Autumn is all about change. Leaves, schedules, activities... you name it. All summer long, most dogs enjoy a looser schedule with plenty of outside time. Now, days are shorter, temperatures are cooler, and kids are busier, therefore isolation increases. Frantic back-to-school activities can ratchet up the overall household anxiety level, so dogs may start to act out, seeking attention in their own dog-like way. Fall -- a month when parental anxiety spikes and punctuated schedules send everyone into a tizzy, can be the roughest season for dogs as well as other pets. Keep these thoughts in mind if you find yourself in this boat:
The basics. Don't forget to feed your dog and to check the water bowl. I know this may sound ridiculous -- who in their right mind would forget to feed their pets? But even I have overlooked an empty water dish as I'm scurrying about trying to rouse my children at an hour they'd rather be sleeping. And don't rely on the kids to do it! Newly busy and highly scheduled kids can forget this task, even if they were great at it all summer. While I routinely encourage my dog-training clients to use a bell for house training purposes, hanging it on the door and tapping it until the dog makes the association, I also encourage its use by the water bowl. Dogs can be easily conditioned to ring the bell for a refill if this task is overlooked.
Exercise, exercise, exercise. A tired dog makes for a happy family. During the summertime everyone enjoys a looser schedule and the calming affects of outdoor activities. Whenever possible make the time to continue your outdoor excursions as the chill of the season will actually exhilarate your dog. When your schedule restricts you, however -- and as silly as it might sound, even leash walking your dog around the interior of your home as you rouse your family and begin your morning routine can be invigorating. Not only are you holding your dog's attention, but you can use the time to teach useful directions like "upstairs" and the names of your children: "Let's go wake Katie." Recognizing and identifying words helps dogs feel more connected and relaxed in your home.
As alarms are set earlier and earlier, you may find you have just as much trouble waking your pets as you do your children. In my household the 8:30 a.m. morning hikes of summer: kids, four dogs, and often the rabbit in a backpack, all piled into the back of the family minivan are by gone. Now, my company will be reduced to whichever creatures can meet my 6 a.m. timeline.
Creative Isolation. When you leave the house, prepare an area in advance that is protected from temptations. If your dog has been accustomed to crating, reintroduce it if you're concerned for his anxiety level. A crate is not a prison; it's more like a cozy bedroom. Decorate it with a few favorite toys and a soft mat or blanket. Alternatively, block off a small area in a familiar room or use a fold out pen (available at your local pet store) to enclose your dog while you are out. If your dog can pace, he's more likely to work himself into a frenzy looking for you, so keep the space modest. If your dog is frustrated, fearful or anxious, he will express his discomfort by barking, chewing or eliminating.
If you do come home to destruction, please try to view it as a sign of utter desolation and not as some very un-canine impulse such as spite. Do not yell at your dog -- you will make the situation worse by increasing her fear of isolation. If the destruction cycle continues, hire a professional to analyze and help you develop permanent solutions.
And speaking of back to school, fall is a great time to enroll in a group dog training class or explore a new adventure with your dog such as agility or pet therapy! Dogs, like kids, are more content with stimulation and group interaction than isolation and boredom. Check out your local community center, search on line or ask your veterinarian for good programs in your area!