LOS ANGELES -- Young people aren't the only ones who get back-to-school blues. Pooches used to months of constant playtime can get upset when their best buddies disappear with the dog days of summer.
Many dogs whine and wait eagerly at the front door but eventually adjust to the absence of their young owners when they are in class. But millions of dogs can feel abandoned, sad and unable to cope - and they look for ways to lash out.
Nearly 20 percent of the nation's 80 million dogs have separation anxiety, said Dr. Nick Dodman of Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts.
Some 70 percent of dogs with separation anxiety will bark, howl or whine; 60 percent will destroy something, leaving behind scratched doors, damaged blinds or torn curtains; and a third are so upset they have accidents, Dodman said.
Dianne Larson of Santa Clarita, California, has seen it firsthand. School started two weeks ago, and year-old Ruby, a black Lab, still searches for Larson's son Tanner, 14, when he's gone.
"She stays in his room. If his door is closed, she will whine to get in," Dianne Larson said. If the dog isn't in Tanner's room, she's at the front window watching for him.
Side effects for anxious dogs don't stop at whimpering. Some dogs refuse to eat when their owners are gone, experts say.
"There will be an exuberant greeting when you do come home, one that can last several minutes and be completely crazy, then the dog will run to the food bowl," Dodman said.
Nearly half the anxious dogs have noise phobias, so if a storm hits while they are in an empty house, they can panic. A really insecure dog might become clingy and follow their owners around.
Besides recommended independence training, there are some things owners can do to ease their dogs' blues. Dodman suggests:
- Make your departure a happy time with toys and treats.
- Create a place in the house where the dog feels safe.
- Start the new routine before school begins.
- Don't indulge behavior with baby talk or sympathy.
- See a vet if it doesn't improve.
To cope with separation, first-grader Harry Williams of Kanab, Utah, takes the family dogs, Flora and Gandalf, to the bus stop each morning to get a bit more time with them.
"He is sad to leave them and hugs them like 10 times before he gets on the bus. Usually Flora whines when the bus pulls away," mom Jill Williams said. But the dogs mostly sleep while the youngster is at school.
"Honestly, they don't really seem fazed by it other than when Harry gets on and off the school bus," Williams said.
For those whose dogs have more serious problems, other more expensive options include pet sitters, dog walkers and doggy day camp.
For the young Grimmett sisters in Edmund, Oklahoma, their dogs, an English setter and a Yorkshire terrier, got plenty of attention and outdoor playtime over the summer, but the dogs don't throw a fit when 10-year-old Willow and 5-year-old Coral go to school, which started this month.
The dogs welcome the girls home with unconditional love and affection - and no criticism, said mom, Dr. Danel Grimmett of the Sunset Veterinarian Clinic.
"Yes, they miss their girls, but they seem to understand," she said. "And all the time away during the day disappears as soon as the girls return."