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Your morning routine ruins your dog’s day, every single day – but it doesn’t have to.
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. This 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. Here’s a quick video of me putting it in action — but read on below to get all the details!
Please note that this routine will NOT fix separation anxiety – but it can help make many dogs’ mornings better.
Does your dog struggle with your work schedule or have separation anxiety? Sign up for our Left Alone course now!
Your Morning Routine Ruins Your Dog’s Day
Think about it, Kirstin urged. You get up. You walk your dog. 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 dog walker comes by. But it’s a long, lonely day every day.
So what was the eureka moment?
Kirstin suggested flipping your routine upside down to create a dog-friendly morning routine. Here’s a breakdown of an average morning routine (the one we’re going to fix):
- Get up. Spend some time cuddling, checking your phone, and then it’s go time.
- Walk Fluffy. This is the highlight of Fluffy’s morning, I almost guarantee it.
- Feed Fluffy while you eat breakfast. Another big highlight, I’m sure.
- Get ready for work. Kirstin pointed to a few studies that highlight a dog’s stress levels while left alone. The stress hormones in your dog’s body are probably pumping by now.
- 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. If your dog is struggling with separation anxiety, please schedule a call or text me to talk about separation anxiety. I take on clients from anywhere in the world.
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, my dog is basically begging me to leave by the end of my morning routine. The best part of his morning comes after I leave! Perfect!
Does your dog struggle with your work schedule or have separation anxiety? Sign up for our Left Alone course now!
It’s Easy to Have a Dog-Friendly Morning Routine
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.
If your dog is struggling with separation anxiety, I can help! We have an entire self-study course dedicated to fixing your dog’s separation anxiety.
Try It: A Dog-Friendly Morning Routine
Want a morning routine for your dog? Try mine. It’s helped curb my dog’s concern about being left alone, keeps him busy, and wears him out while I’m at work.
- Wake up with your alarm.
- Go to the bathroom and do your business. Get ready for work, packing up your food.
- When you’re 100% ready for work, call your dog.
- Go for your morning walk.
- Put your dog in the bathroom or another small room.
- Hide treats all over the house. 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 (that link has 23 of my favorites). 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.
- 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.
- Let your dog out after the apartment is basically a personalized candy shop for your dog. He’s probably so excited for the daily “hunt” that he’ll barely notice when you leave.
- If you crate your dog, just use lots of puzzle toys and other chewies.
- If your dog won’t eat while he’s alone, reach out. I can help troubleshoot!
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.
Kayla founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who’s worked with hundreds of private clients, thousands of shelter dogs, and dozens of working detection dogs. Kayla’s dog and cat behavior advice has been featured in NPR, the Chicago Tribune, and Pet MD. She’s an avid adventurer who is currently doing #vanlife on the Pan-American Highway with her two border collies and a cat. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams. You can get 1:1 advice with a Journey Dog Training team member here.
Such a great idea! It’s all about transforming scary events into fun moments.
Why can’t you just train the dog not to counter surf? ? Aren’t you a dog trainer?
You’re totally right – I actually have successfully trained myself and my boyfriend to not leave things on the counter, pretty much curing our counter surfing problem. 🙂
I want to use positive only methods on my dog. When I first got her we had help from a trainer who used corrections, and we made some solid progress with her leash reactivity. I’m now using positive only methods since we seemed to have hit a wall with her progress. However I get concerned by how much ‘managing’ I see being used with the positive only training. If the only way to stop my dog from eating things off the counter is to not leave things on the counter, have I really taught her anything? I just find it really disheartening. I want a positive relationship with my dog, but I also don’t want to rearrange my life to avoid things that might trigger her bad behavior.
Those are great points! I’m glad you brought them up. I actually just wrote an article about management . It can be really annoying to have to work your life around your dog’s behavior. I think of management as a way to avoid a behavior while we set up training scenarios to actually change behavior. The stealing food example is perfect, because any time your dog steals food, he learns that it’s GREAT idea to steal food. Our best training bet is to keep him from stealing food in the first place using management, rather than trying to punish him strongly enough that it’s “not worth it” to steal a tuna sandwich. Then we can set up smart training scenarios where we slowly teach the dog not to steal. It’s totally possible to teach this without corrections — but it’s almost impossible without management OR corrections. Does that make sense? Feel free to email me ( kayla at journeydogtraining dot com ) and we can come up with more ideas for your specific situation 🙂
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Do you let your dog out to pee before you get ready, then walk later? I’d love to get ready and then walk my dog, but he can’t wait that long. I tried this morning to get ready first and he ended up peeing on the rug. Is there a way to slowly build up your dog’s ability to wait? He’s 20 months, a rescue, and new to our household. He’s otherwise mostly potty trained. We let him out before we go to bed around 9/10pm, and remove water a couple hours before bedtime. I wake up at 445am and would love to do more in the morning before I have to let him out. Thanks!!
