Back to school season is here! Can’t you just smell the freshly-sharpened pencils, new notebooks and squeaky clean sneakers?
As the excitement builds, getting back into the school routine can bring up all kinds of emotions for the people, and pets, in your family. Kids might be worried about new teachers or excited to see old friends. Parents might be eager to get back into a reliable routine or hesitant to say goodbye to summer memories.
But let us assure you, your dog is VERY excited to be back on the walk-to-school route!
In fact, the morning walk to school is a great time for parents, kids and pets to ease into the day, gear up for learning and engaging, and soak up some fresh air before being indoors for most of the day.
But let’s not forget that the school grounds can be chaotic and crowded, which are both potential liabilities for your dog. Including your pooch on morning walks to school will be most successful if you keep some important safety tips in mind for school pick-up and drop-off.
But first, let’s learn a little bit about why dogs behave the way they do, and what we can do to support their success in public spaces.
Why do some otherwise well-behaved dogs act out in public?
Dogs are sensitive creatures. They react to light, sound and smells even more than humans do. When a dog acts out in public, it’s usually due to one of their senses being overloaded. Overstimulation can manifest itself as aggression in some dogs, or fear and shyness in others.
Just like humans, dogs need to be taught how to manage and handle feeling overwhelmed. And as their guardians, we humans need to understand their “language” and help them avoid difficult or uncomfortable situations that could turn into negative experiences for them or the people around them.
What can you do to help calm your dog?
Early exposure to different stimuli will help prevent the development of some common anxieties. By slowly introducing your dog to environments with new sights and sounds beforehand, you can help alleviate stress and normalize what would otherwise be an overwhelming environment for your dog.
A well-exercised dog is a calm dog. Giving him plenty of exercise can completely change the way he reacts to foreign environments or loud and sudden sounds (like what you would find in the schoolyard).
When you’re amped up, your dog will get amped up too. Dogs tend to mirror the energy of their owners, so if you are calm and confident, your pup will literally feel it and be more confident in knowing that he is in a safe place.
Always leash your dog! No matter how well-behaved he is, it is your responsibility to secure your pet - especially around kids who are (while generally well-meaning) totally unpredictable. Be sure to use a secure collar in order to have maximum control of your dog, just in case he becomes triggered. Retractable leashes are generally not a good idea if you have a dog that gets anxious in public.
BE PATIENT WITH THEM
Training and desensitizing your dog to stimulation can take time. If you don’t have the opportunity to begin training from a young age, working with a trainer or behaviorist can be a great option for pups who came to you with, or are developing, bad habits.
Dog safety tips for the schoolyard
If you plan to bring your dog to school, you must be confident that he is ready for the attention and the stimulation. Socializing your puppy with children before diving headfirst into a schoolyard is always a good idea.
VISIT THE VET
Now is a great time to double-check that your pup’s vaccinations are current. Unvaccinated dogs could pose a health threat to other dogs and people, so don’t skip this step. If your dog is still too young for vaccinations, it’s best to start the dog walks to school after your dog is up to date on his shots.
This is your opportunity to be a teacher! Help children who are interested in your dog interact with her in a safe and respectful way. Each dog is different so teaching children that it’s best to ask owners if a dog is friendly is a great place to start. If the answer is yes, then start slow with small ear scratches or head pats rather than a full-on hug or demands to ride the dog like a horse!
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - ALWAYS keep your dog on leash when out in the world, you never know what could trigger them or who has had bad experiences with dogs before. The last thing you need when dropping your kids off for the first day of school is a scuffle.
When you bring a dog onto school property, it can feel like a celebrity just walked into a crowded room. Kids will rush you, dogs will pull their owners to you, and your own dog might even forget that you’re in charge. Make sure your pup knows basic commands such as “sit, stay and leave it” so that you can remain in control when there are multiple, interesting stimuli running around.
Offer treats as praise and remove your dog from the situation at the first sign of stress (tail down, ears back or flopping on back in submission). Keeping healthy and tasty treats on hand is helpful so that you can quickly and easily reward your dog for not reacting negatively to distractions - plus it can be fun for your child to reward the dog for good behavior as well!
We hope everyone has a phenomenal back to school season! Check back soon for more tips on keeping your dog happier, healthier and safer.