We all have our daily routines. We get up, eat breakfast, go to work, eat lunch, come home, eat dinner, and so on. We do this day in and day out, five days per week. The weekends are a little more relaxed, so we typically have five consecutive days of virtually the same routine, followed by two days of doing things a little differently.
Much like us, our dogs also have routines. They get up, go outside to potty a few times per day, eat at least twice a day, take frequent naps, and so on.
Pets get accustomed to our routines. But what happens when your routine changes? Our pets are sensitive to our emotions and reactions, so if you come home at an unusual time, it throws off their routines as well.
Don’t get me wrong. Animals, especially dogs, love to greet you, no matter what time it is or how long you’ve been gone. But they might wonder why you’re home early if you haven’t explained it to them. Yes, they understand everything you’re saying. They sense our feelings and emotions on other levels, but they are perfectly capable of processing verbal information.
That’s why I believe you should talk to your animals just like you’d talk to any another person in your household. Whether the change is temporary (a vacation, a trip to the groomer) or permanent (retirement, new job, moving house), there are three things you should always communicate to your dogs:
1. What the change is, how long it will last, and how it will affect them
Your dogs need to know how their routines will change. For example, your new home might have a bigger backyard to play in, or be closer to the park. If you go on vacation, a pet sitter will come by several times a day to feed and walk them. If you’re getting a new family member, will they be here for a few weeks (in the case of a foster dog) or forever (a new dog or a baby)?
2. What your dogs should do during the change in their routine
Dogs love to have jobs. It gives them purpose to assist with things around the house. So be clear — without being unrealistic — about what you’d like their role to be. For example, if you are bringing a new foster dog into your home, ask your dog to help you in training the new dog.
Don’t tell your dogs, “Watch the house while we’re gone.” I never suggest this, because it puts pressure on the dog to stay on alert. It’s best to say something like, “Take long naps while I’m away today, because you do this better than any other dog.” Make the job easy for them and keep them calm!
3. Why the change is a good thing for your dog
Humans and dogs like to know, “What’s in it for me if I do this?” So explain the positive aspects of the change. For example, if your pup has a medical issue that requires a new prescription food, tell him that this new food will help him feel better and that, in turn, means the two of you will go on more walks.
Let’s use taking a vacation as an example. At least a month before you leave, explain your plans to your pups. Because animals live in the present, they view everything as happening “now.” So you’ll have to be specific that you’ll be going on vacation in 30 days. If they are going with you, let them know how you are getting there, how long it will take, and what to expect once they are there. If they are staying home, explain what the routine will be while you are away.
A few years ago I told our Schnauzers, Buzz and Woody, that my wife and I were going on vacation for seven days, but that their grandma and grandpa would take care of them.
Woody’s initial reaction was to sit down, look directly up at me, and let out the all-too-familiar Schnauzer “whoo-whoo-whoo.” This was his way of saying he wasn’t at all pleased with the fact that we were leaving and even more displeased that he wasn’t getting to go with us.
So I told Buzz and Woody the entire plan. I started by telling them that we couldn’t take them with us this time because Hawaii was too far away. I told them that grandma and grandpa would take good care of them, and that we’d call every night to see how they were doing. I told them that they needed to be on best behavior while we were away, and to help their grandma and grandpa take care of the house, so that we wouldn’t worry so much while we were gone. Lastly, I told them why this was a good thing for them, too. They would get to spend some time with their grandma and grandpa, who they don’t get to see very often, and get a lot of love and attention.
As a result, our Schnauzers both became more at ease. When we called each night from Hawaii to check in, my in-laws would tell us that the boys were great and they were enjoying being with their grandma and grandpa.
I know, it might seem crazy, but the next time you think change in your pet’s routine might have an adverse effect on them, try this technique and see how much better they handle the change. I bet you’ll be surprised!