Rites & Rituals

Cartoon of dog with party hat and birthday cakePeople like rituals. We have holiday rituals and religious rituals, seasonal rituals and daily hygiene rituals (hopefully). If my dogs are representative of the species in general, I’d say dogs like rituals too. Some rituals make our lives richer and easier, others can get us into trouble. That after dinner cigarette ritual can make quitting tough.

I have created a number of rituals that I practice with my dogs. And as with people, many of their favorite rituals involve food. We have door and gate rituals. When a door or gate is opened treats are passed around. After we’ve stepped out, treats are offered again. Most of the dogs are quick to remind me of this, watching me after I’ve taken a few steps to be sure I haven’t forgotten.

When leashes are taken off treats are handed around. When leashes are snapped on, treats are handed around. Early on in our woods walk there is the ‘hunt for tossed treats’ ritual which also happens to be where the dogs who need to be leashed up when we head off the trail, will be on our return. Dogs who don’t need to be put back on leash are welcome to join us for a bit of food. One of Sunny’s favorite rituals is the daily frisbee tossing my husband engages in on his return home from work. It almost balances out the fact that the scary monster man is back.

All of the rituals I create for my dogs make my life easier. Gathering up my dogs at the end of our woods walk is easy because most have stopped to give one more search to the area where treats were tossed at the start. If I need to leave the house to meet the UPS truck at the end of the driveway I can get out of the door without a crowd of dogs attempting to dash past me so they can tell the dreaded brown truck and driver to bid a hasty retreat.

Call it training if you like, but don’t tell my dogs.


18 comments so far

  1. And then you have the *other* kind of rituals. Y’know, like the “mam always lets me outside for my morning pee” ritual.

    That means my OH can take Inka to the back door, even open it, but then Inka realises it’s not me and will run back indoors to get me, no matter how tired or unwell I may be, out of bed, so that he can pee…

  2. Ann M on

    Tinkerbelle the fearful eskie was a “loner” for a very long time, preferring to stay outside in the fenced woods and it was a challenge to get her inside unless it was raining with thunder and lightening. Gradually, we learned her fears and with the help of l- theanine I was able to teach her simple commands like sit and come. She still didn’t like to come close and sit so I could clip her leash on her. Out came the pupperoni treats- she’t take a treat in her mouth and keep all those sharp little teeth busy while I clipped her leash. Then she practically drags us into the house! Once in the house she gets another treat-and she’ll follow you until she gets at least half of one stick. If it is a piece, she knows it and waits for the rest of one. It is really funny, but she knows what is due her.
    I have a well-trained Keeshond who was potty trained by giving her treats when she did her “thing” outside…now when she wants a treat, she “tell me” she has to “go”, run outside, stop on the deck, leave a few drops, run back in and make a beeline to the treat counter, waiting and jumping up and down on her hind legs- really! Since I am well trained she gets a very little piece – it is kind of a little game because when she really needs to potty she goes down in the yard/woods! We are trained as well as the dogs dontcha think?(smile)
    Ann & the 6 fuzzbutts

    • fearfuldogs on

      I have heard of dogs ‘pretending’ to pee to get rewards. Makes sense to me. A dog doesn’t necessarily know that they were being rewarded for peeing, or the way they behaved when peeing. I thought I was rewarding Sunny for eye contact, he thought it was the head lift that accompanied the eye contact.

      I think my dogs have me as well trained as yours do you.

      • Ann M on

        Danee, the great pretender, does seem to realize I want to see at least a little wet spot on the deck, which is why she does it right outside the door when it is a treat- trip, not a real potty trip. Yes I think they all train us well in some circumstances.

  3. Bluff Country Shepherdess on

    Great ideas! I like the idea of treating immediately after going out the door as I always worry that my pack may ‘take off’ if they’re not on leashes. At least in theory, this way they’d wait for their treats!

    Along the line of the comments: I used to have a Golden Retriever that I trained to work as a service dog for my son who has CP. That dog was so incredible that if I (or my son) took him outside and told him to “go poop”, he would squat and try ~ even when he didn’t have to go! Something about that just touched my heart. He SO wanted to please. Come to think of it, he NEVER got rewarded with treats as my son doesn’t have the fine motor control to give them to him. Bear did it all for love ~ and he did it all off-leash!

