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Dogs need a routine

I’ve had multiple people ask for my advice on the same problem – their dogs were going to the bathroom indoors for no apparent reason after being housebroken for years.

People hope for some kind of magical solution or an easy explanation for their dogs’ behavior problems. They also suggest that the dogs misbehave as a way of getting back at them for something.

As convenient as it is to believe a dog does certain things to “get back” at her owner, that is giving the dog way too much credit. Dogs are not capable of plotting against us, and believing otherwise is unfair to the dog.

If there’s not a physical problem (bladder infection, etc.) causing the dog to have “accidents,” the cause is more than likely related to a change in the dog’s routine or a lack of structure to begin with.

If you really think about it, most issues with a dog’s behavior can be traced back to a point where something changed in her routine. Maybe someone in the family took on a second job. Maybe you’ve been traveling a lot or you got a new pet. Maybe your boyfriend moved out or you bought a new house. All of these can be very stressful on a dog.

The unwanted behavior could be caused by something as simple as the weather got colder – or rainier or icier or muddier – and you stopped walking as much. Maybe you’re just stressed about something, and your dog knows it and is also feeling stressed as a result.

A stressed dog will act out of character. She might start showing signs of “separation anxiety” such as crying or howling when left alone. She might start chewing on rugs or going to the bathroom in the house. She might become more territorial, possessive of her owner, more vocal or more aggressive.

All of these issues can be fixed as long as the owner makes the decision to be the one in control. Being the one in control means maintaining a routine for the dog.

What’s the best routine for a dog?

There is no perfect routine for dogs, but they do thrive when they get consistency. Like people, dogs love excitement and adventures, yet it’s stressful for them if they aren’t given leadership and structure.

A dog wants to know where she is expected to rest when her owner is gone, when she will eat and when she will be walked.

Providing a kennel or dog bed

Most dogs do better if they are confined to a kennel, one room or one level of the house while their owners are away. It makes the dog feel better to know, “OK, this is where I’m supposed to be. No pressure.” Even if the dog is allowed full range of the house, she will most likely choose her bed or the couch or a quiet corner to curl up in until her owner returns.

If your dog is going to the bathroom in certain areas of the house, you can try confining her to a different room or blocking off that portion of the house, but kennel training the dog is often a better option.

Dogs need specific meal times

I highly recommend that all dog owners stop “free feeding” their dogs. Dogs want to work for their food, and it should always be used as a reward – not a freebie.

Feeding at specific meal times is one of the easiest ways to enforce leadership and keep the dog’s body on a consistent schedule. If your dog eats the same amount at the same times every day, you’ll know exactly when she needs to go to the bathroom. You’ll also prevent her from becoming overweight or underweight.

Walking the dog daily

If you walk the dog when it’s most convenient for you, you will be more likely to follow through. I’ve started walking Ace in the late afternoon or early evening because I like to relax in the morning. If you like to take it easy after work, then make sure to get the walk taken care of earlier.

We all know that providing enough exercise for our dogs prevents most issues, so it’s important not to slack off on walking. If you have a dog with separation anxiety, a consistent exercise routine is an absolute must. Make sure you’re walking her every day for at least an hour. If your dog is suddenly having “accidents,” make sure to walk with her before leaving the house so you can make sure she actually “does her business.” If you are unwilling to walk your dog every day, then hire a dog walker or dog runner like me 🙂

When it’s colder out, a lot of dogs will not fully relieve themselves or they’ll try to hold it in order to get back inside quicker. This is yet another reason to make sure to walk the dog even in the winter, especially before you are going to be gone.

Specific bathroom times

Some dogs will ask to go outside when they need to. Others will never ask to go out, like my mutt. If you keep your dog on a consistent routine with meals, exercise and bathroom breaks at the same times every day, you’ll know exactly how often your dog will need to go outside regardless of whether or not she lets you know.

What’s included in your dog’s routine?

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Brianna

Friday 16th of August 2013

Misty is 6 months old and she was having problems pooping outside and it was odd that she was peeing outside with no problem so I took her to the vets yesterday and they did blood work on her and they had to do emergency surgery on her because she had parasites eating her blood and pervented her from growing the way she should be and pooping outside and now she's pooping outside I just thought she was just having some type of behavioral problem so I'm glad that vet visit saved her life

Missy

Friday 12th of April 2013

Great article- my boyfriend and I have 2 rescue pups (1 and 2 yrs old) and they are both terrier mixes. I am strict with begging (not allowed),making sure they are sleeping in their kennels at night and being a pack leader for them, yet my other half pretty much lets them do what they want. Is there a way to train him? I believe he attaches "human" feelings to them and feels sorry when they have to be kenneled or beg for food when he eats. He thought it was amusing when they were puppies that they "arfed" at strangers (and would allow them to do so) but now they are obnoxious with compulsive barking at strangers, dogs, etc. He does not really grasp that they indeed are animals that need guidance. Any suggestions?? :)

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 14th of April 2013

How frustrating! Maybe he just needs to hear it from someone other than ou, someone neutral. Why not send him a few of my posts? Or, hire a trainer to come talk with the two of you. Here is a good post on why I think leadership is important for dogs: http://www.thatmutt.com/2009/01/14/how-to-lead-a-dominant-dog/

Harpriya

Thursday 20th of September 2012

Hi, your blog seems to be very informative about dogs. We just got a black lab. He's now 4 months old. Can't seem to set his morning routine. He wakes up every morning at 5 am and starts barking. It's too early out here to take him for a walk as it's still dark. But he doesn't let us sleep after that. Finally, we give him milk at 6 am and then take him for his walk. How can I get him not to wake up at 5 am or atleast not wake US up at that time??? And also, not sure if we should be giving milk at 6 am before his walk?? He gets his first big meal of the day at 8 am. Should we skip the milk and just give him his big meal at 8 am???..Thanks Harpriya. India.

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 21st of September 2012

You want to teach him that he only gets to get out when he is quiet first. So, the best way to do this is to get him up before he starts barking. Unfortunately that means you will have to get up early for awhile. Then, slowly start getting up a few minutes later each day, but only going to get him up if he is quiet. This will break his habit of barking for attention. If he does bark, at least wait until he is quiet for a few seconds or a minute before you go to him.

Jazz

Saturday 11th of June 2011

Actually my dog is loosing lot of hair... And I feel maybe it is because of lack of a routine of meal times. The point is I am not able to give my pet much time and so I am dependent on my maid for her grooming. But on the other hand we feed her with lamb and rice in the morning, biscuits in the afternoon and milk and chapati at night. I am a little unsure about wether we are giving her sufficient food and that to right number of times in day or not???

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 12th of June 2011

That would be a good question for your vet. A lot of dogs have allergies to grains, so your dog might do better on a grain-free dog food rather than a lamb and rice food. You may also want to stop the biscuits and the chapati. Most dogs I know eat twice per day, but that is mostly for the convenience of the humans.

James Frank

Friday 31st of December 2010

Great tips Lindsay. I have a bad habit of walking my dog on an inconsistent schedule. (Missing days, walking her at different times, etc.) Thanks for the reminder.