If your dog can’t hold it until you’re done, I’d take a quick potty break, then do your thing, then go ahead and take the actual walk at the end. You might be able to build up his tolerance to wait, but depending on his size, that might just be the limit of his bladder!
How do you feed him and leave for work, won’t he need another potty break after eating.
That’s a great question, Sandra! Smaller dogs and puppies may need a potty break after eating – especially puppies. But most adult dogs can eat and then hold it until lunch no problem.
I didn’t realize that having the dog wait around as you get ready could build their anxiety about being left alone. My dogs definitely notice when I’m putting shoes on, and it breaks my heart when they seem to think they’re going to get to come with me. Leaving food around the apartment is so clever, and keeps that brain going so he doesn’t have to wait for you to experience the fun of being challenged.
Were have a puppy and he’s pretty much on a routine that he wakes up at 7:30am, goes potty (pee/poo), eats, goes outside to play and another pee/poop. He’s only 10 weeks old so not fully potty trained. We keep him gated off in the mud room which he could she the kitchen from so he’s technically not alone. As soon as we let him into the rest of the house he has accidents. So I have 3 questions.
1. Is it okay he’s gated off to the mud room? He has his toys, crate, bed, pee pads, food etc.
2. If he wakes up earlier like 5:30am I still take him potty but put him back in his crate. Is this fine to keep on the same sleep schedule or should he be fed immediately after waking up.
3. He’s a nibbler… biter… I understand this is normal but what can I do to change that behavior. We have children and this is becoming an issue.
I look forward to your response!!! Thanks!!!
Hi Jenny! It’s absoluetly OK to gate your puppy in. That’s what I do when I’m potty training puppies. And same for your 2nd question, that’s what I do as well! Check out the links below for more help potty/crate training and nipping/biting help.
Hi! Our puppy (14 weeks) is waking up around 3 am everyday crying and howling. We don’t know what to do, is she needing to pee? We have been getting mixed advice, some people say keep her in crate and ignore it, she just wants our attention. Others say get her out to pee and put her back in crate while we get ready for work. Do you have any advice for us? Thank you
Sure thing, Holly! Here’s an article I wrote all about dealing with puppies that cry in the crate. Hint: I HATE the cry-it out method! https://www.k9ofmine.com/stop-dog-from-crying-in-crate/
My morning routine is pretty similar to the way you used to do it. I’ll try the new routine starting from tomorrow. I have a super calm 5 years old bitch and I used to give her toys stuffed with food before going to work. I could see she was always anxious for me to leave so she could play and eat. But now I have adopted a puppy (5 months) and the puppy is destroying the house, even climbing furniture to pick things. Yesterday she managed to jump the baby gate. I am thinking about hiding food around the room where they are crated but I am afraid they will fight over the food. What do you suggest?
Hi Tariana – I agree that I’m worried about dogs fighting over food when there’s two of them around. Is it possible to separate them and their food so they can’t fight over it? The downside would be that now they’re separate all day, which might be a bit lonely for them.
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Great tips, didn’t realize I could optimize my morning routine to suit my pups. I normally have my coffee while a pup is relaxing on my lap. My issue is that I have 13 dogs so not sure how feasible it’s for me to consider all of them when doing a doggie friendly morning routine. I will write down the steps of my routine and then try to optimize them one at a time.
It’s definitely a lot more challenging with 13 dogs! I’d love to hear what you come up with!
My puppy wont look at their kongs or chews when left alone. Is there anything I can do to help her with this? I don’t want her to be bored or frustrated.
Hmm, if they won’t eat when left alone then it’s possible that they’re feeling anxious or uncomfortable when left alone. Have you checked how they appear on video when left alone?
