I’ve always known I wanted to be a dog owner, so when my husband and I bought our first home, a four-legged family member was one of our first courses of action.
After a visit to the local rescue, we fell in love with Scout (yes, we named her after my favorite character in To Kill a Mockingbird). She was an 8-month-old mixed breed with big, beautiful eyes, and she’d already been in two other homes that didn’t last.
I’d like to say everything was perfect, but it definitely wasn’t. You know how it is as a teacher—there can be some long days and unexpected meetings. We’ve had Scout for a year now, and I feel like we’ve finally reached a balance that works for our family. Here are the seven ways I ensure Scout is taken care of during long school days and the everyday chaos of being a teacher.
1. Establish a Routine
Abrupt changes to a dog’s schedule can trigger separation anxiety, leading to destructive behavior or emotional distress. To prevent this, make your departure and arrival from school as routine as possible. For us, I leave Scout in the same area every morning with her favorite toys. Then I put on soothing music and give her a treat. I also give her a verbal cue: “Be back later, Scout.”
2. Find a Dog Walker or Doggy Day Care
I understand this isn’t an option for everyone, but if you have a high-energy pooch, you might want to consider it. These small businesses can offer great incentives for repeat customers, and your dog will be exhausted by the time you return home, creating more time for you to relax after a long day. (Even a couple of days a week can help.)
3. Sneak in Exercise Before or After School
I take Scout for walks around the neighborhood before and after school to burn off some of her energy. At first, these walks felt like another task to complete before the school day could begin, but now I look forward to them. It helps hold me accountable to daily exercise, and I start the day more relaxed and with a clearer mind. Exercise, like drinking water or journaling, is something that I know is SO good for me, but it is one of the first things out the window when I have a huge pile of essays to grade or mountains of paperwork to complete.
4. Invest in a Pet-Monitoring System
We received a Petcube from my parents, and it is honestly one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. The camera live-streams, and I use my smartphone for a few minutes during my prep to check in on Scout and put my mind at ease.
Many monitoring systems provide interactive features, like a microphone that you can use to talk to your dog (correct that bad behavior!) or a laser that you can use for play. Other systems allow you to shoot out treats with the touch of a finger! My device allows other users to set up accounts, so even my mom can check in on Scout while we are at work.
5. Offer Treats to Make Your Dog Think
Busy dogs stay out of trouble. You can buy puzzle toys like the Kong Wobbler to make your dog work a little bit to earn a treat. This can keep a dog busy and amused for hours.
6. Be Mindful of Changes to Your Schedule
When it was just the two of us, I could send a quick text to my husband letting him know that I’d forgotten about my afternoon faculty meeting and was going to be home later than usual. Since Scout has come along, I have become more organized about communicating my schedule, so we can come up with a plan for her care. On late days, we try to arrange for a friend or family member to check in on Scout.
7. Don’t Believe Everything You Read on the Internet
The blogosphere may tell you that you cannot be a good pet owner without being a stay-at-home pet parent who purees fresh organic dog food. Early on, I took much of what I read online to heart and struggled with whether I was providing a good home for my dog. Just like teaching or parenting, everyone has his or her own unique style—don’t feel pressured to become someone you aren’t.
What do you say, teachers? Any other advice for colleagues who own pets?