Include Them in the Routines
If possible, take the dogs with you when you drop your kids off at school or when walking them to the bus stop. Soon your dog will anticipate the pickup time and will even cue you when it's time to start carpool. Your pet will appreciate the routine and the kids will love seeing their pets greet them too. Plus, pets are social lubricants for your child, which can make conversation starters with their peers and even boost their esteem.
Make Meal Times an Event
Pets often nap after a large meal, so consider feeding your pet in the morning to take up some of the time slack with resting. Another great option, particularly if your dog is home alone, is to rotate various feeding puzzles and toys to entertain your dog so separation anxiety doesn't lead to destructiveness. A great option is to stuff one of our Kong toys with a little peanut butter right after the kids leave, which will give them a project to work on and soothe away the hardest part of the initial separation.
Set the Tone
Don't make a fuss over entrances and exits with the kids or yourself. Instruct the kids to give brief goodbyes and mild-mannered returns so that the pets will pick up on the fact that these are normal, stress-free transitions. Try to be upbeat yourself if you are alone with your dog or cat. Animals have a gift for picking up on emotional cues, so set the mood for them. This could be achieved through soothing or fun music, or a diversionary activity like a long walk with the dog, or a play session with the cat.
Practice Makes Perfect
Have some practice alone times in a safe place before school starts. This could be with an extended sit/stay command across the room from activities with a reward given after the allotted time. Establish a crate time with a safe chew at the approximate time the kids will be taken to school. This is the equivalent to providing a play pen to a toddler to keep them out of trouble, which may be important for dogs with more severe separation anxiety that are prone to destructiveness. Establishing these time-out routines now can ease the transition later.
Have you observed your pets having difficulties with the kids heading back to school? We'd love to hear any suggestions for how you have helped your pet cope.
Waiting dog photo courtesy of Adam Jackubiak.