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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  1. Jan on March 2, 2010

    Good suggestions as always.

    The only one I have problems with is the “free feeding.” One of my dogs had a brief bout with hunger before I got her and she has never forgotten it. She’ll whine pitifully if her bowl is empty and then smile and go away when I fill it. OK, I’m the staff. 🙂

  2. Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 2, 2010

    Ha! As long as you are aware of it! Sounds like my cat, Beamer.

  3. Biggie-Z on March 2, 2010

    Biggie needs routine for sure. He knows his crate, gets 2 meals a day at (roughly) set times, and does very well with it. So long as they have structure to their day, it **almost** doesn’t matter what the structure is. Biggie is much more comfortable when I leave for work on a weekday (and I’m going for 12 hours) than when I randomly run out for an hour or two on a weekend.

    Biggie even knows the days of the week, because certain days he goes to day care (and gets fed before we go), and other days we go to the dog run, and he gets fed after we come home.

    Any time he starts acting up, I know it is because our schedules are wacky.

  4. Kate on March 3, 2010

    Nice read! I definitely agree in giving them a kennel or a dog bed. It’s easier to manage their behaviour if you use such tools.

  5. Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 3, 2010

    Interesting that Biggie is more comfortable when you leave for work during the week than he is if you go somewhere on a weekend. Makes sense!

    Thanks Kate! Glad you agree!

  6. Ty Brown on March 3, 2010

    This is a great post. If more people understood this there would be far fewer problems. I preach this stuff all day long.

  7. Ty Brown on March 3, 2010

    Your post got me thinking some more. Over the years I’ve probably had 100 or more untrained dogs come into my home for training. I’ve never once had a dog go to the bathroom in the house and I’ve never once had anything destroyed (chewed, dug, etc.) and it is 100% because of what you’ve written in this post. Good stuff, I’m hoping people are paying attention.

  8. Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 3, 2010

    Good point! It’s all about who’s in charge. Impressive that you’ve never had a dog go to the bathroom in your house. Wish I could say the same – but it’s always my fault, never the dog’s.

  9. Sarah Espinoza-Sokal on March 4, 2010

    Hi Lindsay! Just wanted to let you know that I’m really enjoying your blog. I’m planning on getting a puppy this summer (first dog since going away to college) and I’ve found your posts to be a great source of information that’s congruent with my perspective on dog ownership. This one in particular is just a great example of exactly what I mean. Really great insights on how to provide a dog with what they need to be happy in our homes.

  10. Apryl on March 4, 2010

    I constantly tell hubby this about Gus – he needs a routine. Unfortunately, I don’t get to spend as much time with Gus so hubby is not the most disciplined pack leader. I won’t even get in to the baloney behavioral issues we have nowadays!

  11. Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 5, 2010

    Ha … although Josh doesn’t spend much time with Ace, at least he is a pretty consistent leader to Ace when they are together. He never walks him or trains him, but he is pretty good at not letting Ace get away with things like begging, barging down the stairs, barking, etc.

  12. Beth Therriault on March 8, 2010

    My border collie Tobi is a true creature of routine. He’s a rescue dog, & I believe that consistent routine gives him the structure to help him feel secure. Its walks at the same time every day, and even bed time at the same time. Its as if he knows its 9:30 and time for the teens to go to bed…he’ll actually come herd them to go upstairs. And yet, he also seems to understand the difference in the days…Saturday is dump morning, and don’t think Tobi doesn’t know it. He’s ready before we are! Nice blog, I like it!

  13. Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 8, 2010

    Thanks, Beth! My dog likes to go to bed at the same time every night, too. He also will wake up at the same time every day. But if he sees that I’m sleeping in, he has no problem sleeping a bit longer, too.

  14. kara on March 17, 2010

    Hi. I just adopted a black lab/hound mix from the shelter. She’s very mellow and sweet and loves to go running with me. She has some bad habits that I’m trying to change, so I’m so thankful I found your blog. There are so many helpful tips here! Thanks.

  15. Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 18, 2010

    Glad I could help. Good luck with your new dog! Let me know if you have any questions.

  16. James Frank on December 31, 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.

  17. Jazz on June 11, 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 Author on June 12, 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.

  18. Harpriya on September 20, 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 Author on September 21, 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.

  19. Missy on April 12, 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?? 🙂

  20. Brianna on August 16, 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