Habits, Routines, and What’s Important to Dogs
We’ve been at our new “snowbird” townhome in Sun City AZ for a little over a week now. It’s a bit of a change for Coral, our 8 year old field-bred Irish setter. She’s accustomed to a decent sized backyard where she loves to spend time watching her birds and squirrels and burying an assortment of toys and treats. (Before leaving for AZ we spent half an hour searching the yard for a new toy we’d given her that she promptly carried outside and buried. It was NOT easy to find!). Here she has a small patio that we’ve just had redone, so she’ll have some soil to relieve herself in and also bury her treasures when she feels like it.
But the patio is off limits for a week while the finish dries. We don’t think Coral is very happy about that. Her outside time is limited to leash walks and while she’s buried a few treats in the bed covers, she’s also walked around the house with a toy in her mouth as if searching for a place to “hide” it. Suzanne thought she was going to try to “bury” one in a wastebasket!
This got us to thinking about what’s important to dogs, including habits, routines, and the ability to be able to control some aspects of their environment.
Many of Coral’s habits and routines are different at this house compared to our primary residence in Denver. In Denver one of her consistent routines is to sit on a little rug in the kitchen in front of the sink and whine (or even bark) when she wants us to come give her a treat from the container on the counter (We know – might be annoying to some, but it works for us!).
There’s a similar set up here in Arizona – a rug in front of the sink and a treat container on the counter – but of course the physical appearance is totally different. And for Coral her “treat routine” and her ability to know how to ask for and receive a treat – has gone away.
A few days ago, we started working on helping her re-establish this routine here in the townhome. And now Coral is beginning to come and paw at us (another aspect of the “treat routine” from home that we’ve allowed and encouraged) when we are standing on the rug in the kitchen after dinner.
The “treat routine” is something we’ve all enjoyed (We think we can speak for Coral!) and we didn’t realize at first how much we missed it. In fact, it didn’t even hit our radar for the first week that Coral wasn’t asking us for treats at the normal time. Instead, we realized she was more likely to be in another room sleeping – probably not a good sign.
There are several lessons here, for us at least. And they all really boil down to how important it is to be keen observers of our dogs’ behaviors. Those of you of a certain age may remember words to a Joni Mitchell song “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. We didn’t realize how many of Coral’s endearing habits we weren’t seeing. What made us aware of what was gone was the increase in her resting and sleeping at times when we wouldn’t expect her to be.
There can be many reasons for a change in behavior frequencies, including medical problems. And sometimes the change is so gradual we don’t realize they’ve happened. But this is an aspect of behavior that is definitely worth monitoring.