While chatting with a teacher friend today, it was brought to my attention that teachers with dogs and kids have some unique challenges when adjusting to back-to-school schedules. All day teachers pour their energy into other people's children and come home to their own households and families with important physical and emotional needs that must be met.
Then, the family dog, who had access to people, play, and ample potty breaks throughout the summer, is ready for rambunctious interaction or inseparable snuggles. Yet teacher parent is tired and touched out. They just need a few moments to breathe without the world around them urgently demanding something every single second.
I hear you! I hope these 6 suggestions* can help you find at least 15 minutes of calm in the craziness of raising kids and dogs together while teaching and inspiring our children daily.
(Good news! You don’t have to be a teacher to try these Back-to-School Doggy Dinners.)
- Take-Out (scatter feeding): Let the dog out to potty when you get home while you get the kids and their school stuff situated. Let pup back in and send the kids out with dog’s dinner. Have the kids toss and scatter doggy’s food around the backyard. Call the kids in, then send the dog out for dinner.
- Tasty Tosser (kibble toss): This can make some of my teacher friends cringy, but ideally the mess that is made will be cleaned up by the dog. Children of just about any age can participate in this feeding fun. Separate dog and children with a sturdy baby gate. You can take a seat on either side of the gate – probably closer to whichever “animal” needs you most, but being on the same side as your child is optimal. Have your young kiddo pour dog food in a pile on the floor next to where you are seated sipping cider and gathering your thoughts. Of course, you can keep the kibble in a bowl or container next to you if you prefer, and sip whatever you choose. Encourage the child to grab a piece or handful of kibble and toss over the gate to the dog.
- Homework Helper: Since doggy snuggles can be nice, sit on the sofa and snuggle and scratch your pup the way you enjoy lovin’ together. You can play, too if that helps settle your stress. Use a baby gate to keep pup from interrupting the kids if necessary. Have the kids practice their letters, spelling words, or math facts by writing them with kibble on the kitchen floor. When they are finished, switch your snuggle partner.
- Burrowing Blankie: This is similar to scatter feeding, but indoors and a little different. Have kids spread dog’s food on the floor while pup is outside or with you in a different room. Let them lay a blanket or towel over the food for Fido to burrow under and find his feast. They can use more blankets and towels and spread the food out farther.
- Jr. Trainer (hand feed): Let older children (8+) who have helped with training hand-feed Fido as a training exercise. Instruct the child to ask for basic behaviors the dog knows well (e.g., sit, down, find), and feed or toss a piece of kibble when dog responds correctly. It’s important only older children who won’t tease or frustrate pup implement this strategy.
- Brain Toys and Puzzles: Have kids fill food puzzles and let pupper play engaging in mealtime enrichment. Check out Smartypaws January and February blogs with mealtime enrichment ideas: https://www.smartypaws.net/blog/57-enrichment-feeders-for-enriching-the-new-year.html
* The above suggestions are for family-friendly dogs without a history of resource guarding or aggression.
* Keep dogs and kids separated when eating (except older children for hand feeding)
* Always supervise kids and dogs and remember baby gates are not a substitution for supervision.
About the author:
Debra L. Murray is the owner of Smartypaws LLC Dog Training and Family Education in Lee’s Summit, MO. She is a licensed educator for Family Paws Parent Education, AKC Canine Good Citizen and S.T.A.R. Puppy Evaluator, professional member of Heartland Positive Dog Training Alliance, and presenter for Good Dog in a Box Dog Smart Education.
Debra also is a homeschooling mom committed to promoting safety and creating harmony between dogs and their families. Currently, she has a rescued Great Pyrenees/Border Collie mix named Dolly, a husband of 20+ years, and 3 beautiful children.
Photo credits: Child spelling "dog" with kibble by Sahsha Kochanowicz Photography, photo of Debra Murray by Tim Galyean