What to Do with Pets When Kids Go Back to School

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Back To School ideas for petsKeep your pets happy and active
when kids head back to school.

Kids aren’t the only ones who might be sad to say goodbye to summer and hello to school--your pets may have a hard time adjusting too! Going from having the kids around to play with all day to a quiet house can be a little challenging for some pets. They may get lonely and bored, or lost in the shuffle of a busy family’s schedule. Here are some recommendations for keeping your pets active and tended-to during the school year.

SMART TOYS

Smart toys are designed to make pets “work” for their treats or meal, and are especially great if your pet is home alone for extended periods of time. You can find everything from a basic kibble-dispensing ball to advanced puzzles that require your pet to move pieces around in a certain order to find hidden treats. There are many options on the market, so do some research to find the toys that will work best for your pet.

Bonus tip: Keep a few different smart toys on hand, rotating them every week or two, to keep your pet’s interest fresh!

TURN A TRIP TO SCHOOL INTO A SHARED ADVENTURE

Does your pet love to get out of the house? Whether driving or walking, you might consider including him in the daily trips to and from school.

Walking: If your dog is good with crowds and commotion, bring him along when you walk the kids to school or the bus stop. Then, to give him a real workout, add a few blocks (or miles!) on the way back.

Ariana of Clovis, CA has two boys, ages 9 months and 4, as well as 1 dog, 2 cats, 4 fish, and 1 snake. She remembers, “growing up, we always walked the dogs to the bus stop and back in the morning and afternoon; they loved the attention from the other kids. When my kids are ready for elementary school, I plan to walk the dog to school and back (since parking is such a nightmare!).”

Bonus tip: Plan a route that intersects your favorite coffee shop or pet store to pick up treats for you and your pup!

Driving: If your pet enjoys car rides, let him come along occasionally when dropping the kids off, picking them up, or when you’re headed out to run some errands. Just remember, never leave your pet in the car unattended. Only take him along if you can stay together for the duration of the outing.

Elaine of Long Beach, CA, mother to two kids ages 1 and 5 and 2 dogs, says, “I try including [my dogs] whenever possible. They love going to school each morning and obviously look forward to it. It’s clear that ride is one of the best parts of their day.”

DOGGY DAYCARE

This is a great option for extended care (and advanced wearing-out). Take your pet for a half or full day of romping and socializing while everyone else in the family is occupied with school and work. What’s great about doggy daycare is that your dog will get little (if any) sleep while he’s there because he’s having so much fun. That means he’ll probably come home and pass out... and maybe even still be tired the next day!

GET A BUDDY FOR YOUR PET

This might sound like a strange (and possibly crazy) suggestion if you feel pressed for time with one pet, but adding another animal to the mix can really help. The pets can keep each other company, play with one another, and teach each other good social skills and manners. As Amy of Inglewood, CA, mother of 2 teenagers and 2 cats, says, “Make sure that the animals have companions of their own--they get lonely, too. We have two cats, but when I owned only one, I used to leave a radio on when I was gone.”

DOG WALKERS

Hiring someone to walk your dog - or even just play with him while you’re at work or getting stuff done around the house - can go a long way. If using a professional service every day isn’t in the budget, try a long session once or twice a week, or if your pet is easily managed, put word out to local college students or neighbors to see if they’d like to help. The key is to find a helper or service that matches your pet’s need. If you have a big, active dog, you want someone who can take him on long, strenuous hikes to wear him out. If you have a quiet, little cat, maybe he’d prefer someone to brush and pet him quietly for a half hour.

CARVE OUT TIME TOGETHER

You don’t always have to take your pet on grand adventures to keep him happy. Much like human kids, pets just want to be around you and know they are loved!

Ariana says, “when it's just me and the pets, I'll take the dog for an early run, or lay on the couch and cuddle with the cats after cleaning the house. I do my best to include them as much as the kids. And the kids do the same.”

ENROLL IN A CLASS OR HAVE YOUR OWN OBEDIENCE LESSONS

Just like your kids, your pets thrive when they have mental stimulation. Consider joining a local group or class where your pet can learn anything from basic obedience to agility! Learning new skills and having goals to achieve make your pet more confident and happy, and the brainpower he has to expend tires him out as well! If a group class doesn’t fit your schedule or budget, you can always work one-on-one with your pet. Even spending ten minutes twice a day practicing commands can make a big difference. The great bonus? You get a well-mannered pet out of it!

GET YOUR KIDS INVOLVED

It’s also never too early to teach the kids how to care for your pets. Even young children can scoop food into a bowl or tell you if the water needs refilling, while older kids can take complete responsibility: “I make sure the kids take extra time in the morning to double check that their animals have clean, fresh water and food,” says Amy.

When it’s time for homework, include the pets! Your kids might find it nice to have some quiet company to practice their reading, math, or language skills with. This works especially well with kids who are shy or in need of a confidence boost! Play time with pets can also be a great incentive, so you can use them as a motivator/reward (ie. “if you finish your spelling homework, you can play fetch with Harley for 5 minutes”).

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