The fall season brings lots of changes from the lazy days of summer. The maple leaves changing colors aren’t the only brilliant hue outside – fall means the return of bright yellow school buses taking children to school for a new year. With another school year beginning, puppies can experience separation anxiety from an abrupt change in routine depending on your family dynamics. Here are some things you can do to help your puppy with separation anxiety during the back-to-school season. Pet families come in all shapes and sizes! It may just be you and your pup. You may live in a lively household with multiple children and pets of all kinds. Some families are home all day regardless of the season. Some families are gone out of the home all day. Some couples may work from home. If your household experiences a big change with a new school routine, you’ll need to know how to deal with your puppy’s separation anxiety.
Why Your Puppy May Be Experiencing Separation Anxiety
Puppies experience separation anxiety when they cope with the loss of a loved one or group of people. The sudden absence of a family member can trigger a range of behaviors. When family members experience major schedule adjustments, your puppy will notice something is not the same. Just like people, puppies will need to acclimate to new daily patterns.
Separation anxiety in puppies is a normal reaction to new schedules. Our puppies are intuitive and notice when one of their pack members is missing. They may exhibit a different set of behaviors deviating from their normal demeanor. As puppy parents, it’s our job to know how to recognize when our puppies need our help to reduce the anxiety they feel.
What are the signs of puppy separation anxiety?
Emotional changes, sadder than usual or moping around
Disruptions or changes in sleep schedule such as more naps
Whining, barking, crying, growling, or howling
Pacing around, looking out of the window, following you more than usual, or staying by the door
Destructive behavior like excessive chewing
Increase in aggressive behavior
Attempts to escape
Overexcitement when you arrive home
Physical changes like eating less or repeatedly licking paws
How do I prepare my puppy for a new routine?
Your household should examine current puppy care responsibilities and see how any changes will affect established duties. Waking up or leaving the house at a new time means your puppy will need to adjust her bathroom needs, walking, and eating sessions. Your children might want to take her on an afternoon walk to decompress from school. Whatever your new duties are, each family member needs to be clear in responsibility distribution so your puppy’s needs do not get lost in the mix.
It’s a good idea to do a few practice days with the new schedule so your puppy can acclimate to changes. Breaking up the day into chunks, such as doing just the morning one day and the afternoon routine the next will help introduce a new rhythm to your puppy’s day. If you leave the house all day, start by going away for short amounts of time and increasing the length of time you’re out of the house until your puppy knows what to expect.
How long does puppy separation anxiety last?
With careful planning and consistent effort, it shouldn’t take long for your puppy to get used to your new routine. She’ll soon learn about what time your kids or the rest of the family come home and be ready to greet them with a toy in her mouth and a wagging tail.
Ways to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Puppies
A mentally and physically stimulated puppy equals a happy, well-adjusted, and secure puppy! You can reduce separation anxiety and help your puppy ease into a new schedule by stimulating her brain and giving her enough chances to exercise every day.
How do I keep my puppy entertained and engaged?
Most puppies should have at least 20 minutes of mental stimulation a day, but it’s so easy to surpass that time with fun toys around. A bored puppy can be a destructive puppy. If your puppy has an opportunity to engage her brain and her attention, she can redirect any feelings of separation anxiety. Offering a variety of stimulating things to play with helps keep your puppy’s attention for long periods of time. Providing toys that keep puppies busy helps build puppy brain power, form problem-solving skills, and improve working memory. Be sure to rotate toys to keep experiences fresh and exciting.
Does music help puppies with separation anxiety?
Music can help calm a puppy by slowing down a racing pulse due to anxiety. Several studies about the best music to play for your puppy have found that classical, soft rock, and reggae are all excellent choices. See what type of music your puppy responds to and follow her lead. Keep the volume on low to create a soothing ambiance. Be sure to play the same type of music while everyone is home as well so your puppy doesn’t associate a particular tune that means, “Goodbye, we’re leaving!”
Does exercise help manage puppy anxiety?
In addition to mental stimulation, your puppy needs lots of exercise! Regular exercise decreases anxiety in dogs, so it’s vital you make sure your puppy gets the right amount. Some breeds require different amounts of movement, but some type of daily physical exercise is important regardless of breed. As a general rule of thumb, a puppy needs 5 minutes of exercise per month about 2 times a day. A consistent exercise routine for puppies will help encourage better sleeping habits, cut down on undesirable behaviors, prolong her life, promote joint and digestive health, and reduce the risk of obesity. Beyond a regular walk, exercise can be tiring out your puppy with a game of fetch, hide-and-seek, a training session, or simply romping around with her.
Exercising your puppy can help you establish healthy habits for yourself as well! Perhaps you want to change some habits you developed over the summer. Back-to-school time is a great time to evaluate what’s working for you and where you can make changes to be a healthier person.
How to Spend Time With Your Puppy to Prevent Separation Anxiety
Puppy school and puppy classes can help prevent separation anxiety
With the kids being gone from the house all day, now is the perfect time to enroll in puppy classes just for her! Some classes ask that you participate, and some are drop-off only. Some experiences have cameras or post pictures online to see what your puppy is up to.
