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Whether children are happy or sad that a new school year is beginning, pet experts say there is one family member in particular who may get down in the dumps.

According to Pets at Home, when pupils return to full-time education, their dogs and puppies may suffer from separation anxiety which can result in a change of their behaviour.

A survey of 2,000 pet owners revealed more than four in ten children (44%) admitted to having more fun with their pets than their friends or siblings. More than half of children (63%) said they spend more than an hour interacting with their pets each day. This interaction is likely to decrease suddenly when the children head back to school.

Dr Maeve Moorcroft, Head of Pets at Pets at home said, “After being surrounded by family for a few weeks, pets get used to the fun and attention families bring them, but a sudden empty home can affect them.

“Even well-behaved pets start exhibiting strange or unruly behaviour when this happens, but there are actions you can take to minimise this, especially with dogs and puppies.”

Pets at Home has come up with some advice for owners to help prepare their pets for the social change ahead.

  1. Gradual preparation is the key: If your dog is used to always being in the same room with you or following you around, try asking them to stay while you leave the room for a short time. Reward them when they can do this calmly. If your dog can tolerate this exercise, try leaving the house briefly and then come back. This will gradually condition your pet to withstand longer periods alone.
  2. Provide an enriching, pet-friendly environment: Keep a special bag of dog toys that you take out only when you plan to be away. This way your dog or puppy will associate you leaving with something fun and positive. By leaving a radio or television on a low volume, pet owners can also mask any outdoor noises that may startle their pets during their absence.
  3. Alternate attention times: Alternate times where you pay your pet attention and times when you don’t. If you have children, explain to them that a dog or puppy needs alone time too. This will condition them to see your absence as a normal experience.
  4. Do some physical activity: Where possible, try to walk or play with your dog or puppy before you leave so they’ll be more inclined to relax and possibly sleep whilst you’re away.
  5. Know your pet’s breed: Each dog is different and will experience being alone differently depending on their individual personality and breed. Your dog or puppy may be quite independent and not mind being alone for a few hours, while others may struggle more to adapt to the social change.

Maeve adds, “The return to school can be a busy, exciting, and sometimes stressful time for families, and pets are very sensitive to this. Preparing them for the change is vital.

Luckily, while dogs are social animals that love company, they can also learn to like time by themselves. The good news is with the right training and preparation. Your dog will learn to handle, and maybe even enjoy, their time alone.”

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