Getting Routine Right

When I do a behaviour consultation or training session, I assess the dog’s life from all angles, and this always involves looking at their routine. Often to help dogs respond to behaviour modification I suggest tweaking their routine. These tweaks give consideration to the natural behaviour of the dog as a species and their physiology and health (and how it can be affected by routine).

Here are some of the things I look at and why:

SLEEP & REST
😴 Dogs as a species should be getting approximately 14-18 hours of rest and sleep (16-20 hours sleep for puppies) a day. This isn’t a random figure plucked from no where. Observations of free ranging dogs show that they spend the majority of their day doing very little. Another study found that dogs who achieved more than 14 hours of rest and sleep engaged in fewer behaviours associated with stress.
Lack of rest/sleep can result in impaired cognitive ability, irritability, sensitivity or even apparent hyperactivity- so getting adequate sleep is hugely important to all species, including our dogs.
😴 It’s important that rest is quality. We all know how it feels to get an interrupted nights sleep right? Too frequent interruption from home (or work place) activity, door activity (doorbell setting them off), external noises etc can have long term implecations on a dog’s mental (and even physical) health.
😴 There is such thing as over compensating and doing too much of what we perceive to be a good thing. Too frequent interruption from well meaning dog walkers, owners, neighbors etc can have a detrimental effect due to interrupting rest and preventing quality sleep. Following an event (someone visiting or a walk) dogs need the opportunity for getting 2.5-3.5 hours of quality rest and sleep. That said, consider also the dogs who react at every noise or who follow their owners’ every move. Are these guys getting quality sleep?

ALONE TIME
🚪 Dogs are Polyphasic Sleepers which means that after 2.5-3 hours of rest they will start to get up and move around (Have a think about where crates with closed doors fit into that!) Often, in the daytime, after this duration of rest dogs may become ready to do something. Their exercise and social routine should be planned taking this into consideration. Naturally, after a good walk and in an environment that promotes quality rest, providing a dog copes well alone then they will often rest for an extra hour or so- but around 4-5 hours they are almost certainly ready for something to happen.
🚪 One study found that dogs left around 2.5-4 hours alone (providing they could cope) showed the fewest stress related behaviours. We should carefully plan the amount of time our dog’s spend alone, using dog walkers, friends or our lunch breaks as a way of breaking up their day.
🚪We should also look at the total amount of time in the day a dog is left alone, and that on days where this is longer than normal- the time we do spend with them is quality, stimulating (in a good way, ie not over stimulating) and enriching for them.

ACTIVITY
🐕Observations of free ranging dogs show they are often more active in the morning and mid afternoon – early evening. Exercise around these times may suit many dogs. I feel it is a big ask for a dog to spend all evening and all night resting and then be expected to do nothing until a walk can finally be accomodated into their carer’s schedule. Of course, some dogs don’t want a walk in the morning- which is fine. But we need to be ready to provide exercise (and the subsequent mental stimulation it brings) when a dog is ready to do something after a long period of rest.
🐕Often people over do dogs’ exercise, with the very best intentions of course. I’ve met some dogs who have had as many as 4-5 walks a day! This goes completely against their species specific activity budget. Of course, we have breeds who have been bred to do specific jobs- but few to no border collies herd sheep for 4 hours 7 days a week. I just don’t buy that reasoning.
In my opinion, assuming a dog has a garden to toilet in, 1-2 walks a day totalling 45-90 minutes (depending on breed/physical ability) is enough to keep most dogs fit and mentally stimulated.
🐕 I also look at the type of exercise, because many dog owners have a tendancy to love putting their dogs through high intensity exercise (ball games, running, cycling, playing with other dogs or allowing hunting/rampaging) on every, single walk. Alternatively breed specific tendancies or high arousal can cause some dogs to struggle to regulate their behaviour on walks. This amount of activity should be taken into consideraton when planning walk frequency and duration, because a working cocker spaniel may cover 8 miles at high speed while you walk 4 miles.
🐕 My observations are that dogs are more high alert in the dark. Whilst their eye sight is better than ours in the dark, it is still impaired in contrast to what it is in daylight. They often become more sensitive to movement and sound and in my opinion, are generally more reactive and vigilent. I therefor advise dogs are walked in daylight as much as possible.

