Saturday, 27 August 2011

Routine

Dogs love routine. In addition, ex-racing greyhounds have known little but a strict kennel routine. It is quite amazing how quiet the kennel goes after the morning feed and after the evening turn-out. The dogs know that this a time where nothing interesting will happen, and there is no point in expending energy on whining, barking and jumping about.

Breakfast time!

These activities are liberally indulged in before breakfast and particularly vigorously when strangers appear, for they may take the dogs for a walk! Indeed, staff can walk up and down the row of kennels with little more than sporadic outbreaks of noise after breakfast, but introduce a stranger and the calm is instantly broken. It is pretty clear that these dogs, contrary to what it appear as to the casual visitor, don’t bark and jump about aimlessly. They do it according to schedule, when something nice is coming such as food or a run in the field, or at an interruption in the routine.

Time for a post-breakfast nap.

These two triggers of noisy behaviour in kennel dogs are useful to note. They indicate how canine behaviour can be steered by routines and the break of routines. Knowing this means we can use routine to encourage desired behaviour and discourage disruptive or destructive behaviour.

Although important to all dogs, establishing a routine is going to be very helpful for an adopted greyhound settling into a new home. Keeping walking and feeding time, as well as quiet resting time, regular will help the dog relax, by allowing him or her to understand when it is ok to let their guard down, as nothing interesting is likely to happen.

Getting these timings right can also help with separation anxiety. Dogs are naturally inclined to rest after a walk and food (given after a suitable interval depending on prior exertion). If you have to leave your dog at home alone, plan your daily routine so that they are walked and fed before you go. Quite obviously a dog that doesn’t need to go to the toilet or isn’t hungry will be more likely to stay calm when alone. But it also means your dog can allow him or herself to be less alert, safe in the knowledge that this is now quiet time.

It doesn’t take long for an adopted dog to get used to a routine as long as it is consistent, and interruptions avoided for the first few weeks. However, always expect that any break in your dog’s routine, even after it is settled, is likely to lead to excitement at best and anxiety at worst. Being prepared and planning ahead is the best way of dealing with this.

Our lives don’t always lend themselves to rigid routine, and there will always be occasions when we for some reason have to break them. This does not have to be a big problem, because dogs don’t see daily routines as a whole. Rather they react to events that foretell the next step in their schedule. You may have noticed how your dogs will jump up ready for a walk even before you have got up off your chair. They are reading tiny little cues such as that “I’m finishing off this email”-sigh, or the way you say “Right!” to yourself when you’re about to see to the dogs. Eddie always jumps up when I close my laptop lid – this usually means he will get to go for a walk or get fed.

These cues incite our dogs to pester us for food and walkies, but we can also use them to encourage calm. It is about keeping the routine, but in bite-size, mobile chunks. If I have to leave Eddie and Cassie alone for any period of time I always walk and feed them first – even if it may only be a short walk and snack – whatever the time of day. This signals to them that it is time to rest; like the dogs in the kennels, they know that nothing particularly exciting is likely to happen now, and they can rest without remaining alert. I have also noticed how they react to cues in a similar way on car journeys. If the car reaches a certain speed and steady pace, they lie down quietly – nothing is happening, we’re on our way. As soon as I slow down, and start turning, however, their heads pop up – are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

With a bit of thinking and creativity we can reproduce cues from our dog’s daily routines to modify behaviour effectively at other times. For example, having a bed-time routine can be very useful when staying away with your dogs. Ours is the dogs being let out for a pee, and then going to their bed, and getting a final good-night cuddle. Repeating this makes them feel safe and calm for the night wherever we are.

Settling down in a new hotel room.

We can also make commands such cues – “go back to bed” means “there is nothing to see here, calm yourselves down and stay quiet” in our household. Indeed, all commands work best if the become routine for the dog – I have talked elsewhere about having found that conditioning with positive reinforcement being the most effective way to train recall. Making commands routine means, of course, using them regularly, indeed, every day. Again I find an argument for the fact that training dogs is not something you ever finish, but an ongoing way of being with your dog.

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6 comments:

Finn said...

It's interesting about the car. Yesterday I was waiting too long in a drivethru, and I turned off the car. Finn got over near the door like it was time to leave the car. She was a little confused when we sat there and waiting, and then turned on the car again. They are so smart!

tubby3pug said...

I love this post. I agree that routine is pretty much the most important thing for a dog. I think the happiest dogs live with people who have a real understanding of how important routine is to a dog

rumpydog said...

It is amazing how each morning we go for a walk, but when we walk by the car the dogs stop at the door as if to get inside. We walk EVERY day but ride only on occasion. Great post!

Wyatt said...

Nice to meet you :)
We like the weekend routine! Car keys mean a car ride to a nice park and the coffee drive up, where we get biscuits...Wheeee!

Wyatt and Stanzie

houndstooth said...

I agree, and one of the things I love most about a Greyhound's track routine is how easy it makes it to train them once they're in a home. As long as we follow that schedule in the beginning, we can usually get them trained in no time, then we work on tweaking it so that they're on our schedule. I love how Bunny always knows that if I pick up the camera and my keys that she's going somewhere! She's usually right, too!

Jana Rade said...

They surely do! Mind you our guys like things out of the ordinary too, because in their case something different means something better than what the routine can offer.