play with them in the house with things like wands and fishing poles attached to toys they can chase.

That last tip sounds to me like it comes from people who have never spent frantic mornings getting children off to school on time. Thirty minutes of exercise every day, but at a more convenient time, goes a long way toward reducing stress and boredom, I've learned.

The first time our son came home from college, Pablo was so excited we feared he might have a heart attack. He was glued to Dante's side the entire Thanksgiving break, and he was sad when Dante left again. For the next four years, Pablo adjusted to the fact that Dante was gone for months at a time.
Since he graduated in 2012, Dante has been a Teach for America corps member in St. Bernard Parish, near New Orleans. Visits home occur less frequently now, but sooner or later Dante always comes back to visit, and his dog, his mother and his father are always ecstatically happy to see him.


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