FEEDING
Often this is where most tweaks are made.
🦴Too often I see dogs facing the world on an empty stomach. This low blood sugar levels and hunger could lead to irritability or anxiety (how do you feel when you’re hangry?). Of course, we don’t want dogs to get bloat (which can be fatal) and this needs to be taken into consideration when deciding feeding and walking times.
🦴Many dogs are given one meal a day which is just not sustainable when it comes to regulating blood sugar levels. I would be a really moody cow if I ate once a day and I don’t believe dogs are immune from experiencing negative emotional states when hungry. Why are we allowed multiple meals and dogs so few?
🦴The effects exercise has on the body impairs digestion for a period of time after. How long depends on the individual and the intensity of the exercise. I did a 14k mountain trail run with my mate the other day. I was able to eat 15 minutes after but she was physically sick after eating the same amount of food. That said, I also didn’t feel great and it was quite clear the duration and intensity of exercise had affected our digestion. How would our dogs communicate they felt queasy? Over time would they go off their food or become ‘picky eaters’? Perhaps some of them may develop licking behaviours as a means of alleviating this gastro discomfort?
If we want our dogs to utilise their food’s nutrients and digest efficiently I would not recommend feeding a dog a full meal on return from their walk, especially if that dog is highly active on their walks.
🦴Chewing! It’s totally under rated and too frequently under practised. I get that not all dogs like to chew (check their teeth before you take this as a given). But, it is a species specific behaviour and takes up a considerable amount of time in the free ranging dog’s daily activity budget. Chewing also has psychological benefits by increasing the inhibitory (calming) neurotransmittor GABA and the hormone (and neurotransmittor) dopamine. Dogs should chew every day in my opinion, and not all dogs want to invest time in chewing something they can’t swallow (like a stag bar). In the wild ingestion generally follows chewing so the two often go hand in hand.

MENTAL STIMULATION
🧠 The domestic dog didn’t choose us to keep them captive and we owe it to our dogs to make sure we provide them with adequate mental stimulation. This can be in the form of play, foraging games, food puzzles, chewing, grooming or training and I generally recommend trying to do at least one of these activities at least 3-5 days a week. It doesn’t have to be long winded and time consuming. Doing something is better than doing nothing- and you’ll form a great relationship with your dog as a result.

So, what’s my dogs routine? Obviously, our individual working schedules will all vary and I’m not suggesting everyone should mirror this exactly. But for those of you who are interested, this is what I do with my dogs and why. **Times are approximate**

7AM ⏰ Wake, Wee, Feed & Wee again. My dogs are hungry when they wake and I see no reason why they should wait.
9-11am ⏰ After 1.5 hours digestion my dogs go for a walk and this walk is generally 45 mins long, occassionally 1 hour long if Denzel isn’t with us. This walk always involves the car, which the dogs love! So it gets them out the house for a minimum of 1.5 hours incuding travel time.
11am ⏰ After 30 mins or so following their walk (including car travel time) they are usually given a small snack which helps regulate their blood sugar levels.
11am – 3pm ⏰ Rest and alone time (1-2 days a week I work from home in the daytime). Alone time is usually 2.5-4 hours long so they can rest adequately and I (or my dog walker) returns before they get too restless. It is very unusual for me to leave my dogs longer than 4.5 hours, but I do about twice a month. It is never more than 5.5 hours in duration.
3-4pm ⏰ Walk, approx 20-40 minutes (depending on if Denzel is with us).
4pm ⏰ Feed & wee. After a 30 minute or so rest I then feed my dogs. If I walk them earlier they can be fed as early as 3pm! This is because they are hungry and I have no reason to make them wait to the point of them becoming aggitated. Dogs don’t need to subscribe to our concept of ‘teatime’. Plus, I do think there is little reason to feed late. Dogs don’t need to be digesting a full meal at night time and sleep doesn’t require THAT much energy. I do feel that creating a fasting period is beneficial to health so the body can divert blood and energy elsewhere for cellular repair. So the longer my dogs can go without digesting (between dinner and breakfast) the better, in my opinion.
4-7pm ⏰ Rest or alone time
7pm ⏰ Wee, Chew, Play or Training. About 5-6 evenings a week they will get an activity (or sometimes two) as they are often more active after a rest and are looking for something to do. If I’m tired I usually bail out with a chew or some play time, and about 2-3 nights a week I do training that includes grooming/husbandry as part of social bonding. I am out 1-2 nights a week climbing and on these evenings they do not get an activity, but they will usually get a chew under supervision before I go. As chewing increases GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, I give my dogs chews at times in the day I want them to wind down.
*I do some training on their walks about 1 walk in 2 or 3**.
8pm- 10pm ⏰ rest/hang out (1-2 times a week it might be alone time)
10pm ⏰ Wee & Bed- All three of my dogs sleep in my bedroom with me because that’s where we all sleep best!