Here’s where to enroll your puppy for a back-to-school experience:
Puppy kindergarten is a group socialization and training opportunity that also goes over new puppy parent tips and tricks. Owners usually stay with their puppies. Upon completion, your puppy will look so cute in a doggy cap and gown!
Obedience classes go beyond young puppies and teach commands using some form of positive reinforcement. These can range from owner-attended to a “sleepaway” style session spanning several weeks.
Doggy daycares are local facilities that provide safe and stimulating activities for a wide range of ages. The business may include indoor and outdoor play yards, pools, optional grooming services for a spa day, or boarding services. Some have a strong social media presence or cameras to check in on all the fun.
Agility classes are perfect for certain high-energy, intelligent breeds where you and your dog work together to complete obstacle courses and challenges.
Specialty classes in your area may offer fun experiences like making treats with your puppy, “bark in the park” festivals, or meet and greets.
Signing up for puppy classes can be a great way to help improve puppy anxiety. No matter which route you decide to take for puppy classes and training, research the business to see if employees and trainers need certifications, have good reviews from past customers, maintain a clean and safe facility, and follow best practices in their puppy training techniques.
Ease your puppy’s separation anxiety with fun activities
When you have an anxious puppy, you’ll want to explore ways to calm your anxious dog. Do you have some one-on-one time with your puppy during the day that wasn’t possible when the kids were home for the summer? If your schedule allows, take your puppy on an adventure! Even a short drive around the neighborhood with the windows down can be a fun experience. Visit a puppy-friendly eating establishment for a leisurely lunch. Run errands with your puppy, as several drive-thrus offer dog biscuits or pup cups for a tasty treat.
You can also make memories on a random mid-day week after school, in the evening, or on the weekends. Go somewhere new with the whole family and your puppy. Unexpected trips break up a routine that may be getting monotonous and infuse fresh energy into the family. Ask if your puppy is allowed to attend your child’s sporting events or other activities. You may even start new traditions!
How to include your puppy in back-to-school activities to decrease puppy separation anxiety
Take your puppy to pet-friendly businesses for school supply shopping. She could help get a reluctant student excited to choose a new notebook. Turn it into a game by letting your puppy “decide” between two similar items. The kids will be proud to sport the lunch box your puppy chose. Don’t forget your puppy, too! Let her pick out some special school supplies for puppies! After all, they’ll be learning a lot this year, too.
Incorporate your puppy in a cute back-to-school photo with the kids and share it with others on social media. Some platforms allow you to see posts from years past. It will be fun to see how much your puppies and children grow throughout the years! Follow trends and hashtags for a wider audience to ooh and ahh over how cute they are. The puparazzi is waiting!
Puppies are always interested in food! If packing a lunch interests your child, get them involved no matter how young. Teach independence to your students by having them pack their own lunches as they are able while also working on some simple puppy commands to strengthen their connection. You can also turn this into a training opportunity by using dog-friendly treats while human food is out on the counter. Your children may want to tell your puppy all about their days at school while they pack.
If walking to the bus stop or to school with your puppy is an option and you think she is ready to handle such an adventure, go for it! It’s a good chance to practice training commands and get her used to the sounds and sights of large vehicles and road activity. Once the bus is gone, get in a quick walk to exercise your puppy to keep her mind calm and energy level in check.
Going through a carpool line is another way to enjoy the time when getting your kids to and from school. Seeing a puppy during drop-off and pick-up can certainly brighten teachers’ and students’ days with a smiling pup.
However, walking and riding along are not for every puppy. The number one rule is to always be a responsible dog owner! Some kids are not fans of dogs and may even be severely afraid. Don’t allow your puppy to jump up on people which might result in muddy clothing from dirty paws, scratches, or knocking down a child. Make sure your puppy interacts well with other dogs she encounters along the way. A puppy escaping from a car during carpooling can be dangerous for your kids, other students, and teachers, not to mention holding up an already long line. Use good judgment, practice puppy vehicle safety, and don’t hesitate to change plans.
People Can Experience Separation Anxiety, Too
While your puppy may be coping with sudden changes, children can also have some big feelings around the start of school. A new routine can be overwhelming! Give your child uninterrupted, unscheduled time to decompress after school, especially during those first few weeks of a new routine. Your child and puppy can comfort and reassure each other while strengthening their special bond.
After checking your child’s school device policy, it could be a cute idea to send a picture of your puppy for them to view on their phones during a permissible time. Receiving an unexpected picture of their furry friend can boost happiness! Don't go overboard with a picture every hour though in your enthusiasm – respecting school technology policies and instructional time come first.
Puppy parents also experience the back-to-school blues, too. It’s normal to have mixed feelings about the changes a new school year brings. Studies show that spending quality time with a canine can reduce human stress levels. Did you know walking a dog can reduce your symptoms of anxiety and depression while boosting your mood? As any change can be a stressful one, you and your puppy can help each other navigate the waters of adjusting to new changes to address separation anxiety.