How to Battle the Back-to-School Blues: Study Up on Canine Separation Anxiety

How to Battle the Back-to-School Blues: Study Up on Canine Separation Anxiety

Poppy, or as her family affectionately calls her, “Princess Poppy,” is an adorable little ball  of fluff. Definitely the household diva, Poppy the toy poodle demands her fair share of attention. After a fun summer packed with road trips, beach adventures, and lazy days by the pool, Poppy is in for a rude awakening as back-to-school activities kick into high gear. Poppy’s mom and dad are both high school teachers, while her two non-furry siblings are beginning their educational journey. How will Princess Poppy handle the desertion of her adoring subjects? Let’s find out.

“Ooo, what are these bright bags for? Maybe they’re my new sling carriers, so Mom can easily take me on her shopping trips. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a Puppachino…,” Poppy thinks to herself. “Oh, but they’re already stuffed full! There’s no room for me. Pencils, paper, folders, crayons—mmm, I do love crayons. I definitely tasted the rainbow that day, and the rug still has colorful stains to prove it.” 

Little does Poppy realize that her family is gearing up for the first back-to-school day, and she will be left alone at home for the first time in her short life. See if you can pick up on the mistakes her family members make when heading out the door.

The first day of school arrives. Chaos ensues. Poppy is used to a leisurely lie-in, with breakfast appearing later in the morning. As her family yells across the house about misplaced shoes, missing lunchboxes, and mismatched clothes, Poppy stares wide-eyed at her normally relaxed family. Her breakfast has been hastily tossed in her dish, and her water is running low. Too nervous with the commotion to eat, Poppy hides under the dining room table until her mom calls her. 

Oh good, Poppy thinks. We can go back to bed and wake up at a normal time later! But Poppy feels the leash clipped to her collar as her mom mutters, “We have to hurry—the bus arrives in five minutes.” Poppy is rushed out into the yard to take care of business, and hurried back indoors. 

“What happened to our walk around the block? Or our game of keep-away with my favorite stuffed bunny?” Poppy wonders. 

Poppy is disappointed with this change in her routine, but she hears a loud honk outside. Rushing to the window, she sees a giant yellow beast of a vehicle swallowing up the two youngest members of her family, while mom and dad wave a tearful good-bye. 

As the adults hurry back indoors to grab purses, wallets, keys, and jackets, Poppy is shuffled to the side. Before running out the door, her mom bends down and lovingly dotes on Poppy with kisses and baby talk for a brief minute. Then, Poppy is all alone. 

Poor Poppy had never been left alone in her short life. As a puppy born right before summer vacation, she has enjoyed constant attention from her family these past few months. Since it was summer break, someone was always home for comfort, or she traveled with her family. Princess Poppy’s world has been turned upside-down. 

When her family returns home from the first day of school, they are greeted with a disaster scene. The new leather sofa has deep claw marks gouged into the plush fabric. The curtains have been ripped from their hangings. There are multiple “accidents” scattered throughout the home. And, there is a message from the neighbor blinking on the voicemail, which says he heard barking and howling for the better part of the day. As they take in the destruction, Poppy rushes in, panting heavily and covered in slimy drool, and hurtles into her mom’s arms. As her entire family coos and fusses over her, Poppy finally begins to relax. Little does she know that this will be a daily occurrence.

Did you spot the ways Poppy’s family could have eased her into independence and knowing how to relax while alone? 

  • Lack of independence training — Poppy has always had at least one family member in the same room with her—she whines and scratches at the bathroom door if she’s shut out. She has not been taught to entertain herself or relax on her own. To teach Poppy independence, start small. Train her to lie on her bed at the opposite end of the room, contentedly chewing a treat. Walk around the corner, pause for five seconds, then return and praise Poppy for remaining in the same position. Gradually build up to extended absences, and Poppy will learn that remaining calm while left alone is an action that’s rewarded.

  • Over-the-top greetings and departures — To reassure Poppy that they love her, the family lavished her with exuberant departures and greetings. Instead, calmly exit and enter the home, ignoring an overexcited pet until she calms down. In time, Poppy will learn that it’s not a big deal when her people leave or enter her home.

  • Abrupt routine change — In Poppy’s mind, her family had abandoned her. She did not understand how to be alone and that her family was coming back. A gradual routine change that begins with brief absences and builds up to longer time periods similar to a workday works best.

  • No toys or treats — Poppy was given no special treats or toys to keep her occupied while her family was gone. Give her a long-lasting chew, food puzzle, or stuffed Kong to focus on rather than the fact that she’s alone.

  • Shortened exercise session — Lack of exercise can create several problems. A shortened walk may not give Poppy the time she needs to eliminate before being confined for the day. Plus, a bored dog can be a destructive dog, and Poppy needs time to burn off her energy before her family leaves.

Does Poppy’s situation sound familiar? If your dog is suffering from the back-to-school blues, we can help. Schedule a behavioral consultation with our team.

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