WorlDog > How important are routines in our dogs’ lives?
In my day to day work, while training people and their dogs, part of the job is helping the owners to better understand in which way their dog is “processing” the information that they are trying to convey to it.
I have come to understand that well devised routines are beneficial in various ways.
From the Human view point:
a) Routines are a part of life for all humans, and as a result they are easy to comprehend being as they are a “currency” that is familiar to them.
b) As humans already understand how routines are structured, when one introduces a routine for them to carry out with their dog, they are more efficient, because they already understand the logical sequence or sequences of a routine.
From the dogs’ point of view:
a) Learning is better achieved when a series of events (that are interlinked) lead to a specific end or solution. Creating routines that are understandable in these terms, afford facilitated learning.
b) Trust between the dog and the owner are fundamental in the educational process, therefore, many times the dogs’ confidence is improved when he /she sees that specific sequences are trustworthy because they always start, evolve and end in the same way.
While owners are able to successfully apply routines to their own lives, it is not uncommon for them to singularly deny their dog any of this information, on a day to day basis.
To have and look after a dog for many is to carry out the minimum humane acts that they believe should be afforded to a pet, in other words to feed it a good or even top quality dog food, clean water, comfortable bed, take it for walks, provide regular veterinary attention, and of course give it love.
It is my belief that were dog owners to better define routines in their dogs’ lives they would avoid many behavioural problems that can and in most cases do occur almost from the day the dog arrives, due in part at least for a lack of stability, which can be achieved though the existence of routine.
Some examples of routines and the preservation of the same, could be the following:
All interaction with the dog, particularly of an educational nature should be “logical” and consistent, always keeping in mind what is desired to be achieved by the owner.
a) Whichever be the method that is chosen (always in good taste of course!) that the dog is taught to sit, that method should be carried out consistently in the same way, in other words a routine which starts and ends in the same manner.
b) If, for example, in order to avoid excessive excitement on the part of my dog when I arrive home, I choose to use the method whereby I wait for the dog to calm down before I touch or speak to it, I must be true to my routine, subject to ruining my previous efforts should I arrive on any specific day and change my behaviour in such a way that I contradict the routine that I have established.
The fact is that most dogs will perceive almost anything as a “reward” so one should be careful not to undo our work with the dog by inadvertently giving him a reward when we mean to give him a correction. When routines are well established the risks of committing this mistake are much reduced.
Owners are frequently impressed by their dogs’ intelligence, saying how clever their dog is when they recognise the arrival of a member of the household, just by the sound of the car. Or even how amazing their dog is when he is always ready for his walk even before they pick up the dog’s leash. The reason their dog is so intelligent is because he focus’ on routines to give him the information which leads him to behave in the manner that he does.
Observation is a major part of a dog’s survival kit. However even this sometimes powerful tool can be “bypassed” by breaking a routine. The learning process depends on sequences which if not necessarily logical to the human brain, must be consistent for the dog’s brain.
Dog’s, strictly speaking, when living with us are not in their natural environment, as they have no control over their destiny’s. This means that they are unable to control their own futures. So one might say that they are therefore “blind” as to their own future. This situation can be more stressful for some dogs, than others, but by and large, they would all prefer to have better control of their existence.
Routines, whether during education, or simply in day to day life, afford them an “ability” to know “what comes next” so to speak, and as a result, in my view can make them happier beings.
Finally an example of how a simple routine could make all the difference to a dog.
Let’s imagine than an owner wants, or needs to travel for a week. There are no options for the dog to stay with family or friends, so the only alternative is to board the dog at a kennel, however the dog has never been left in a kennel before.
Unfortunately what people usually do, is simply concern themselves with the quality of the lodgings, thinking that they are thus duly taking care of the dogs best interests. Commonly they are not aware of the significance of their decision in the dogs mind. Were they to concern themselves with the importance that routines have in a dogs´ lives, they would realise that to prepare the dog though a sequence of a routine, prior to actually having to travel, they would make the stay at the kennel a much more enjoyable event for the dog.
Thus a short stay at the intended location of even 24 hours, whereby the dog would be left and shortly thereafter collected, creating in this manner a routine which the dog could understand, prior to the intended trip, would allow the dog to better understand the process of being taken and left at the kennel. Experience shows that dogs treated in this manner, feed better, and therefore “survive” better, returning to their owners happier and more contented in general.
Routines are essential to the well being of dogs, give your dog trustworthy routines and have a happier companion as a result!
Member British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers
Canine Behaviour Analist/Dog Trainer/Instructor
São Paulo – Brazil