Changes in schedule can upset your pets
By Denise Baran-Unland For The Herald-News September 24, 2012 12:54PM
Foster dog Elvis never leaves Mike McCallister's side when he's home. When McCallister returns ot college, Elvis frantically searches the house for him. | submitted photo
Updated: October 26, 2012 6:06AM
When Sue Hovanes’ son Mike McCallister, a twice-deployed soldier, came home for a visit from college, her foster bulldog Elvis immediately fell head over paws in love with him.
So it’s no surprise that McCallister’s inevitable return to school is a heartbreaking one for Elvis.
“Elvis tries to follow Mike everywhere — including the bathroom — and cries if he can’t sleep with him,” said Hovanes of Joliet, a volunteer with Illinois English Bulldog and Rescue. “When Mike goes back to school, Elvis spends several days checking every room of the house looking for him. We can only reassure him that Mike will come back. And when Mike does come home for the weekend, Elvis greets him as if he has been gone forever. It’s hilarious.”
While most parents normally welcome the “back to school” routine, no matter how old the child is, many dogs greet it with a mixture of insecurity, anxiety and downright naughty behavior such as barking and unpredictable urination. This may occur no matter how well trained that dog is.
“We get so many calls that say, ‘My dog was fine and then all of a sudden he started going crazy,’” said Kristy Dilworth, certified and licensed trainer and owner of Smart Dogs Training and Lodging in Plainfield (www.smartdogstrainingandlodging.com). “Any change in the family dynamic is very unnerving for dogs. You can see some strange behavior because they don’t know what’s happening and why.”
Although dogs may be missing their full-time, summer playmates, they can become just as uneasy when the kids first come home for the summer. Other stressors include a shift in the parents’ work schedule, the moving in or out of a family member and an owner’s hospitalization.
Worse, it may take several weeks for Fido to settle down, but owners can ease the transition with a few strategies and several practice runs of the new schedule. For instance, leave home for 30 minutes or so.
This way, your dog can gradually make the adjustment and feel less uncertainty about the change. Paramount to success, however, is the “this is no big deal” attitude of the household’s ruling humans.
“Dogs can pick up on your emotions, so don’t say, ‘Oh, baby, I’m sorry I have to leave you.’ That just makes it worse,” Dilworth said. “Say instead, ‘Mommy has to go to work. Here’s your toy for the day.’ Don’t give in to that cute little face. Stand your ground and be casual when you come home.”
When possible, walk the dog before the official grand exit out the door. This can be difficult to do on busy mornings when everyone seems to be falling behind, but it fosters the dog’s adjustment to a new potty schedule helps tire him out.
“This way they can rest while you’re gone,” Dilworth said, “instead of leaving them alone for eight hours and finding out they tore up the house.”
Some dogs do need occupation when no one is at home to keep their minds sharp and stimulated, so give them items to distract them in your absence. This can be background music and a little chew stick or a puzzle, such as a crater ball of food.
“They’ll have to roll the ball around the house just to get out one piece of food,” Dilworth said. “That can keep them busy for a long time.”
To prevent your dog from feeling isolated, remember to interact with him when you return home, even if you’re tired and frolicking with your dog is the last thing you want to do.
This doesn’t have to be a solo duty; engage your children’s cooperation, too. One child can feed the dog, another can walk him and a third can play a game of fetch. If your dog continues sliding into misbehavior, address it.
If necessary, crate them during the day or let them join the educational fun. An experienced trainer will provide your dog with some “continuing education” of his own.
“Definitely hold your dog accountable and be consistent,” Dilworth said. “Dogs know who will let them get away with something.”