Brooklyn veterinarian shares tips to ease ‘dog depression’ for back-to-school families

As families with school-aged children make the transition from fun-filled summer at home to the back-to-school routine, many dogs in these households experience various levels of separation anxiety when the kids go back to school and the house becomes quiet and empty. With the sudden annual change in daily routine, Dr. Brett Levitzke with Veterinary Emergency and Referral Group (VERG) Brooklyn is sharing the signs and symptoms of separation anxiety, as well as tips and tricks to help quell dog depression and associated behaviors dogs may be experiencing during these times.

Separation anxiety is triggered when dogs become upset due to the separation from people and family members to whom they are attached. With school-aged children being home more often during summer months, this attachment increases dramatically.

“Any abrupt change in routine can trigger a dog’s anxiety. Because dogs lack a concept of time, a change in routine that leaves them separated from people they’ve grown accustomed to can cause severe behavioral issues when left alone,” said Levitzke, CVM and chief medical officer at VERG Brooklyn. “These behavioral issues can cause anxiety within the pet owners themselves, so it’s best to act quickly and take simple steps to ease a dog’s anxiety, as well as your own.”

According to Levitzke, some signs and symptoms a dog might be suffering from separation anxiety include prolonged howling and barking, unwanted chewing, excessive pacing, using the bathroom indoors and attempting to escape.

To combat these unwanted behaviors, Levitzke recommends pet owners try one or more of the following tips to help ease a dog’s distress:

  • Freeze peanut butter-stuffed Kongs. Preparing Kongs stuffed with peanut butter or some other treat will provide your dog a distraction from his or her stress. Freezing the Kong will make the activity last significantly longer and stimulate your dog mentally. Be sure to put the toy away when you get home, as this will eventually signal to your dog that your departure is routine and you will return.
  • Find a daycare or sitter. Enrolling your dog at an animal daycare a few days a week may be beneficial, as time with other dogs and people may help reduce anxiety. Scheduling a stop-in or routine walk through apps like Wag or Rover may provide a dose of companionship your dog might need during the day.
  • Take your dog for an early walk. Establishing a routine of taking your dog on a 30-minute walk early in the morning will provide plenty of exercise and hopefully tire them out.
  • Plan dog-friendly activities. It’s important that when your family returns home that they spend quality time with your dog. When planning out-of-home activities or places to eat, conduct research to find dog-friendly establishments so as to avoid whole days where the dog is alone.
  • Play background noise. Consider playing talk radio or similar program that gives your dog a sense that someone is with them and they are not completely alone. As dogs grow accustomed to the daily noise of households in the summer, simulating that could help ease their stress.
  • Consider installing a “nanny-cam.” Because some pets’ anxieties aren’t destructive, it can be difficult to see the true stress your departure has on your dog. Having a camera in a common area that you can check throughout the day will give you a better sense of your dog’s wellbeing.

Lastly, Levitzke advises that if your dog’s separation anxiety and destructive behaviors persist, that it may be time to consult a veterinarian. In some cases, a dog’s anxiety might be due to an underlying medical issue. Your local veterinarian may also have a few tricks of their own.

For anyone with questions or concerns about their dog struggling to adapt to back-to-school routines, contact VERG Brooklyn at (718) 522–9400 or visit

About Veterinary Emergency & Referral Group: 
Veterinary Emergency & Referral Group (VERG) was formed in 2005 by Dr. Brett Levitzke to provide emergency services and specialty medicine to the Brooklyn community. Open 24-hours, seven days a week, VERG’s team of emergency doctors, specialty doctors, technicians and assistants are dedicated to providing the highest quality of care within a nurturing environment. Their services include cardiology, critical care, dermatology, emergency care, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, radiology and more.