By Drew Webster, CPDT-KA
One of the most common issues I am faced with as a professional dog trainer is helping owners prepare for big changes that are coming or that have just occurred. The most common stresses pet parents work through are moving homes, new neighbors and major changes to the family pack dynamics. If you are seeing major behavioral changes in your dog, ask yourself three questions.
- Is my dog getting regular and adequate exercise for his age and breed?
- Does my dog have a predictable daily or weekly routine?
- Have there been any major changes to what was once normal?
Typically the first two questions can be a big clue to whether your dog is actually going through some major behavior shift or if he is simply bored and underwhelmed by his routine. Many dogs that have the benefit of a big spacious back yard miss out on regular walks. They are more likely to be the dogs barking at the neighbors and passers-by. Dogs that are of working lines or high-energy breeds might go for long walks or jogs and still have energy to burn when they get home. These guys benefit from structured play that lets them have an outlet for sprinting, running, jumping, barking and playing with toys or objects. Owners and dogs that play together, stay together. You should work on being your dog’s best friend. Do not simply rely on other dog companions to tire out your dog, like going to a dog park.
The last question asks have there been any major changes to what was once your dog’s normal? Some people might not consider small changes to be something that would bring stress into their dog’s life. Selling your car, moving into a new apartment, adding or losing someone from the household and even rearranging the house can add stress to a creature of routine. If you are preparing for major changes like a new baby, moving to a new home or perhaps your significant other is moving in with you, try to help your dog get ready for the new normal.
For new people moving in, set up walks and bonding activities with positive experiences in neutral locations prior to the move. For a new baby, purchase baby equipment, such as strollers and start practicing skills like loose leash walking, and commands such as “Go to your bed, “ and “Stay” to help your dog prepare for your new family set up. Today we can use technology to record sounds or purchase audio files that can mimic stressful sounds like babies crying, thunder, airplanes and much more. Moving to a new area? If possible, visit the location of your new neighborhood and go for regular walks where your dog gets to smell and see what is going on in the neighborhood. If you are headed to a new part of the country, have a plan to explore and establish routines right off the bat. Do your research so both you and your dog can have confidence as you learn what your new normal will look like.