How Your Morning Routine Ruins Your Dog’s Day

Your morning routine ruins your dog’s day, every single day.

I had a eureka moment last week while I drove home from training a young puppy. As usual, I had a podcast on – one of my favorites, Animal Training Academy. The most recent episode from Kirstin Anderson covered a wide range of topics. Ryan Cartlidge (the host) and Kirstin mostly spoke about training marine animals for research on sound disturbances.

But nestled in the midst of the podcast was this ingenious tidbit of dog training advice.

Your Morning Routine Ruins Your Dog’s Day

Your morning routine doesn’t have to ruin your dog’s day.

Think about it, Kirstin urged. You get up. You walk your dog. When you come home, you feed him and then it’s all downhill from there. Your poor dog watches as you get ready for work and head out for 8+ hours. If he’s lucky, a dogwalker comes by. But it’s a long, lonely day every day.

So what was the eureka moment?

Kirstin suggested flipping your routine upside down. Here’s a breakdown of your current routine, give or take:

  1. Get up. Spend some time cuddling, checking your phone, and then it’s go time.
  2. Walk Fluffy. This is the highlight of Fluffy’s morning, I almost guarantee it.
  3. Feed Fluffy while you eat breakfast. Another big highlight, I’m sure.
  4. Get ready for work. Kirstin pointed to a few studies that highlight dog’s stress levels while left alone. The stress hormones in your dog’s body are probably pumping by now.
  5. Go to work. Your dog hangs out all day. If you’re lucky, he sleeps. Kirstin highlighted studies that found dog’s stress levels did not correlate with whether or not they paced, vocalized, or got destructive while left alone. So don’t think that Fluffy’s sleepiness means she’s calm, cool, and collected.

Can you see how this might be a problem? Your generic, boring, normal morning routine ruins your dog’s day.

It might even be contributing to Fluffy’s separation anxiety.

All the good stuff is in the beginning. This order of operations makes it easy for your dog to dread your departure.

Don’t let your morning routine start off at the high point and then get worse and worse and worse for Fluffy. Save the good stuff for the end. As you’ll see, Barley is basically begging me to leave by the end of my morning routine. The best part of his morning comes after I leave! Perfect!

Don’t Let Your Morning Routine Ruin Your Dog’s Day

As a student of Stoic philosophy, I love morning routines. As soon as I heard this podcast, my mind started racing. Was my morning routine setting Barley up for failure?

No. It wasn’t. Because I already do what Kirstin suggests.

Let’s flip your current morning routine. Put Fluffy’s favorite things at the very end of your morning routine. If at all possible, put them after you’ve already left for work!

This means that you’ll get up, get ready for work, and then walk Fluffy. When you get home from the walk, you’ll feed Fluffy – but you’ll leave while Fluffy is still eating. This little change alone will help make Fluffy excited for you to leave. Simply modifying the order of your morning routine will work wonders for Fluffy.

Do as I Do: A Morning Routine That Makes Your Dog’s Day

A variety of treats…

… Hidden in a bag! A cheap puzzle toy for Fluffy.

I’m fascinated with the science of habits and behavior change (and skiing). I obsess over my own habits and have a monthly habit that I work towards growing (read more about habits and behavior change here). This month, I’m trying to do 10 pushups before eating any chocolate. Last month, I focused on only eating what I brought to work. See a trend?

Anyway. My morning routine seems like it works wonders for Barley, and it’s almost exactly what Kirstin recommended in the Animal Training Academy interview.

  1. I wake up with my alarm. Andrew and I generally spend some time groaning about the 5:50am alarm. I take a while to get out of bed. Andrew takes even longer. He stays in bed with Barley for quite some time most mornings.
  2. I wander to the bathroom and do my business. I get ready for work, packing up my lunch and breakfast. After I get dressed, I take care of the parrots.
  3. When I’m 100% ready for work, I call Barley over. Usually, he’s still asleep in bed with Andrew – the cozy, warm jerks.
  4. Barley and I head out for our morning walk, run, bike ride, training session, or round of fetch.
  5. I change out of sweaty clothes if needed. I kiss Andrew goodbye, and lock Barley in the bathroom.
  6. Then the fun begins. I pull out two frozen Kong’s, a pig’s ear, some baby carrots, a few treats from the latest BarkBox, and Barley’s breakfast. I split his morning kibble into two or three puzzle toys (like these or these). While Barley waits in the bathroom, I hide all of these goodies around our 700 square foot apartment. I make sure that they’re all on the ground and that there’s absolutely nothing available on the counters or in the trash that Barley could enjoy. He really enjoys eating things off of counters – this routine of hiding things actually started as a way to break him of that habit.
    1. This takes me 3-5 minutes. That’s less time than it takes to clean up the trash if he gets into it, so it’s worth it.
  7. I let him out of the bathroom after the apartment is basically a personalized candy shop for Barley. He’s so excited for the daily “hunt” that he barely notices when I leave.

Barley catches some extra zzz’s while I prep for the day. His walk comes last!

My “backwards” morning routine ends with the best parts of the day. Barley doesn’t even acknowledge me most mornings as he dashes off to start finding his goodies. It’s perfect.

Do I know for sure that Barley doesn’t miss me while I’m home? No. It’s probable that he starts getting stressed out and lonely and bored as soon as he’s done finding all of his goodies. I hope that the stuffed Kongs and pig’s ears keep him busy for a while, but I’m sure that it’s nowhere near 8 hours worth of work for him.

But at least I don’t think my morning routine ruins my dog’s day. If anything, it makes his day a bit better.

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