When life throws us a curveball we feel uncomfortable, nervous, and sometimes, even scared. One of the things making life difficult around the world during this pandemic is uncertainty and the disruption to our daily routines. Humans go through life with routine, we get up, go to work, come home, and have regular activities. We know exactly when to do something and where something is. It has been proven that those with a routine lead a more productive lifestyle. But the more routine we have built into our lives the more uncomfortable we can feel when it’s disrupted. Often, that’s because strong routines can leave us unflexible and unable to adapt to change quickly.
Our dogs also have routines, ones that we have created for them. They know when breakfast (and dinner) is, when to get us out of bed, and when its time for a walk. Most even know Thursday evening means class or Monday afternoon means a visit to the retirement home. They may not be able to tell time, but they notice the little predictors leading up to an event that says “routine” for them. When you put on your shoes you are leaving, when you pick up the leash they get to go too. Something exciting happens whenever the doorbell rings, visitors mean even more excitement. We are often told dogs thrive in routine when in reality routine can create dogs that are more excitable and unable to cope with change. A common complaint is when the dog won’t let their owner sleep in on the weekend. In reality that early wake-up time is a routine we created.
Routine means predictability and predictability often leads to anticipation. Anticipation can be both positive (your favorite band live in concert) or negative (a trip to the dentist). Sometimes that anticipation can be bigger than the event itself! Our dogs are the same, they feel the anticipation of a walk when you pick up the leash (excitement) or pull into the parking lot at the vet (fear).
Let’s go back to that curveball and make it a four-legged one. You are on your regular walk, at the regular time, on your regular path. You have a dog that is either afraid of other dogs or wants to play with all of them so you pick a time and place where it is unlikely you will meet anyone else out with their dog. You round a corner and there is a large dog out for a walk with his owner. He’s across the street, but visible. He doesn’t bark, in fact there is no indication he even knows you are there. He continues on with his owner, but your dog? Whether they are fearful or excited they may display many of the behaviors labeled as “reactive”. He may start barking, lunging, pulling on the leash, or picking something else at random. While there are many things that can help your dog make better choices when faced with that other dog, one of the places to start is by Ditching the Routine.
Ditching the Routine is all about becoming unpredictable, training your dog to be unfazed by new events, and them learning to be flexible when things change. We want to change things up, so breakfast isn’t at the same time every day, shoes on doesn’t mean you are leaving, and the leash doesn’t always mean we are going for a walk. It’s easy to think of routine as being about time, but it’s about so much more.
Define the Ditch!
Our top five things that are either a routine or the predictor of a routine.
It’s not just about when, but for how long. Length can be how long the walk or session was, or simply how long you asked your dog to sit or stay on their boundary before being released.
Train in different places, and remember, this can be as simple as using a different room. You can also change up the arousal level with the location during day to day life. Try practicing calm behaviors where you normally do exciting things, or vice versa.
This is a big one! Rewarding for good behaviors is about so much more than food! Are you using toys, praise? How are you rewarding, fast, slow, direct to mouth, catch?
Certain noises really get our dogs excited, like a knock at the door. Start making them unexciting and get a little crazy! Clap your hands or talk to an imaginary friend at random times.
The leash, shoes, keys, are just some of the things that lead to anticipation. Try picking things up and putting them back down, storing them in a different location, or just picking them up/putting them on and sitting back down on the couch.
Are we excited?
When your dog is anticipating an activity ask yourself if you can lower their anticipation
by introducing it a different way or do something else instead.
As you Ditch the Routine you'll find that your dogs will become calmer, more confident, optimistic, and flexible. Over the next few weeks will be using social distancing as an opportunity to help you learn how to Ditch the Routine more easily. We’ll have a different tip, trick, game, or challenge for you to try out in your own home. All you need is to follow us on Facebook. Who’s with us?
Owner, Head Trainer