The proactive puppy owner is all about being on top of things. Having a puppy schedules is becoming commonplace, and many swear by them. For some they are almost a necessary part of existing with a puppy, and they can help seem to bring order to chaos.
As a trainer though I don’t recommend them as they are traditionally taught. After all, each day is new and life seldom puts itself on repeat. Structure is great of course, but I think there is more value in a less traditional approach to having a puppy schedule.
Why a I as a trainer DON'T follow a puppy schedule
Puppy schedules can become a crutch in many different ways for both owners and their dogs. One of the most common places I see this is with mealtimes. It is very easy for a dog to become fixated on a meal, after all it is a big part of their day, and schedules teach a dog to be intolerant and inflexible of change. This can manifest as dogs begging, having stress responses when they have to wait for food, being more likely to guard their food, or being unable to eat in new places when traveling.
This same kind of thing can happen with any habit that is built into the schedule. A daily walk, a daily trip; these patterns become ingrained in the dog and the dog finds comfort in the routine. This then Amplifies when there are any changes, and one such issue we run into with this has to do with separation. Many people get a puppy, take time off from work for a little while to bond and spend time with the puppy, and then the pup’s whole world gets turned upside down when the owner has to go back to work again. This has to do with established schedules; the puppy has learned that the owner should normally be home, and when that pattern abruptly changes the puppy’s world crumbles.
Let’s think on how the world works for a wild dog or a street dog. There are a few constants, the sun rising and setting, the consequences of weather, landmarks. Practically everything else though is variable. How much food they’ll get, when and where it will be. What other dogs they will see or interact with. Whether they have to hunt, and their success in the hunt.
Any animal that doesn’t rely on humans has a level of adaptability and flexibility inherent to them that they use each day. Why would we rob our dogs of this by forcing them to conform to an unnatural schedule?
A puppy schedule can cause serious issues.
None of us want a dog who is a resource guarder, reactive, or can’t be left alone. Nor do we want a dog who can’t handle change in their life, like travel or spending the night at a friend, vet, or boarder. Life does not smile kindly on those who can’t adapt, we were made to be adaptable and so are our dogs.
What I do instead of having a schedule
I’m not suggesting a total dissolution of structure in the home. Nor am I saying that some things can’t be loosely scheduled. But there is a better way.
With my puppy Froot, we have no real set schedule for him to follow for the day. Instead, we have patterns and general routines. When he is in his crate, this is time for him to either be napping, eating, chewing or generally relaxing. I enforce these habits by making sure that his crate is one of the only places he has these opportunities. Outside of the crate we are very active and he is either being trained by me, having a socialization field trip, or playing with me and my other dogs. So we have two basic things happening; he is either resting or expending energy.
This is allows me to then insert these activities into my normal life. If I need to go do house chores, work with another dog, or basically anything where I can’t watch him, he is in his crate practicing a quiet activity with me nearby. BEFORE he goes into his crate we always do something to tire him out at least a little bit. So this way he’s much more likely to end his quiet activity with a nap and not a fit.
At 10 weeks old my life with him is nearly the same as it was before. His crate habits allow me to be flexible with my schedule and move that around where I need.
Patterns every puppy has
Puppy metabolism is very fast. It is safe to assume that after pretty much any activity they have to relieve themselves. Froot is pottied:
- Before and after naps
- Before and after playing
- Before and after training
- Before and after meals
Generally speaking, meals and chewing make puppies tired. I do these activities after Froot has played or trained with me or we’ve just gotten home from an outing. Then he’s even more likely to nap. We also have to remember that for most dogs, and many other types of predators, afternoon times are for resting. So I can stack multiple things in my favor if I need my puppy to be resting so that MY schedule can flow without much of a hitch.
Using patterns also allows you to change things up easily as the puppy grows. At 8 weeks puppies need 18-20 hours of sleep a day. This is because of the level of development going on. At 10 weeks that’s a different number that can begin to vary by breed and individual. So your schedule for your 8 week old will not be the same as for any other age of puppy. If we have a pattern based habit system we can very easily adapt to the changes that the puppy is going through. Our activities can match the puppy’s energy and stimulation needs and we can still get guaranteed times when the pup is resting. Formal schedules hinder this.
Observation and adaptation
When my puppy is young I’m always observing to see if I need to modify anything. Is he having issues resting in the crate? Is he restless in the evening? How your pup behaves when it’s time to rest is a pretty good indicator on if there is something not quite right with their waking time. Same with if you find your puppy is falling asleep out of their crate or pen. We want everything in moderation, but also have to adapt to our puppy’s growth and changes week to week.
Your puppy is learning every second they are awake. What kind of dog would you rather they grow into? One that is resilient? Or one that struggles with change?