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Medically Reviewed by Veterinarian Angela Dwyer, DVM on January 18, 2018
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Welcome back to the blog, it’s Ash again. This morning, Janice and Leroy made a beeline for the door, and after bundling up against the cold, I let them outside. While they took care of their business, I made some coffee, and then followed them out to check on the hens. After a bit of rough-housing in the freezing air and a quick poke around the bushes where I suspect a critter is hiding winter food, we all trekked back indoors. Just like we do every other morning.
Later, after I finish up my work, it’ll be time to go back outside for more exercise – it’s a bit too cold to head to the dog park, but they still need a good run before it gets dark. After dinner, Janice and Leroy will want to go outside again and help me round up the hens and play a bit more, before cuddling up for some quiet time before bed. I can tell you exactly what’s going to happen, and the morning that I described for you could have been any morning for the last month – and that’s because we have a routine.
All Dogs Need a Routine
It may not always sound like fun to humans, who like spontaneity and surprises, but dogs thrive on routine. Building a schedule for your dog is a great way to help them retain their training better, avoid accidents and destructive behavior, manage anxiety, and just, in general, keep them happy and healthy.
In “9 Things Your Dog Wants You To Know”, we talked about the fact that dogs need routine. Dogs like to be on schedule. They prefer getting up at the same time every day, being fed at the same time every day, getting a similar amount of exercise every day, and so on. In “Top 7 Tips for Housebreaking Your Dog”, I mentioned that puppies operate on a very rigid schedule when it comes to needing to relieve themselves. They have a built-in schedule that you can nearly set your watch by between eating and needing to go out.
These two articles show the importance of dog routines from both angles. First, your dog likes routine because it helps give structure to their day and lets them know what to expect. That makes it easier for them to manage their behavior. Second, dog routines are essential to you, the owner, because it allows you to keep an eye on your dog’s health and behavior as well. It also ensures that you don’t get behind on giving your dog the care and attention they need when your life gets busy.
Clearly, dog routines are very important. But if you’ve never had to really create a schedule for every little part of a living creature’s day, you may not know what you should consider. So here are some tips for creating a dog routine that works every day.
Dogs Are Like Toddlers
When it comes to needing a daily routine, dogs are very much like toddler children. In fact, there have been studies that show that dogs operate at the same intelligence level as a toddler child. (they do share a lot of the same needs! For example, dog gates are often the same product as baby gates, because both need to be safely contained from time to time.)
So when you are creating a schedule for a dog, you’ll need to think about the same needs that a toddler generally has. Those include:
Using the bathroom
Getting regular exercise or playtime
Having regular medical check-ups
Educational time (For a dog, this would be training time.)
Interaction with others (For a dog, we call this socialization.)
Lots of attention
But how often should each of these things occur, and when should you schedule each of them? Part of that is going to depend on the age of your dog, and part will depend on your dog’s specific needs. Let’s break it down by puppy, low-energy adult, and high-energy adult. These schedules are merely suggestions, but they are backed by a lot of research and can help you create your own schedule that works for you and your dog.
Puppies need a lot more attention throughout the day than an adult dog will, and they’ll also need a lot more potty breaks. First thing’s first, though: in the morning, your dog will need to relieve herself. Heading outside right away teaches your dog to hold it during the night because she’ll know that a potty break is coming right away in the morning.
Next, most vets and dog trainers recommend feeding twice per day, to cut back on the chance of bloat and other issues. Feeding your puppy and giving them clean water while you get your coffee or breakfast is a good idea.
He’ll need to head back out about 15 minutes after eating, and that is also a good time to get in some exercise. A quick walk or playing in the yard gives your puppy attention, exercise, and a chance to use the bathroom.
Depending on your daily schedule, the rest of the day is up to you. You’ll need someone to let your puppy outside at least three times during the day – before lunch, at lunch, and after lunch – but that may not be you if you’re at work. Alternatively, some pet owners choose to let their puppy use training pads during the day. Puppies need naps during the day to get enough sleep, so be sure to have his bed or kennel available to him for some quiet time.
It’s a good idea to arrange certain days of the week for socialization and training times. This may mean heading to the dog park after work like I do with Janice and Leroy, or it may mean scheduling puppy play dates and going to professional training classes on the weekends.
When dinner time rolls around, you can feed your puppy his second meal of the day, and don’t forget that he’ll need to go out about 15 minutes after eating.
