Establishing A Routine of Happiness

by Trini Gilmore

All dogs like to know what they can count on happening in their day and when they can expect it to happen. With a rescue who has previously found life to be inconsistent and confusing at best, and uncaring and abusive at worst, it is even more important to establish a routine that he/she can look forward to, no matter what. This is called their “routine of happiness”. Unlike people, dogs do not get tired of a schedule and want to take the weekends off. You can walk your dog on the same road every single day of the year, and to him each walk is an exciting adventure. He finds different smells to inhale, fresh foot prints to follow, and most important of all he is doing this activity with the person he loves. Over time, as you follow a set routine with him, he will come to accept that each day need not be filled with uncertainty and he will come to trust that all is OK in his world.

Some of the areas where a routine is good to establish include meal times, bedtime and getup time, special one on one time that involves no one else, and walk/game times. These are important for all pets, but doubly so for a rescue. He may not have been fed regularly, in fact some days he may not have been fed at all. He needs the security of knowing that you will never forget about him and let him go hungry. . . ever. A fairly regular bedtime and taking a moment to have some one on one time together just before bed are also important to his feelings of security. If he is new to you, it may have been a day filled with confusion for him and exasperation for you. Taking time to cuddle, if he is comfortable with being that close, and talking to him will help undo any fears that have been building over the day. Tell him how special he is and that he will always be safe and loved by you. True, he will not actually understand the words you are saying, but he will definitely understand the gentleness in your voice and hands and go to sleep knowing that all is well. When morning comes, make get up time a restatement of your love for him. Even if you are rushing to go to work, take a minute just for him, that one minute is worth a million in his eyes. And, as you walk out the door, say the words, “I will be back.” Gradually he will learn that those words are followed by your return. This gives him one more thing he can count on.

Walks and games are your fun times together. Pick the things that obviously bring your dog the greatest pleasure. Then, set up a convenient time that you can spend on these every day, a time that will be fixed just as are mealtime and bedtime. Remember, he cannot understand the concept of, “I am busy today and can’t take you for a walk until I have finished my work, or maybe not at all if I don’t get it finished”. All he knows is that the time of day for his special fun with you has arrived, and you are not spending it with him. These special times do not need to be long, a half mile walk together will bring just as much joy as a five mile walk, ten throws of a Frisbee will suffice even if normally you throw it forty times. The fact that you make the walk and throw the Frisbee is what is critical. . . it is really just one more way of telling him that he is important and you will not forget him. 

Once you have established these basic routines, and he is confident in his knowledge that every day he will have plenty of good healthy food, a safe place to sleep, and love and attention form you, you have given him the basis he needs to feel secure and happy. With rescue dogs, especially those who have suffered an awful life until you adopted them, the need for this level of reassurance may always be much higher than that of a dog who has never faced not having his basic needs met. 

In the wild, canines lead lives that are may seem boring to us, as each day is basically a repeat of the one before and the one to come. Their days involve sleeping, hunting, eating, grooming, play with any pups in the pack and sleeping again. And above all else, they need to feel that they belong in their pack, are accepted members and that order will be maintained by the pack leader. Our human world is a far cry from the world of our domestic dog’s ancestors and the wild dogs of today. In comparison, our world is crowded, noisy, and filled with uncertainty, and often without any direction… all traits that are very stressful to a dog. But we can minimize this stress and maximize their feeling of well being by giving them a routine that is fixed and repeats daily, a place in the family/pack that is honored by all the members, and a leader, us, that they can count on to keep their world in order.

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