Something that is generally quite firmly drummed into the minds of dog owners is that ‘dogs need a routine,’ and its true, a regular and reliable routine to follow is incredibly important for all domestic dogs. But do you know why this is the case, what keeping to a routine entails, and how to deal with times when you need to break from the schedule or introduce new things into your dog’s world?Whether you don’t yet have a dog but are just doing what you can to research thoroughly first in order to get things right, or if you are already a dog owner and think it might be beneficial to review your current routine in regards to your dog, keep reading!
Dogs are creatures of habit, and the way they feel about the world around them depends on their viewpoint, which is in itself shaped by how they feel and how happy they are in their environment. In order to have a positive outlook on life and be able to deal with any changes and new things that come their way, dogs must already be established within a stable routine and be handled with consistency, so that they know what to expect from their owners and their lives, and their behaviour will reflect this accordingly. Dogs that do not enjoy a sufficient routine or feel otherwise insecure in the consistency that their lives contains or the way they are dealt with by their people are exponentially more likely to feel stressed, anxious or depressed, and either act out accordingly, or have it actually affect their physical health. Well-balanced dogs that are secure in their environment, routine and day-to-day lives find it much easier to weather any changes or upsets that do come along from time to time, whether planned for or unexpected.
The day-to-day routine in your home regarding your dog is the underpinning of the fabric of his life, and one of the key areas in which routine and consistency are particularly important. Try to ensure that your dog gets up at around the same time each day and is put down to sleep at around the same time, and that he has activities such as feeding times, walking times, play times and quiet times all regularly scheduled into his day at times that he can rely upon. This goes a good part of the distance towards helping your dog to feel loved and secure, and is part of the bonding process with you, his person. Additional walking, play and other activities, and changes such as going to new places with you is all fine- as long as the core structure of how your dog’s day goes remains consistent regardless of what you are doing.
Feeding your dog at the same times every day is important not just for his emotional and mental wellbeing, but also because his metabolism will get used to the pattern and adjust itself to fit the set feeding times and amounts that it comes to expect. Try to feed your dog in the same place every day, and make sure that the area is safe and comfortable for him. It is also important to be consistent with the food that you give and not to make any sudden changes to the quantity or content of his meals, instead phasing in any changes gradually.
It is obviously important to take cues from your dog and let them out to go to the toilet at times when they need to, but as well as this, you should seek to establish a routine of times when your dog is always let out to go to the toilet. For instance, when you (and he) first get up, and just before bed would be obvious times to introduce. Also, walking your dog as much as possible is brilliant, and of course, at some times you’ll be able to walk him much more and for much longer than at others. But do make sure that at least one walk a day is always scheduled into the routine, and that it happens at around the same time of day each time as well.
Part of your dog’s routine and consistency foundations come down to how he is treated and handled by you and other members of the family. Make sure that not only are your training commands clear and not open to interpretation, but that you apply them in consistent circumstances. You might think it is a kindness to allow your dog to break with his usual behaviour norms on occasion- for example, sitting on the furniture or sleeping on the beds- but these kinds of ‘exceptions’ and lack of consistency in his training and handling will only serve to confuse him. Your dog needs you to provide a clear framework for what is and is not allowed, and stick to it- take away his frame of reference for what is and is not allowed, and you will do him a disservice in the long term.
However committed you are to ensuring that your dog has a consistent, stable routine and follows it religiously, you have to accept that at some stage you will need to make a change of some kind nevertheless. How you handle this is the key to how easy it becomes for your dog to weather the change successfully, and how happy and confident your dog is within his existing routine is a big part of this. Dogs that know their routine and are happy with it tend to weather changes of any kind much better than dogs that are not sure what each day will bring, or how to approach it.When you do need to introduce something new into your dog’s environment or change something about his daily life, try to do this as gradually as possible. Also, only change one thing at a time- don’t try to introduce a range of new things or changes to existing norms all in one go.Assess how your dog is dealing with changes and new things on an ongoing basis, and remember at all times to keep your treatment of him and your responses to his behaviour firm and consistent, so that he can continue to have faith and respect in you, his owner, boss and favourite person.