Lots of kids (and even teachers) dread it. Some parents count the days until its arrival. But have you ever wondered how your dog feels about back to school time?
The novel A Dog’s Purpose imagines the confusion that our canine friends experience when summer ends: the narrator (a dog named Bailey) notes that “a loud truck of some kind” carried away the neighborhood children, and then “the world, which had been so full of life and fun and noise, became intolerably quiet.”
Bailey does not deal well with this abrupt and radical change. Not only is his boy now gone for eight hours a day but he also suddenly finds himself locked in the garage. He is nervous and bored. He barks for a while, then starts chewing shoes and getting into the trash. On subsequent days Bailey manages to figure out the doggy door; then he digs holes in the lawn, chews the hose, and barks at neighbor dogs. When he figures out how to press the door handle to enter the house, Bailey proceeds to destroy more shoes, harass the cat, and devour food from kitchen cabinets and countertops.
My paraphrase does not do the book justice. These scenes are actually pretty funny. But they also have a serious message. People often get upset with our dogs about things that dogs can’t possibly understand. We haven’t communicated our expectations to them and set them up for success. And even more than that: dogs are creatures of habit, and so any change in their routines can lead to confusion, anxiety, and destruction. A change such as Bailey experiences when his boy suddenly leaves for half of the day (and in the absence of thoughtful preparations) can result in some really bad behaviors.
So humans have to be smart: we need to provide regular exercise and enrichment for our dogs, puppy-proof their surroundings, and make sure that they are still getting enough quality time with their favorite humans (including children) once school starts
One way to be sure that the quality time happens is to schedule it into the day. Make back to school time mean something fun and new. Invite your kids to design a curriculum for your dog. Does he already know “sit” and “stay”? Terrific! Review those commands. And then gradually add in “lie down,” “off,” or “roll over.” My personal fantasy is to train my dogs to use the vacuum cleaner. (Have you seen the video of the little Jack Russell Terrier who vacuums? That dog is dreamy!) But we would also be satisfied with a more consistent “sit” and “stay” from all three dogs, especially when company comes.
Home schooling our dogs doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Ten minutes per session is enough for most dogs; after that they get a little silly. But if we all worked with our dogs for ten minutes a day after school or work, we would have not only happier and smarter dogs, but also a whole lot less destructive behavior.