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4 Reasons Your Dog Needs a Routine

What’s your morning routine? Maybe you wake up and work out, hop in the shower and make a pot of coffee. Or maybe your morning consists of getting the kids out of bed and preparing them for a day of school. Daily routines help us organize our lives and stay on track.

Dogs can benefit from established routines, too. “Dogs thrive on a routine, in large part because they don’t have to worry about what is—or is not—about to happen next,” says Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian based in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Here are four ways a routine can benefit your dog.

1. Routines can help reduce anxiety

As with many humans, a lot of variability in a dog’s daily routine can lead to stress and anxiety, according to Dr. Andrew Moffatt, medical director of VetnCare, which is part of the Petco veterinary network. This, in turn, can result in:

  • Reduced appetite
  • Less social behavior
  • Changes in normal potty routines
  • Over-grooming
  • Vocalization
  • Aggression
  • Destructive behavior

Dogs like predictability, especially when it comes to their basic needs of food, shelter and safety.

“Like all living beings, safety and survival are of primary importance,” says Jeb Cadwell, a certified canine behavior consultant with California-based “I Said Sit!” School for Dogs. “A routine establishes a predictable stream of information about the primary resources. This information reduces stress and opens the door for the dog to move on to enjoying life beyond mere survival.”

2. Routines help with house-training

When it comes to house-training a puppy or dog, regularity is essential. “Consistency of schedules and routines is especially important when the dog is first learning associations about where to potty and where not to potty,” says Cadwell. Taking your puppy out soon after they eat, drink, play and/or wake up is key to reducing accidents.

Sticking to regular bathroom times once your pet is housetrained can also help prevent accidents. “A dog who is feeling a degree of urgency is much more likely to hold it if he knows that he’s going to have an opportunity to relieve himself soon,” adds Coates. But be sure to maintain attention your pet’s physical behavior.  Outdoor times may need to be adjusted if you have strayed from your normal feeding schedule or food or treat type or your pup simply has an upset tummy.

3. Feeding routines fan help prevent weight gain

Leaving food out for your dog all day long can lead to overeating and weight gain. That’s why routine feeding times are recommended.

“If your dog is used to eating a set amount of food in the morning, a set amount in the evening and let’s say three small treats scattered throughout the day, he’s less likely to beg, and you’re less likely to help him cheat,” says Coates.

4. Routines help with training

As you teach your dog behaviors and tricks, choose your hand signals and/or verbal commands, then stick with them. “Consistency is the key to all types of training,” says Coates. “A dog who receives the same cues and results every time will learn in no time.”

And remember that all family members need to be on the same page during dog training. “When everyone in the house is consistent with the same set of rules for the dog, you reduce the risk of the dog getting confused, giving up and making his own rules,” says Cadwell.

How to set a routine that works for you and your dog

When setting up a routine for your dog, doing so slowly can help your pet adjust as you begin building expectations, says Petco Positive dog trainer Darris Cooper.

“Establish a new routine over a few weeks or even months—not overnight, as that can be a shock to their system and a lot for a puppy or dog to adjust to,” Cooper cautions.

Cooper recommends introducing changes slowly and keeping them consistent. The more time you have to accustom your dog to an upcoming change in routine, the more likely it it is that they’ll feel comfortable and will succeed. Additionally, it’s important to keep all new routines as positive as possible for your pet. For instance, start practicing now if you know you’ll soon be leaving home for longer stretches. Make more frequent short outings and give your dog a chew when you leave to create a positive association with your departure.

Although routines are helpful, it’s important to remember to remain flexible so that your dog can be ready for changes.

“The dog must be able to function when the routine is broken. In order to move through life without unnecessary stress, a dog must be adaptable,” says Cadwell, who recommends making small adjustments to the timing of schedules or adding variations to a dog’s routine starting at an early age.

Learn more about how to establish a routine with your pet from Dr. Moffatt and Darris Cooper.