Back to School (for Fido)

Or, 5 Ways to Boost Your Dog’s Physical, Emotional, and Behavioral IQ This School Year


The start of the school year is upon us, and with it brings the promise of routines, fresh starts, and the smell of freshly sharpened pencils. Oh, how I miss shopping for new school supplies and picking out the perfect notebooks for each class and testing out every color of my must-have felt-tip pens! But I digress… School starting back means the end of summer, and for most families, the end of constant play time for your pets. Here are a few tips and tricks to ease your pets back into a routine and maintain their health and wellness amidst the busyness that school brings.


  1. Crates are friends, not jail. Crate training isn’t just for puppies. A crate can be a safe haven for your dog, a place where he feels cozy, comfortable and safe. If your pets cannot be trusted free in the house or in your yard, then a crate is a very safe and worthwhile investment. Crate training can be as simple as putting a few toys, a cozy blanket, and a bowl of water inside and leaving it open at all times for your pet to go inside as he wishes. When he voluntarily goes in, say a command like “load up” or “go to bed”, praise him, and give him a treat. When you leave the house for short errands, use the same command, put him in the crate with a safe toy, and shut the door. As soon as you get home, let him out and praise him for being good in his crate. Doing this over the next few weeks will help acclimate him to being the crate for long periods of time while you are at work and the kids are at school. Most dogs come to love their crates and see it as a welcome retreat and cozy haven to spend their days.

Forget getting your crate back any time soon, Griffin…

  1. A tired dog is a happy dog. Being less active during the day can lead your dog to behavior problems like chewing or vocalizing. Make sure that before you and your family head out for the day, and after you get home for the night, that you play with your pets to let them burn off some energy, so they don’t develop bad habits out of boredom and pent-up energy. Being active is a great way for pets and kids to unwind from a sedentary day at school and home, and it will get everyone out of your hair when you are trying to unwind from work! Even if you don’t have kids, playing ball or going for a walk before and after work will not only keep you and your pet more fit, but it will also strengthen your bond. Extra credit tidbit: Dogs that are more active have fewer medical issues and will live a longer life.

Find it! Our version of fetch, where he has to stay while we hide/throw the item, then go find it. Photo: River Oak Photography  

  1. Schedule your pet’s care into your family schedule. Most families will come home after the first week of school and create a master calendar for the month, or even the whole semester! Tests, important presentations, sporting events, and more get written on the calendar in a place where everyone can see, so that nothing is forgotten. Take a minute to include your pet’s care and activities, too! Make sure that the monthly heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives are given on the same day of each month by writing it on the calendar. If Fluffy needs a checkup or has some vaccines due, look for a good time in your family’s schedule to make an appointment to bring her in to see the vet, and write it down so you don’t forget! Staying on top of your pet’s wellness can be easily incorporated into your busy lives if you take less than a minute to write it down on the family calendar!


  1. Send your pooch to school, too! Many pet owners are starting to take their pets to doggie daycare, where they can play with other four-legged friends all day while their owners are at work. This not only promotes physical fitness through play and activity, but also behavioral fitness as the animals are taught by the facility staff how to properly interact and play with other dogs. Think of it as social learning, and look into the possibility of taking your dog to a kennel or doggie daycare a few times a month or once a week for some well-supervised and fun doggie play dates. If this is not an option for you, try to organize some doggie play dates with friends and their pets, so you and your pets get social interactions!


  1. Teach an old (or young!) dog new tricks. Taking 15-20 minutes a day to teach your pet a new trick will keep him challenged and motivated to please. Try to teach your dog a new trick each month, and work with him using lots of praise and a few treats to see if he can master shake, roll over, play dead, or high five. One of my dogs will roll over on her back when I point a finger gun at her and say “bang! bang!”!  Cats can learn tricks too, especially if they are food-motivated. Using tuna or cat treats, try to teach your cat how to come when you call her name (which could be a lifesaving trick to know!). My cat also knows how to sit and fetch- both of these took just a few minutes each day for a few weeks before he learned them well enough to do them without a treat. Make it a family challenge, or have each member of the family teach a different trick to the same or different pets!

Heeling on a walk without a leash. Photo: River Oak Photography

As you practice packing the ultimate bento lunch and try not to get carpal tunnel while signing three trees worth of forms per child, don’t forget your pets’ social, emotional, and general intelligence!


Back to school, back to school/ to prove to Dad that I’m not a fool/ I got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight/ I hope I don’t get in a fight/ Ohhhh, back to school/ Back to school. -Billy Madison, played by Adam Sandler


Grace and Peace,


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