It's back to school time, but as you're getting the kids ready, don't forget about Fido too! Next in our series of "Animal Advice", Ocean County veterinarian Adam Christman is back with some timely thoughts. Read more below:


As the lazy, hazy days of summer come to a close, parents prepare to send their kids back to school. School supplies are purchased, summer reading hurriedly gets finished, and school clothes are brought out of storage. Soon yellow buses can be spied back on the road and the school year begins. Your kids may have a bit of the “back to school blues,” but this seasonal malady may affect the family dog as well. After all, your pet is used to having a full house of kids to play with, as well as lots of time spent in the nice weather outdoors. The change of routine that comes about each fall can disturb some dogs and cause them to act out due to boredom or loneliness. Follow these simple steps to help your pet overcome his own back to school blues:

  • Show Him Some Attention
    Helping your dog through the transition from summer to fall may be as simple as giving him a bit more of your attention. He’s used to random pats on the head, hugs, and impromptu games with the kids, and now the house seems quiet and empty. Pick a time during your day (for example, after your morning coffee) when you can spend a little extra time with your dog. Pet him, talk to him, or even spend a few extra minutes grooming him, if he enjoys that. Think of this as an opportunity to reconnect with your special friend after the busy days of summer. You may even find your dog missing your children and waiting for them to get off the school bus. It's even harder when your kids are going to college and Fido doesn't realize that your young adult may not be back home for a while!

  • Refresh His Training
    When your dog first joined the family, you most likely spent time training him. Along with housetraining, he may have learned to sit and perhaps even offered a sporadic "down" here and there. Nowadays when you yell “no” as he’s climbing atop the kitchen table, does he give you a quizzical look and continue on his quest to gobble up your freshly made sugar cookies? As time passes, even the most well-trained dog will become rusty if you don’t practice your training commands. With the kids back in school, now is the perfect time to brush up on old commands and teach him some new ones using positive, reward-based training. Consider signing up for a training course at a pet store, or find a local training class and ask about lessons. There are also plenty of books that explain positive training in a step-by-step manner. Just make sure that the training methods that you are working with do not use negative methods, such as leash jerking or physical punishment. This may promote aggressive like behavior.

  • Challenge His Brain With Toys
    Your dog may be spending more time alone once the kids are back in school, so consider investing in toys that challenge his brain. Puzzles, Kong toys, etc are beneficial (although nothing beats playing with their owner!). This will help keep him occupied and also tire him out when there aren’t little ones around to run him ragged. Interactive toys are becoming more and more popular—these are typically different-shaped objects into which you can hide food. The food is released when the dog figures out how to “unlock” the toy. Interactive toys can keep your dog occupied for hours, and using his brain in this way can be just as tiring as a walk around the block.

  • Refocus the Kids
    It’s the start of the school year. Your kids will have homework to do, band practice, sports, and friends to reconnect with. Their lives will be busy and even a bit overscheduled, so it’s up to you to remind them that the dog still needs their love and attention. He was their constant companion throughout the summer, and he’ll be missing all the time they spent together. Sit down with your kids and come up with a plan that will bring them together with the dog. Perhaps it’s an after-homework walk around the block or a 20-minute game of fetch in the yard before dinner. I remember, growing up, that my parents would always have me walk my best friend at the time, Archie, prior to me getting on the school bus.  He felt content knowing that we had that special bond in the morning. Maybe one child is particularly interested in training and can help run the dog through the commands he’s been learning.

With just a bit of time and attention, both your kids and your dog will be over the “back to school blues” in no time! Please do not forget about your dogs, cats and any other pets. Where else can you receive that unconditional love? You owe it to them!


Adam Christman, DVM, MBA
Brick Town Veterinary Hospital, P.A.


Again, don't forget that you can send your pet questions by emailing me here, and Dr. Christman will address them in a future edition of Animal Advice!