Since the onset of the pandemic, most of us humans have had to learn how to create structure in our daily lives as we’d begin to WFH (work from home) e.g. waking up, making our bed, taking a shower and getting ready for a video conference meeting with our pyjama pants still on (we’ve all been there!). Without structure and order, it became easy for us to feel out of control and uneasy. Well, the same goes for our pooches when they WFH (in this case, woof from home).
Recently, pawrents have begun returning to the office for at least a few days a week. Whether you are still doing full-time WFH with your pooch by your side or going into the office frequently (hopefully with your pooch), it’s important to ensure you’re implementing a structure that works for you and your dog’s needs. This means that whether you go into the office without your pooch or stay at home with them, your dog’s schedule will remain relatively the same.
Why do dogs need structure?
No pawrent wants their pooch’s anxiety needlessly exacerbated, which is why implementing good structure is so important for our furry friends.
Structure is the creation of consistent activities that are performed each day, though not necessarily at the same exact time each day. Dogs thrive when they have structure because it provides your pup with an idea of when to expect certain events to occur (e.g. going for a walk, being fed, nap time or when you’re likely to be coming home from work). Without a consistent schedule of when these events typically take place, your dog is more likely to feel on edge, unable to predict what’s going to happen next.
Structure comes in handy when the following scenario occurs: a pawrent is stuck at work longer than expected, pushing back dinnertime and the nightly walk, which in turn causes their structure-less pooch to stressfully wait at the door, confused and scared as to why mum or dad isn’t home yet. With structure, even if you arrive late from work, your dog will know that you will be arriving, whether it’s now or in 30 minutes, meaning there is no cause for worry or pacing. The key is that even when your plans unexpectedly change, your dog’s structure shouldn’t.
Creating good structure for your pooch isn’t something that can be done overnight; it takes time and patience as you show your dog that it is ok if you arrive home 30 minutes later than usual, or if your morning walk begins an hour later on the weekends. Good structure means that these things (arriving home and going for that morning walk) are going to happen, late or not.
What to consider when planning your dog’s structure
Just because you’re transitioning back to the office part- or full-time shouldn’t mean that your pup’s schedule changes too. Dogs thrive on predictability, so ensuring that the following activities are carried out at relatively the same time and in the same order (that you decide works best for you and your pooch) is extremely important. These activities include feeding, walking, relieving themselves, playing, resting, sleeping, training and spending quality time with you. If you don’t have a good structure set up for your pooch yet, check out the recommendations below.
Between working from home on some days, going to the office on others and simply sleeping in like a dog on the weekends, it’s normal for pawrents to wake up at slightly different times throughout the week. When giving good structure for your pup, it doesn’t matter what time you get up to start their routine, but rather that you do it in a consistent order. This means that if your pooch needs to wee as soon as they wake up, you’ll start your day by letting them outside. Once relieved, it is advisable to feed them their first meal of the day. About 30 minutes after eating their breakfast (and you eating yours!), you should take your pooch out for a quick walk so they can relieve themself again. Once back home, you could either encourage them to rest or leave them with an incentivising, interactive toy to keep them busy and stimulated. Whether you’re leaving home for the office or going into your home office, your dog can expect to have this structure in the first part of their day.
If you’re going into the office, returning home for your lunch break is a paw-fect way to continue personally providing structure for your pup. If you can’t return home during the afternoon, it’s important to make sure someone else can come to check on your pooch and carry out their afternoon routine, even if that means hiring a dog walker for the middle of the day. This is especially important during the afternoon because it’s likely your pup needs to relieve themself again. After their midday wee, engaging your pup with a quick play session or an interactive toy will make for a tired, content dog who isn’t totally concerned whether you’re WFH or not!
If you are working from home on a partial or full-time basis, it’s important to make sure your pooch has some independent time away from you, preferably in a different room. As tempting as it may be to hold your pup in your lap as you work, this will only make it harder for them on the days that you cannot work from home (or bring them into the office), which will in turn increase their separation anxiety when you’re away. Creating space during the afternoon between yourself and your pooch will make the days you aren’t home feel a bit more familiar and easier to deal with for them.
A great way to kick off the evening is by feeding your pooch once your day is done—whether it was spent in the office or down the hall at home. This will signal to your pooch that when their pawrent is done with ‘work’ (wherever that happens to be on a particular day) and reunited with them, it’s mealtime. After digesting for about 30 minutes, you should take your pup for their more extended walk of the day, where they can release their stored-up energy. Once home, it is advisable to encourage your pup to relax and unwind for the day—something which shouldn’t be too difficult to do, especially after that walk! Bonding with your pup over snuggles, or simply letting them rest beside you, is a great way to wrap up your pooch’s structured day (although they still may need to be let outside one more time to relieve themself before bedtime).
Things To Consider
It’s important to remember that every pooch’s structure is going to be different and tailored to their needs and their pawrent’s schedule. If you have a younger pooch, you are going to want to incorporate more exercise and training sessions into their daily structure. If you have a senior pooch, you’ll need to make their rest time a larger priority (although don’t ignore their walks altogether—they still need to be stimulated and active).
Because creating good structure takes time (as the saying goes, ‘Dog parks weren’t built in a day!’), be patient with your pooch as they adjust to their routine. We’re not saying it will be easy at first—it may require that you purposely leave the house on your days off work to give your pooch consistent opportunities to be home alone, as their daily structure requires. While it may be difficult in the beginning, positive reinforcement of their schedule, either through praise or treats, will eventually get your pooch to stress out less on a daily basis and enjoy the comfort of living a more predictable life.
Although this blog has been all about structure and consistency, it doesn’t mean you and your pooch should skip out on spontaneous opportunities to have fun! Being spontaneous occasionally won’t ruin their structure—they’ll appreciate the surprise and the extra bonding time with you. If this adventure occurs when your pooch already has good structure being enforced, they will be able to return to the comfort of their routine faster than they can finish a can of THE PACK (and that’s pretty quick!)
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