Let’s talk about schedules. Is your dog on YOUR schedule or are you on your DOGS schedule?
It is an important question and something you really want to consider when your dog is a puppy. Of course, when you first bring a puppy home, everything MUST revolve around the dog in order to teach the pup the essential rules of the road. Don’t pee in here, don’t bark at me, sleep in your crate. House training especially demands that you pay very very close attention to your pups schedule. I routinely tell new puppy owners to take their puppy outside every one to two hours. That is definitely not the preferred schedule, but essential to fast and effective house training.
But what about after the initial training phase, like when the dog is 4 to 6 months old? That is when you need to start training your dog to function on YOUR schedule. I once had a client who was getting up in the middle of the night, every night, because she believed her dog needed water. At 2 AM. I know people who rush home from parties or dinner out because it’s the dogs dinner time. Now I do admire their dedication to their dog, but in my opinion, that’s a bit extreme.
When I get a puppy I take extra care to make sure I raise an independent and ADAPTABLE dog. What do I mean by adaptable? I mean a dog that can eat dinner at 4 pm or 11pm. A dog that goes out and does his business when I let him out, not when he asks to go out. A dog that does NOT insist that I get up at 6AM on a SATURDAY! Essentially I raise a dog that adapts to my schedule….. and my schedule is constantly changing.
Let’s start with house training. One of the most common questions I get as a puppy trainer is “How do I get him to tell me he has to go out?” My answer is, “You don’t”. Don’t get me wrong. If you want to teach your dog to tell you when he wants to go out, you most certainly can, and it’s not that hard. However, I don’t recommend it. It starts out nice enough with the dog asking to go out to go to the bathroom but often degenerates into the dog asking to go out every ten minutes. To sniff the grass, to chase a squirrel, to bark at the neighbors. And how do you know what the dog wants? You don’t. You have to assume the dog needs to go, and you let him out. Before you know it, you are catering to your dogs schedule.
What to do instead? When you get a puppy, or a new dog, you take her out every hour. As time goes by you take her out every two hours, then every three hours etc. etc. etc. until the dog is going out on a reasonable schedule of every 6 to 8 hours. What I am trying to get her to understand is that I will provide sufficient opportunity to go out, and it is in her best interest to take advantage of it to relieve herself. Being crated between opportunities certainly helps to emphasize the point. The result is a dog who takes advantage of the opportunity to relieve themselves whenever you provide it, as opposed to a dog who is dictating the schedule.
The other big issue is sleeping in. Again, a new puppy or dog is different. When they cry in their crate you have an obligation to provide an opportunity to go out. And many of us get up so early that we let the dog out and then start our day. The dog begins to understand I cry, we go out, and we get up. A very useful schedule most of the time. But what if you don’t have to get up? What if you have the opportunity to sleep in? Here is what to do. 6 AM on Saturday. Puppy cries. Leash up, go out, come back in and GO BACK TO BED!! Yes, the puppy goes back in her crate. Provide a pig ear, a marrow bone, a stuffed Kong, whatever. Now, in the beginning, you are not going to get any actual additional sleep, since the pup may be crying in her crate. But do not give up. Wait at least an additional hour before getting up and starting your day. If you do this enough, the pup will learn to settle down in her crate and eventually you will be able to sleep until 8AM! (Crating your dog while you are home also helps to achieve this goal but that is the topic of another discussion about crate training).
Bottom line…. teach your dog to do things on YOUR schedule as opposed to doing things on theirs. Your dog will not starve if their meal comes two hours later than normal. They will learn to get up when YOU get up and you won’t have to let your dog out 20 times a day. I really believe that this makes for a better quality of life for both you and your dog, reducing anxiety for both of you!