Ditch the routine for a calmer, happier pup

Do you have a dog that barks when you’re getting ready to go for a walk? Or that whines when you’re in the car? Or that goes ‘on strike’ when you’re trying to head out of a park and just puts the brakes on? Ditch the routine and this could help.

Old school dog training – things have moved on!

I grew up with ‘old school’ dog trainers and I remember hearing about how it’s good for dogs to have a routine. Basically – ‘they know what’s coming and when, and this is good for them’. Not so!!

The problem is that routine creates a puppy or dog that struggles to be flexible. If they don’t get fed or walked at the time they are used to, they can let anticipation build up and get frustrated. Or anxious or over-excited. And then this can lead to barking, chewing, or other destructive or disruptive behaviours. Or when you do take them out walking, perhaps they are lunging at people or barking at other dogs. Or just not able to walk calmly on the lead beside you.

Creating a flexible pup

A flexible pup is a good thing; sometimes you can’t always do the same things at the same times. Life gets in the way. Plus, how much easier is it to have a pup that isn’t controlling the household timetable. You’ve probably got enough things to deal with in life without a demanding dog! Recently I was chatting to a lady with two Basset Hounds. (When out walking our dogs we always end up talking to other dog people don’t we!) And she said on the dot of 6pm her dogs would woof like crazy if she didn’t have their food out on time. And those are big barks! It’s time to ditch the routine.

Dogs are efficient animals

Dogs are efficient and will try and predict what’s about to happen; this creates anticipation. It might be something exciting that they’re looking forward to. But it also might something that they find stressful (and we might not even be aware of this). Either way, too much anticipation isn’t a good thing. If your pup is prone to pulling on the lead, barking at squirrels, reacting to other dogs or joggers. Or is a bit hit and miss with their recall (or any other behaviour that you’d probably rather they didn’t do), their state of anticipation and increased arousal. (This is a professional term so no need for sniggering 😊) is likely to be a factor. If you can reduce the stress of anticipation, you can help them approach anything in a calmer, more relaxed state. This means they’ll be able to make better decisions.

It’s useful even just not letting them out as soon as you get up, or at the same time. This excludes puppies or any dogs with toilet training needs! Sometimes I’ll let Bodie out when I first get up, sometimes I’ll make tea, go back to bed for a while, or sit down to work. And then let him out a little later. He’ll let me know if he really has to go out, but it means he doesn’t get the chance to get used to any specific patterns so that’s he’s anticipated when it’s about to happen.

Look at visual triggers

There’s a whole series of visual triggers that could be building up your pup’s anticipation of going for a walk or just leaving the house (quite possibly one of the highlights of his or her day). Even if you don’t walk at the same time each day, you might not think of all the little signals that you’re giving before you even pick up a lead or put on their harness. What about the more subtle signs. Such as shutting down the laptop, locking the back door, moving towards your keys, changing your shoes. All signals your pup could well pick up on and be getting them more and more excited about what might be about to happen.

So, what can you do?

  1. There are all sorts of things that you can do to stop your pup picking up on routine signals that lead to getting over-excited before you go out for a walk.
  2. Can you actually change any of the times of day that you go out? I know this can be difficult, if you’re walking before you head to work or go on the school run, but it’s worth thinking about any small ways that you can vary your routine.
  3. In addition to changing the timing of your regular walks, what else can you do differently to ditch the routine?

To ditch the routine here’s a list to get you started, but what else can you add?

  • Picking up keys and putting them down again without anything else happening. Turn this in to a non-event.
  • Picking up your pup’s harness/lead/collar and not putting them on your pup.
  • Picking up the harness/lead/collar and putting them on your pup and taking them off without going anywhere, or just going into the garden.
  • Places to walk to. Think of going in different directions when you leave the house. How much can you chop and change the walking routes?
  • Driving different routes to parks, beaches or woods. Dogs will recognise the routes you take on a regular basis and their anticipation will start to build.
  • Searching out different places to go. It’s so easy to just head the places we know but it’s good for us as well to experience new things. Some of them are hidden treasures. I’ve picked up some great recommendations from other dog owners in each new space I visit with my pups.
  • Get them in the car and get them out again without going anywhere (so that even getting in a car isn’t so much of an event).
  • Types of walks – lead on, lead off, long line on, open spaces, gated dog parks, wooded trails, beaches, canals, pavements, busier areas. What have you got that’s around you and how can you use it?
  • Vary the length of time that you’re out walking or in the park.
  • Taking the lead off at different times when you’re out (and it’s safe to do and you know your pup’s recall is 100% reliable) – not just when you enter the park, you can walk part way before taking it off.
  • Putting the lead (or long line) on part way through your walk for a while and then taking it off again. This stops them thinking that having the lead go on means the end of the ‘fun part of the walk’.
  • Not actually going out for walk at all! Use the time for some tiring training games in the house or the garden. You’ll be really building the relationship you have with your pup. Plus, this can help all sorts of behavioural issues, just contact me if you want any specific recommendations on which games to start with.

Ditch the routine and 24/7 training

Training is something that is happening 24/7. Not just when you go to a puppy or dog training class or make a conscious decision to ‘do some training’. Any of these little steps above can help your pup be more flexible in their thinking, helping them be calmer in lots of different situations.

If you’d like some dog training help in Twickenham, Teddington, Hampton, Hampton Hill, Richmond and surrounding areas, please get in touch.

© 2019 Pup Talk by Niki French