Are dogs really creatures of habit? Here's why a regular routine is important
To their great credit, dogs seem to be willing to go along with whatever ideas or plans we come up with. Whether it’s hitting the road for a trip or going for a 10-mile hike or spending the evening on the couch, they have a remarkable ability to adapt to our whims.
However, despite their ability to “go with the flow,” most dogs do enjoy having a set routine they can look forward to and depend on. They are creatures of habit and consistency makes them feel safe. Too much upheaval and uncertainty can lead to stress-related behavior problems like chewing, barking and inappropriate elimination.
While there is no perfect routine – and none of us can or should be expected to stick to a set schedule 100% of the time – there are a few main areas you can focus on that will help your dog feel secure.
If your dog is like mine, he gets pretty excited when he knows it’s time to eat! Feeding your dog at set times (whether that’s once, twice or three times per day) reduces anxiety because he never has to worry about when or if he will be fed, or how much. In addition, consistency with times, amounts and type of food can help regulate your dog’s metabolism and weight.
Exercise & Play
Some type of physical activity is important for both your dog’s mental and physical health. Walks not only allow your dog to burn off energy and calories, they give him the opportunity to sniff new things and have interesting experiences outside the home.
One of the easiest ways to housebreak your dog and prevent inappropriate elimination is to set up a consistent toileting routine. Take a look at your own schedule to decide what works best. For most people, it makes sense to let the dog out in the morning, after meals and before bed. But let common sense be your guide. The key is to be consistent.
Dogs sleep a lot. In fact, depending on age, size and breed, they usually snooze between 12-14 hours a day. So regular bedtimes may not seem all that important. However, getting your dog on a consistent nighttime sleep schedule will help keep him from waking you for a midnight bathroom run or play session. Where he sleeps is just as important as when. Designating a certain spot – whether that’s a crate, a doggie bed or with you – will help remind him that it’s bedtime, not playtime.
Of course, while routines are for helpful for your dog, it’s also necessary to be flexible and reasonable. Sticking to a schedule that’s too strict can actually cause anxiety for both you and your pup if something happens to disrupt it. So don’t worry if you occasionally feed your dog at 5:30 instead of 5:00. As long as you adhere to the general routine more often than not, you’ll have a happy, well-adjusted dog that can easily deal with occasional changes to his schedule.
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