TOTALS
🍗 Meals x 2
🦴 Snacks x 2
🧠 Activity 0-2
🏃‍♂️ Walks x 2
💤 Rest & Sleep : 16-18 hours
Walk duration total: 1.15- 1.40 hours
Wee opportuities (inc walks) x 6
Alone Time: Ranges from 3-8 hours a day and at various times.

Flexibility 🤸‍♀️ Variation & Regulation
A too rigid routine is not a good idea. We need to build some flexibility into our dogs’ schedules, otherwise they may become anxious when life doesn’t go just so! Infact, too rigid routines have been correlated with an increase in anticipatory or stress related behaviours in captive animals (and let’s face it, most dogs are captive!). The times I’ve given are very approximate. Sometimes their walk and feed time can vary by as much as two hours. Tonight they had dinner 5.30pm and they were ok with that.
I also carefully regulate how many evenings in a week I am out working or climbing (my partying days are long, long gone). So, my dogs have my constant company at least two evenings a week, where I am home 4/5pm onwards and all evening. I try not to leave them alone in the evening if I’ve been out more than 4 hours in the day (the beauty of being self employed).
If I’ve been away on holiday (even just for a couple of days), I often schedule in 1-2 days where I’m mostly at home so I can restablish that sense of familiarity, security and social bonding with my dogs. In other words, I plan my activities and workload based around my dogs to ensure they are not left alone too much.
If I go running with Kanita & Roo then they have a 20-30 minute slow walk later that day and shorter walks the day after . Roo does a maximum of two runs a week (Kanita does maybe one a week, sometimes none!) with 2-3 days rest inbetween each run to allow his stress levels to come down and for any muscle soreness to recover. I don’t want my dogs to get fixed on a certain walk duration or walk pattern from day to day.

Remember- we are all individuals! You have your own lives with your own schedules and sometimes changes are just not possible despite our best intentions. But this is where we should be looking at whether external help can be involved if we feel we may be short changing our dogs.
Dogs are also individual. If they are elderly or in pain (like my Denzel) then they need less walks, and sometimes a day off from exercise entirely! Some dogs may be too scared to enjoy their walks or be a breed that mentally and physically requires less physical exercise. Some individuals or breeds may cope with more or less alone time than others, and whether they’re one of a multi dog household may also influence that.
Their individual behaviour and needs can also vary day to day. If my dogs have had an eventful day (like travelling to see my Grandma with me for the day) they’ll have a quiet rest day after. I personally struggle to give my other dogs a total day off walks (they REALLY love their walks), but we do a ‘short walk day’ where the total exercise for the day is about 30-45 minutes across one or two walks.

Routines have to accomodate our needs as well as our dogs’ species specific and individual needs. I hope this post gives some of you food for thought without coming across like it’s telling you to rearrange your lives based entirely on my suggestions.

NB: What chews do I give my dogs? Not dentastix that’s for sure! They have dried ears, pizzles, raw meaty bones and other animal body parts that are are not chemically treated nor processed in any way beyond drying/dehydrating! This basically means avoiding your classic plastic type rawhide (can treated with formaldehyde) or anything you cannot identify.