We have our puppy since she’s 2 months and are working from home due to the pandemic. Crate training is ok and she has a pen.
Since she’s 2 months and a half, we started leaving her with a Kong and leaving the room for a few minutes, then the house. She always looked at us leaving but returned to her Kong. We are now to the step where when her Kong runs out, she starts barking and screaming. We waited 10 minutes the first time and 15 minutes the second time to see if she would settle, and both times were a failure… what are we doing wrong?
Hi Christine! It’s hard to say without a full conversation, but my guess is that your puppy just is too freaked out by those absences right now. I do lots and lots of micro-absences with my new puppy, so I’m often leaving him for 20 seconds to a few minutes every hour. This gets him really used to me coming and going. I also try to put him in his pen across the room from me a lot. If he panics when left alone, just get back to him and try again later for a bit less time to try to find a time where he doesn’t panic. Again, it’s hard to explain over just a comment but that’s a start.
Thank you for your reply! Since a week we started practicing these micro absences as well (going to the bathroom and coming back immediately, going upstairs and coming back immediately…). I guess we have to do more of these micro absences everyday as after a week of doing that, she still starts to bark when we stay 5 seconds out of her sight… when I work she is in her pen accross the room. I just hope she will come to understand we will always come back! 🙁 I seriously wonder how people did before the pandemic!
I’m right there with you! I’m raising a puppy right now as well and can’t imagine doing this while working away from the home!
My question is, I have a 15 year old 4lb chihuahua. We recently moved to a new place alone, he and I, and he is having horrible separation anxiety. He literally tried to scratch and chew through my floor! I’m wondering, am I making him worse by coming home at lunch to let him out to potty, since I am leaving him twice a day instead of just in the morning? He seems more upset when I leave the 2nd time.
I would urge you to check out our separation anxiety e-book – your dog is in distress and we can help! https://journeydogtraining.com/product/solutions-for-separation-anxiety-e-book/
I am fostering a neutered male dog recovering from HW treatment. He is not potty trained – I am taking him out super frequently along with middle of the night potty trips. I have a neutered male of my own. The foster doggy is super jealous of my dog – not real aggressively but definitely shows his jealousy over us – the humans – problem – he is peeing in our house more often as time goes on – possibly marking territory or possibly just going whenever he needs to relieve himself. He sometimes pees ten minutes after having gone outside. We are supposed to have him for two months – it’s been two weeks. He has ruined several things already. He’s a love – a sweet charmer – but the in house pottying is awful. Any advice? Thank you!
Hi Joni – we have some articles under the “potty training” tab on the blog page that I think will help you out a lot!
I feel pretty awful saying this but my puppy is a year old nearly and I am struggling massively with the tie. If I need to sort the kids, take them to school then do some jobs, how can I make it ok for the dog to be ok waiting for a walk? Having a hard time giving up what feels like loads of freedom. He’s so needy. I didn’t make the decision lightly just being honest
So, its okay to leave the bully stick with the dog alone? I had always thought it was bad to do that in case they got choked. Maybe that was more when she was a puppy. I have a 11 month old German Shepard. She stays in a crate while I am gone to work all day. 7am -4 pm. I don’t leave her food with her because I fear she will need to use the bathroom and be stuck in the crate. Also, she doesn’t always want to eat in the morning. do you think it would be okay to leave food with her in the crate that long? I always give some small treats like biscuits. Or any other recommendations. I do have a yard I could leave her in. But I fear she would get out left outside alone that long. Also, that she would stick if she’s outside that long.
It really depends on the dog. In my experience, most dogs can be left with bully sticks and won’t hurt themselves. However, of course some dogs may choke and it is best to supervise until you’re confident that your dog is careful! As for leaving food, it really depends on your dog and their bladder control.
While laughed when I saw the headline because my poor dog understands what’s up when I get ready, she is lucky now that she goes to our home based office in the back yard and spends most of every day with me now that I am self employed.
That being said I think what you suggest may have an unforseen downside: That is the fact that some dogs should be supervised when eating certain treats. Some treats may cause a dog to choke. While there plenty of easy to eat treats one that is a little concerning is dried meat, or “jerky”. These can be long and pointy and hard and if Fido doesn’t like to chew before she swallows well then that’s a concern. Just my two cents.
Your article was helpful and positive. Thanks.