Practicing predictability

image of old train scheduleMy nephew and his wife asked me to take care of their shy Klee Kai Polaris while they went on vacation. I was happy to help them out and to learn more about a breed that I was not familiar with. As it happened I was also invited to attend the upcoming Blog Paws West conference in Denver under the sponsorship of Pedigree to help them get the word out about their adoption drive. This meant that I would be going away for a few days during Polaris’s stay and needed to find a kennel for her. We have several good kennels in our area and I found one with availability and although I knew the owners, I had never visited the actual kennels. So last week I stopped by for a visit.

I mentioned to the kennel operators that I knew one of their client’s shy dogs. I was told that after 3 days the dog was ‘fine’ with them and with being there, which seemed to indicate to them that the dog’s problems lie with the owner. However it makes perfect sense. Besides having good dog handling skills, the kennel staff follow a predictable schedule and routine. Dogs feel more comfortable when they can predict what is going to happen to or around them, a timid or shy dog is going to benefit from this even more. While living in a kennel is probably not much fun, it is predictable, and regardless of how comfortable and wonderful a home is, the chances are that it is unpredictable. Strangers arrive, startling noises occur, owners come and go, often with no warning. Without any way to predict when they will occur a dog continues to be surprised and scared by them, over and over again. (Or in the case of some anxiety, the predictors of a stress inducing event start the anxiety ball rolling, such as when dogs suffer from separation anxiety and their owner picks up their car keys.)

One of the ways we can help our dogs is to provide them with predictable routines that they can follow, even when unpredictable things happen. When on a leash and strangers appear I NEVER let them interact with Sunny. He can predict this and has no need to try to pull away or growl and lunge at them. Dogs can learn to perform behaviors that create predictable, positive outcomes for them. If new people come into the dog yard Sunny is encouraged to pick up a toy and someone will toss something for him. This requires training, patience and practice, but if you’ve decided to take on the job of helping a fearful dog, predictability can be your best friend.

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13 comments so far

  1. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart on

    That is such an important point. It’s one reason so many shy/fearful dogs have trouble with kids. They move in such unpredictable ways.

  2. Donna in VA on

    So true. A newspaper article recently mentioned a man who fosters dogs and got one of the Michael Vick pit bulls. He called his method “The Rut” because it described keeping the same dull, predictable routine for weeks. He did this to get his foster dogs oriented and integrated into his dog household. His Rut may be different from yours or my Rut, but the point is to have one, and let the dog relax in the predictability of a “normal” life for a change. I try to keep “The Rut” going even when I travel with my dog. Take the same dog bed with me, dog sleeps in same relationship to where I sleep, meal times, walks, watch TV – keep the same schedule as much as possible even though the location differs.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and sharing that info Donna. I wish I had heard of ‘the rut’ sooner, would have made for a better title to the post! When the rut is where you want to be. Going to have to write another post 😉

  3. Sue on

    Ive realised that being in a ‘walking rut’ is good for Poppy!(my exbreeding puppy farm girl)
    I kept thinking it would be nice for her have walks in different places with different smells after being caged for the first 6 years of her life. But, for the last week i’ve walked her to the same field each day and today when we went there, she actually ran a few yards. I was so excited, as usually she just plods behind me, even when she is off the lead.
    I’m just off to write it in my diary…i love the little steps she makes, however small.

  4. Lizzie on

    All dogs love to have a routine, it’s their security IMO.

    Fearful insecure dogs need to be in ‘a rut’ even more. Gracie knows exactly what’s going to happen from one hour to the next, it’s just like she can tell the time!

    I knew my boring life would count for something one day 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      In response to both Lizzie & Sue- I take daily walks with the dogs. My husband always asks me ‘which way did you go?’ and my response is always, ‘the way I usually go’. I too seem to prefer predictable routines.

  5. Donna in VA on

    I found a link to the article, it was in Parade magazine.
    http://www.parade.com/news/2010/08/15-can-you-teach-a-bad-dog-new-tricks.html

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for sharing that and a big yahoo for the reference to positive reinforcement training!

  6. Donna in VA on

    Reminded me of a funny story. My sister-in-law and my dog and I visited an aunt and stayed in her home for a few nights (dog and I have visited and stayed over several times previously.) We decided to watch a movie and I was in a big armchair. Max usually lies between hubby & me on the couch for TV time at home. Max kept pacing and wouldn’t settle down on the floor. I finally realized he expected to be in the chair with me for TV time. So I finally invited him up in the chair and he settled down to sleep immediately even though we were both squished. Gotta follow the routine.

  7. Kenzo_HW on

    Thx for the advice, it makes a lot of sense. We will definitely follow up on that.

    • Debbie on

      You are most welcome!


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