Finally, an evening potty break and some more attention and play time is a great way to finish off the day. Be aware that puppies need a specific bedtime routine to help them learn how you want them to act at bedtime. Just like a toddler, you may need to help him burn off some steam with a nighttime walk, then tuck him into bed,so he knows it’s time to sleep. Keep in mind that a puppy will need plenty of sleep for a healthy body.
Scheduling regular checkups with the vet is an important part of a dog schedule, especially for a puppy. They’ll need vaccinations and health check-ups to ensure that they stay healthy. Ask your vet about the best schedule for your dog based on their breed and health needs.
Grooming your puppy will depend on their breed and coat length, but it’s a good idea to set aside a once per week time slot to handle your puppy in the bath, handle his feet, brush his teeth, and trim any long toe hairs or whiskers. This gets him used to being groomed. Some breeds do need daily brushing due to being heavy shedders, so be aware of what your dog needs.
Creating an adult dog schedule is quite a bit easier than a puppy schedule, but it will still look pretty similar. After all, if you’ve had your dog since they were a puppy, this schedule will be what they understand.
Going outside first thing is still a good idea for all dogs, regardless of age or activity level. Feeding your dog twice a day may not be necessary if they are low-energy. They don’t need extra calories if they aren’t burning many calories through their activity level. Feed your dog either in the morning or at night, however it best suits your schedule.
It’s still important that your low-energy dog get at least some exercise, so be sure that you’ve got at least a quick walk or some outdoor play in your morning or evening. Letting your dog outside multiple times per day to use the bathroom is still important, but older dogs can often hold it during your work hours. Once in the morning, once when you get home, and once before bed can be sufficient for many dogs.
Keep in mind that your adult dog has the same needs as a puppy, just on a different scale. Daily attention, regular vet check-ups, regular training sessions to keep their memories sharp, and regular exposure to other dogs and people, are all important. For an adult dog with low energy, however, these things can be a little laxer. You may decide that one trip a week to the dog park is suitable for keeping your dog acclimated to other pets and people.
Your low-energy dog may do more sleeping than a high-energy adult dog. They may want naps during the day in addition to sleeping at night. Having their kennel or bed available during the day helps them rest when they want to. Grooming will depend on your dog’s needs, but a once-weekly teeth brushing is always advised for all dogs. It’s still a good idea to keep your dog acclimated to the feeling of their paws and tail being handled, so consider doing that when you brush their teeth.
For a high-energy adult dog, you’ll want to stick to a schedule that is very similar to a puppy schedule. Out in the morning, exercise in the morning, twice daily feedings, and midday potty breaks are all good ideas for an adult dog with a lot of energy to spare. Regular visits to a dog park or puppy play dates will ensure that his energy doesn’t turn into anxiety when met with new people, and you’ll need to stay on top of regular training sessions to keep him focused.
One thing that is great to add to the schedule of a high-energy adult dog is a job or athletic competition training. Lure coursing, sled pulling, herding, or other activities like this can help give your highly active dog an outlet. If you can’t or don’t wish to do these things, then provide your dog with plenty of mentally stimulating toys to keep their energy focused and not destructive. While a Kong Wobbler is a good way to keep them happy, consider toys that don’t require treats as well, such as a dog puzzle. These are easy to add to your dog’s day after breakfast and before the evening activities begin. Just make them available and your dog will do the rest.
Your high-energy dog will still need a regular vet checkup every year, so be sure to stay on top of scheduling that into your dog routine. Once again, brushing your dog’s teeth once per week is always advised, and you may also need to bathe, brush, or trim your dog as needed. Some dogs need daily brushing to stop the shedding, while others are more “wash and go”. Even if your dog doesn’t require a lot of grooming, it’s still a good idea to handle their paws and tail weekly to keep them used to the feeling for when grooming occurs.
Once you get a handle on what your dog needs, you’ll find that it’s pretty easy to get into a routine. Feeding, potty breaks, bedtimes, vet checkups, and walks are so easy that you can put them on autopilot. Being intentional with training, socialization, attention, and grooming doesn’t take much time at all. And the best part is that you’ll be with your dog throughout all of that. You got a dog because you wanted to be around one, so here’s your chance! Build a schedule that helps create a healthy relationship for you and your dog, and you’ll both lead happier, healthier lives.