By: Alex Semancik
Dogs are creatures of habit. Your four-legged family member thrives on a schedule and routine whether you realize it or not. According to Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian based in Fort Collins, Colorado, "Dogs thrive on a routine, in large part because they don't have to worry about what is or is not about to happen next." A set routine will reduce your dog s stress and anxiety levels. Understanding your dog and being patient with them is key. Establishing a routine with your dog can be quite simple:feed your dog at the same time every day, even on weekends, feed them in the same location and give them the same amount of food. Walk your dog or exercise them at the same time every day and keep their routine the same seven days a week. Consistency is key, and if you put in the time and effort you will notice a difference.
As important as schedules and routines are for your dog, change can be inevitable at times. People work, change jobs, move, get sick and even adopt other pets. All of these scenarios and more can potentially alter your pet's schedule. Just as a consistent schedule keeps your pet in the know of what's happening next, a change in schedule can stress your pet out. After taking the time to get your dog into a routine, you don't want to lose all the progress you've made! With family members going back to school, or work, autumn can be an especially stressful time for dogs.
Photo courtesy of Linda From-Gustafsson and Chillout Australian Labradoodles
Here are some tips to help your dog cope with sudden changes in schedule:
Plan Ahead- If you know there will be an upcoming change in your dog's schedule, anticipate it. Think of your dog's perspective. If your dog is used to a house full of people being around and suddenly, they have to spend large amounts of time alone they will get stressed. Try to think of ways that will help reduce your pet's stress levels and make the change in routine easier to cope with.
Gradual Changes- One way to ease your pet into a new routine is through gradual changes. If you've been feeding your dog at 9 a.m. for the past three months but suddenly you have to be at work by 8 a.m. and feed them at 7 a.m., try gradually moving the feeding time back. This is where planning ahead helps. If you wait until the last minute to make the switch the day before you start work, your dog will be eating two hours earlier than they're used to. They won't have a clue what is going on! However, if you take even a week before your schedule change and move your dog's feeding time up gradually, in half-hour increments or so, the change will feel much less drastic to them and in turn reduce their stress.
Exercise- Simply tiring your dog out with a walk or any other form of exercise before you leave them alone can be an effective way to reduce their stress. A sleepy dog is a happy dog. If they're sleeping they won't be stressed. Try adding a walk to your dog's routine to get some energy out of their system.
Distract- In the same vein as exercise, a distracted dog is a happy dog. If you have to start leaving your dog alone and they're not used to it, take their mind off you not being there. A new bone or toy is the dog version of giving a child an iPad and it will keep them busy for hours. If they're chewing on a toy, they won't be bored or anxious enough to chew up your shoes.
Know When to Seek Help- Although the above methods can help reduce your dog's stress and allow them to cope with changes in their routine, every dog is different and some have worse anxiety than others. It is important to be patient with your dog and give them time, but if you notice that your four-legged friend's anxiety and stress do not improve, you should consult your veterinarian for more options.