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Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Dogs also have to adapt to the changes that back-to-school season brings

August 31. 2018 10:29PM

When I was in school - way back in the last century - we didn't go back to school until after Labor Day. For most schools, this is no longer true, at least this year. The sight of school buses means autumn can't be far behind. Daylight is changing. Pretty soon, so will the trees. While I love the autumn and all the changes to come, this summer seems to have sped by way too fast.

For dogs, too, autumn brings a lot of changes. It's helpful for your relationship with your dog to be aware of how these changes affect him and have a plan to help him adjust.

First, weather. As I write this, the weather is oppressively hot and humid. But we all know this won't last. As it gets cooler, dogs become more energized. Dogs are subject to summer doldrums just like the rest of us. In extreme heat, most dogs would prefer to find a shady spot, scratch the dirt down to the cool ground and lie in the hole. But the minute the weather becomes cooler and dry, dogs become a lot more active. At our doggie day care, the first cool day brings a measurable increase in the dogs' activity levels - playing together as though they've just discovered each other.

Fall also marks a change in the households of many dog owners. Back-to-school often means fewer people home during the day and changes in the family's behavior. Seeing the rush of kids getting ready for school as well as for after-school activities affects the dog. Dogs are creatures of habit. They get used to set schedules for things like waking, eating and exercising. Most dogs are able to make schedule adjustments with few ill effects, but some dogs will have problems with changes.

If summer included vacationing adults and kids actively playing with the dog, the return to school marks a huge change in the dog's environment, especially in families that adopted a pet over the summer. While these summer months have included time well spent acclimating your dog to your household and family, now your dog suddenly finds himself left alone a lot more and getting less attention and exercise.

Changes in schedule, less attention and less exercise might translate to changes in the dog's behavior - rarely for the better. Typical behavior problems include destructive chewing, continuous barking and lack of house training. The current trend is to categorize these problems under the broad umbrella of "separation anxiety" and to ask a veterinarian for drugs to combat it. Please don't be seduced by this approach. Dogs have real needs that must be met, without simply drugging them. Just as important, meeting your dog's needs can be simple.

Dogs need regular attention - easily done with a few minutes of grooming, playing, loving, petting, walking and/or training. Dogs need regular exercise - the opportunity to be normal dogs by running, playing, walking and exploring (sniffing) the environment. Dogs need social interaction - time spent with their human family as well as with other dogs, when it's appropriate and beneficial for the individual dog. And finally, dogs need training - which not only makes the dog a better companion, it provides them attention and social interaction and gives them mental as well as physical exercise.

If your time is stretched to the limits, and your dog is social with other dogs, look for a reputable day care in your area, and investigate this as a helpful solution that could provide for your dog's needs. We have many day care clients we don't see during school vacations who come back to us when school is back in session. Ownership of a dog requires us to meet our dogs' needs - or to find a way to have them met - all year-round.

Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog" and a dog behavior consultant, runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic for this column, which appears every other Sunday, email or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. Past columns are on her website.

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