Avoiding a ruff semester: veterinary professors share tips for student dog owners

Elena Waldman

Dogs are more than just a pet. They are assistance for people with disabilities, providers of emotional support and lifelong companions.

Bernard Dime poses for a portrait with his service dog, Corky, in the Anatomy building. Dime is the first paraplegic student in Colorado State University’s veterinarian program. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

At Colorado State University, many students register their dogs in the dorm or apartment buildings to accommodate their needs.


Just like their owners, pets need proper care and attention. Lori Kogan, a clinical sciences professor for the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said as opposed to service dogs who accompany their owners at all times, emotional support dogs are often left at home while their owner is away.

“By law, service animals are allowed anywhere people are allowed,” Kogan said. “Emotional support animals are only protected by law in living situations, so they’re allowed in the dorms, but they’re not allowed in other public places. So they are going to be by themselves for long periods of time in dorm rooms, just as a pet would be.”

For students thinking of getting a dog as an emotional support animal, there are a few things to consider before getting one, as well as some basic tips to follow to maintain a pet’s wellbeing.

  1. Consider the breed of dog.

Different breeds of dogs respond to different environments. However, Kogan said the adaptability of a dog to a tighter space does not always necessarily have to do with its size.

“Get a breed that works well in small areas,” Kogan said. “Sometimes that doesn’t mean small breeds. Some of the smaller breeds are extremely active, and some of the larger breeds are actually couch potatoes. (For example), greyhounds are great in small settings because they really love to sleep on the couch all day long.”

2. Exercise physically and mentally.

In order for animals to thrive while living in smaller confinements, they must have enough stimulation. According to Dr. Jennie Willis, a biology professor who teaches about the behavior of dogs, the minimum amount of exercise recommended for most dogs is at least a 30-minute walk, four to five times a week.



Girl play tug-of-war with her dog
Jennifer Williams plays tug-of-war with her dog, Angel. Williams got Angel from a farmer, seven years ago after the farmer’s pug and chiweenie accidentally had puppies. “CSU has been a blessing for letting me have my emotional support animal here on campus,” Williams said. (Abby Currie | Collegian)

Dr. Willis said most dogs in dorms or apartments end up getting out much more than the basic standard, but there are other ways owners can keep their dog stimulated during the day.


“Other things they can do for exercise inside can be games or enrichment devices that involve finding their food,” Dr. Willis said. “They might be doing a lot more activity inside if they’re getting their food out of a puzzle feeder than out of a bowl, so they may spend hours trying to work on getting the last little kibble out, rolling it around and running after it.”

3. Learn your dog’s behavior patterns.

Many dogs experience separation anxiety from their owners, which can manifest in different behavioral patterns. Dr. Willis said this is not necessarily caused by the owner, but rather something the dog may have experienced as a puppy. Some of the signs that a dog has separation anxiety are if they are destructive, pee, defecate or bark excessively when their owner is gone.

“Having a predictable schedule is what provokes it, not necessarily the length of time gone,” Dr. Willis said. “So most of the symptoms happen within the first thirty to sixty minutes of their owner leaving.”

For dogs with less severe cases of separation anxiety, there are many ways owners can curb their dog’s symptoms. Dr. Willis said the more predictable someone’s schedule is, the more severe the symptoms of separation anxiety are. People should try leaving their apartments or dorms in a more subtle way so as to not give their dog cues to patterns that are associated with them leaving.

4. Talk to friends.

For students who have schedules packed with class, work and extracurriculars, the time commitment of owning an animal can be overwhelming.

The biggest challenge is a lot of college students and people in general don’t have the time or make the time to exercise and walk their dogs as much as they need to, especially if they’re gonna be in a small room,” Kogan said. 

When the semester gets hectic, it may be helpful for students to reach out to friends or peers for help with walking and feeding their animal. Before committing to bringing a dog to the dorms or apartments, students should consult with their roommates to ensure the animal will be well taken care of. They should still understand that the responsibility is still mainly on them.

“I think certainly it can be a collaborative effort,” Kogan said. “Usually, it ends up that somebody is ultimately responsible for that dog (and) makes the financial decisions and stuff like that. But sure, if you have a roommate situation where you’ve got two other roommates, so the dog gets three walks a day, that seems totally feasible.”

5. Make your dog sociable. 

Dr. Willis said that many dogs who live in apartments are more well-mannered on leashes in comparison to dogs who have yards because they have more experience with going on walks. Dr. Willis said that owners should make sure their dogs can adapt to social situations to reduce issues with walks.

 “They’re likely also to experience more aspects of a social group of humans, (like) meeting strangers and other dogs,” Dr. Willis said. “If they are reactive to either of those two types of individuals, they may be more symptomatic because they’re seeing them more often and they may need to have help or intervention to help them be better.”

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle for a dog in a small living space may not be as difficult as many people think, as long as they acknowledge the financial and time commitment they will need to make.

“I think that as pet-owning Americans, we tend to leave our pets at home while we go to work and not think about what they’re experiences is while we’re gone,” Dr. Willis said. “I think that we can include that in our thought process, in thinking (that) they have a 24 hour day just like we do and that social time with their owner is a huge part of that.”

Elena Waldman can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @WaldmanElena.