Back-to-school changes can affect your pets, too

I am not sure where the summer has gone, but it’s already back to school time again! Home-room listings were in the paper recently — a sure sign growing up that summer was over.

As your family prepares for back to school schedules and rituals, don’t forget about the pets. They may have gotten used to having the kids or even you (especially if you are a teacher) home for the summer months.

Pets love routines. Just ask mine. My husband is also driven by routine and the animals in our house function like clockwork, according to his schedule. If we alter the schedule due to work or social functions, it throws our entire household off kilter.

There are some easy steps to take to help ease your pets into back-to-school time and to ease the anxiety they may feel trying to adjust to your families’ new, often hectic, schedules.

First, ease them into it (not bad advice for you, either). Start the ‘school schedule’ a week or two before it actually begins. Go to bed and get up at the new school times, get lunch boxes and other belongings ready so pets can become accustomed to the new routine — a schedule that was long-forgotten over the lazy days of summer break.

Set routines and responsibilities for the pets such as feeding times, exercise and walking schedules, even play time. Showing them a bit of extra attention won’t hurt either as your pets watch you flurry about the house scurrying to get backpacks and school and sports and activity gear ready.

Once you head out for the brand-new school year, the house is going to become awfully quiet again.

We always leave a TV on during the day while we’re at work.

Other people leave music on for their pets. Softer, calming music is recommended to help alleviate anxiety despite the fact that you think your pet prefers loud, rock music.

Also, with no kids at home to play and interact with, perhaps it’s time for a new toy or two to help keep your pet occupied during the day while they wait for the family to return.

You can even get a special toy that the kids can give to your pet when they leave for school each morning then tuck away until the next morning to help associate that special toy with the occasion that back-to-school doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing.

Some people hide treats throughout the house to help keep their pets stimulated while away.

I have a feeling ours would make a quick run through the house trying to eat every single hidden treat even before we pulled out of the driveway, but perhaps you have a more normal pet (unlike our crew).

We also have a relative that spends a few hours each day at the house so the pets aren’t alone all day.

Consider a pet sitter if your schedule is erratic, or look into doggie day care, which can be a pleasant experience for some dogs.

Now, not all dogs are cut out for doggie day care — it depends on each dog’s personality as to whether day care is their cup of tea.

Just remember, going back to school can be a fun yet stressful time for the entire family, including your pets.

Give everyone time to adjust, and make sure you fit in some quality family and pet time now and again.

Life goes by too fast as it is. Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses along the way so you don’t have to look back and say, “coulda, woulda, shoulda.”

Pets live in the moment. We can learn so much from them if we take the time to do so.

Sounds like a good topic for an upcoming column!

Amy J. Hanna-Eckenrode is the author of “Have Dog Will Blog,” editor of the Central PA Pets magazine and director of the Central PA Pet Expo. She can be contacted at ahanna or by mail: Paws and Reflect, c/o Amy J. Hanna-Eckenrode, Altoona Mirror, 301 Cayuga Ave., Altoona, PA 16602.