    • fearfuldogs on

      What a nice dog your Golden sounds like. Plenty of dogs feel good when their owners give them attention and praise. I take advantage of that too.

  4. rangerskat on

    Some of Finna’s rituals are good–waiting at the door until released. I get a big kick out of watching her practice her impulse control and leaping up to dash outside as soon as my hand touches the door knob then remembering that’s not the way it works and planting her bottom firmly back on the ground. Impulse control is a big issue with her so signs that she is getting it are wonderful.

    Some of her rituals are just amusing–she has to carry the ball back to the porch when we’re done playing fetch. It’s pretty funny watching her try to take it out of the chuckit so she can carry it back to the porch. Sometimes she’ll even put the ball away in the big flowerpot of balls that sits on my front porch. Other times she drops it by the water bucket or by the door.

    Other rituals are an ongoing problem. She’s coping with my husband pretty well in most circumstances except when he goes to bed. The ritual of chasing him up the stairs barking ferociously is not acceptable. We try really hard not to give her opportunities to practice this ritual but even when she’s outside playing fetch in the dark she’ll run back to the porch to bark when he heads up the stairs. He can go upstairs other times of the day with no reaction from her but if it is about the time he normally goes to bed she’s determined to chase and bark. I haven’t figured out why this ritual is important to her. If I had some idea why that particular moment is a problem I might be able to create a better ritual for her but as yet I’m still in the dark. We’ll keep trying.

    • fearfuldogs on

      One of the first steps we take to create new habits or behaviors is to prevent opportunities to practice the inappropriate ones. It’s challenging living with dogs like this. I had some luck teaching Sunny an acceptable alternative behavior when my husband comes home or goes outside and Sunny barks at him. In Sunny’s case it is to go get a frisbee, which my husband then has to toss. Sometimes I interrupt Sunny and send him to his safe space.

  5. Amy@GoPetFriendly on

    I love the treats get handed out when the door is opened and again when you step outside – great idea! I’m starting it today.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Go for it Amy. Just watch your fingers with your shark!

  6. Heather on

    I am a creature of habit and would probably have been in danger of keeping the same routine from the day I was born, if I could have. Fortunately, reality has pushed me forward, a good thing in this case.

    What I am always marveled at, and have learned to laugh about, is my dog’s reaction at my attempts to change my routine. Apparently, if you can believe Mo Mo, my foster BC, I have been staying up past my bedtime. Mo needs to be on the same floor of the house as me; however, he also likes to work the cat. The cat goes up to bed earlier than I. Mo will sit at the bottom of the stairs and give me laser eyes if I stay on the computer. Last nite, I got a good nose THUNK to get moving!! If my boss only knew how motivating he could be, she’d probably let him come to the office. My other dog goes through similar responses, but for different tasks.


    • fearfuldogs on

      I often joke that I do what I usually do.

      You are not the only person being bossed around by a border collie. 😉

  7. Lizzie on

    I think that we are all creatures of habit to some extent; and certainly for Gracie, who displays a lot of obsessive compulsive behaviour as well as fear, it is vital that she has a daily routine where she can predict what is going to happen next.

    Call it rituals or training or what you will, it gives her a feeling of security and enables her to function in a more ‘normal’ fashion.

    Then there’s my 16 year dog who, after his dinner every night, picks up this one particular very old soft ball stands and looks at us waiting for all the doors to be opened so that he can carry it around the house two or three times. He then drops it more or less back where he found it and never looks at it till the following day! He has been doing this ritual for years but never touches or plays with toys at any other time of the day.

    • fearfuldogs on

      How sweet is that Lizzie! The old guy has plans.

      • 2 Punk Dogs on

        He sounds so cute, I wish you had a link to a video!

  8. 2 Punk Dogs on

    Rituals, or a set schedule, have helped our dogs feel safe. They know that the Mr. comes home at lunch & after work at the same time everyday to take them out. They wake me up at the same time every single day for their morning walk; I don’t need to set the alarm. They will stare at the Mr. after we finish dinner because they’re waiting for him to get up and feed them. They know that they need to sit before a door will open & know that there are treats coming if we call them. They’re much more comfortable with the consistent weekday schedule than the variation on weekends.

  9. Michelle Gasson on

    Love it. My dogs escort me to the treat cupboard when they see me getting my bike out the door ready to go to work. They LOVE it when I go to work. No separation anxiety there. I am very easily trained.

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