Establishing Boundaries, Routines, and Predictable Schedules

Physical health and a stable emotional state determine the behavioral wellness of animals. Vet visits are an essential part of responsible dog ownership. Deliberate care of our dog’s emotional lives is equally important to their well-being. Dogs are the ultimate creatures of habit. They thrive on structure in the environment and predictability in their lives. As their guardians, it is our responsibility to set the boundaries and order in the household. It is a comfort to our dogs when we maintain those boundaries and keep order. When benevolent leadership on the part of the human is unclear or lacking, dogs become stressed.  This is the source of many undesirable behaviors.

Establishing Boundaries

Most dog owners are kind people with good intentions. This does not mean that the dog gets a free pass to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Left to their own devices, dogs will explore their new environment by peeing, pooping, and chewing their way through your home.  A newly-landed dog – at any age – has not earned the privileges of roaming in all areas of the house. Dogs are scavengers and opportunists by nature, but that does not excuse rude habits. Who wants the dog to snag his sandwich off the table or use her belongings or person as chew toys? Who wants to be the invisible human at the other end of the leash?  Without boundaries, the door is wide open to these – among many other – behaviors. 

The use of management techniques (access to space and potty/chewing preferences) and a rudimentary education in canine learning will serve you well. Teaching your dog to respond reliably to a handful of basic obedience cues will develop a bond of trust and respect between you. This is a simple, but proven formula for human/canine harmony.

Routines and Predictable Schedules

Feeding and elimination (housetraining) routines can – and should – be set up as soon as the new puppy or dog arrives. Diminished appetite is common with a change of environment. The dog will eat when he begins to acclimate to his new home. It is best to offer meals at specified times, such as 6 – 7 AM and 5 – 6 PM. Free feeding, i.e. leaving food always accessible, is not helpful:  predicting potty trips is very difficult and the dog’s food, which is a primary motivator, loses that value.   At mealtimes, give your dog her food and allow 15 – 20 minutes for consumption. Regardless of leftovers, pick up the food and place it in an inaccessible spot. It may take several days, but your dog will adapt to this routine. Offer water at meals, with treats, after exercise, or whenever you wish. Observe when your dog takes water, so you know when he needs to go to his potty area.

Controlling input makes it easier to predict output. Successful housetraining depends on a structured routine and predicting when your dog needs to eliminate. This routine allows you to have your dog in the right place at the right time. A fully housetrained dog prefers to eliminate outdoors and will endure discomfort until he gains access there. Puppies and young dogs that are not, actually, fully housetrained are not equipped to “tell” you when they want to go to their potty place. More likely, they have learned that sitting/pawing/barking at the door, results in owner attention and access to outdoor space.

Playing with their humans is a highlight of a dog’s life. Set aside time each day to PLAY WITH YOUR DOG. Several five minute sessions of fetch and/or tug can be sufficient. Walks do not have to be marathons, just regular and predictable activities that your dog can happily anticipate. In providing direction to our dogs, we take the lead and initiate mealtimes, trips to the potty place, play, walks, and other activities.

Boundaries, routines, and predictable schedules make life with a dog more manageable and enjoyable. Each dog has his own set of temperament traits and default behaviors. Confident dogs, especially, need boundaries to avoid learning that overbearing habits and/or unruly behaviors work well for them. Timid and anxious dogs need routines and predictability to feel comfortable looking to their humans for direction and to reduce stress.

Whether you have a new puppy, an energetic adolescent, or an adult dog, life is better for all when you learn to recognize and reduce stress in your animal. Stress signals include heavy panting and salivation, excessive chewing, and generalized restlessness and vocalizing. Anyone with a thunderstorm phobic dog readily recognizes these symptoms. Other stress signals are wrinkles on the top of the head (a furrowed brow), sweaty paw pads, tongue flicking, self-grooming and yawning that seem out of context, and over (hyper)-activity.

©Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2018 All rights reserved.
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC