by Stacy Braslau-Schneck
Many families bring home a new dog or puppy in the beginning of the summer -- especially if the kids and maybe a stay-at-home parent will be around a lot more. This is a great plan, because you can devote some of your dog's formative first few weeks to training and socialization.
But when your kids (or you) return to school, it can be hard for your dog to adjust. It's key at this point to establish new routines that will take into account your dog's needs for mental and physical exercise and activity levels, as well as your family's needs for downtime, focus and safety.
Step 1: Establish Your Puppy's New Routine
Most dogs do better with an established routine, so they know approximately when to expect playtime, a meal, a walk, or time that they might be alone. The kids' summer camp or family outing plans might be different from the school year's schedule, but you can help your puppy (and your kids) adjust by gradually moving into your new schedule before and as school starts.
Try to plan how much time commitment you'll have outside of the home, with school, work, volunteer activities, after-school activities etc. to figure out when you can schedule your dog's walks and playtimes. Faced with a lot of expectations from school and extracurricular endeavors, your kids might not be realistically expected to take as much time with the dog. It shouldn't come as a surprise to parents that this responsibility falls mostly on them (especially moms!).
Step 2: Provide Physical Exercise...and Mental Stimulation
Dogs -- especially young pups -- need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation. Remember that a quick walk through your neighborhood with your dog's leash held fashionably tight might give your dog some physical exercise -- but is unlikely to do much of anything for mental or social stimulation. This need can be better met by letting your dog sniff and explore on his walk (I like to think of dogs' system of sniffing and marking as the canine version of Facebook!). A dog who has spent all summer playing with kids might also appreciate more time spent with new humans, too -- so taking him to an outdoor café or park might help.
The best form of mental stimulation, in my opinion, is training. All dogs can benefit from more training, even if it's just learning cute new tricks: it's a fun challenge for a dog to figure out what his human is looking for, and it helps him exercise new muscle groups.
Step 3: Schedule Downtime during Busy Hours
One of the biggest challenges of busy families is transition periods -- the time in the morning when the household is getting ready for school and work, and the time in the evening when everyone returns home, dinner is prepared and eaten, and homework is done. These morning and evening routines also happen to be the peak time of activity levels for dogs. This is a time when your dog might get "the zoomies:" running around, frantically play-biting, or barking at every little noise or movement.
Ideally, your dog would get exercise just before this, especially for the evening dinner-rush time. But in any case, it's important to have a plan to manage your puppy so his high energy doesn't clash with your focus on evening activities.
My recommendation: exercise your dog (or send the kids out to throw a ball while you prepare dinner), then bring the dog in and crate, tether, or pen him in place near where the rest of the family is gathering, and serve your pup his dinner stuffed in a Kong toy or similar item (you can stuff wet dog food, or wet mixed with dry, into these toys in advance, and freeze them). Then your dog is calmly occupied while your family decompresses from the day. When dinner and homework are done, your dog can reconnect with his favorite playmates for a bit.
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Pets | Dogs: School's In: 3 Easy Steps to Help Your Puppy Adjust