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Patterns, Not Routines



If you have kids, you know that try as you might, routines are hard to stick to. If you have ADHD like me, kids or not, you know routines are just about impossible to stick to! While routines may work well for some people, and they truly are very helpful for the first couple months with a puppy so that you can get potty training figured out, they often aren’t sustainable over your dog’s lifetime. What is more helpful (and sustainable) is the creation of patterns. The Dial Method is a great way to see what both you and your dog need day in and day out in order to create successful patterns, and it is included with every Calmer Canines Family Training package.


For example, what time we eat dinner in my family varies from day to day, but the fact that we do eat dinner nightly and we don’t want our dog staring at our 6 year old’s lap for fallen food stays the same. It’s not a routine, but it is a pattern. So each night as we bring our plates to the dinner table, we also bring a couple pieces of dog-safe fruit or veggie with us, our dog trots into the living room, and we give one of those pieces to our dog. We put up a standing gate as a reminder for him to stay in there, and he’ll get a couple more pieces of fruit or veggie tossed to him throughout dinner as a thank you for not pushing the gate open. Most of the time he just lies down in his bed. Once we’re done eating, we give the release cue and put away the gate. Pattern complete.Sure, I could have trained him to lie on a mat while we eat, but I chose not to because1) the amount of time and energy spent in training required to make sure that even fallen chicken wouldn’t tempt him to get up (and he’s allergic!) is more than I currently have as a mom and a business owner. It only took three or four dinners to teach him not to go around the standing gate.2) I want him to have the choice to lie down wherever he’s most comfortable or to be in whatever position he’s most happy. Mat training takes away that autonomy.

3) it’s really good practice for respecting gates since he’s perfectly capable of hopping over most gates, and he’s also capable of pushing open an improperly latched gate.


Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE mat training for a hundred reasons, but this isn’t a scenario where it makes sense for my family. Mat training did, however, make sense for my previous pair of dogs because my female was a resource guarder. If both dogs were on their mats, she felt no need to guard the potential of fallen food because she knew it would be off limits to both of them. I also had a lot more time and energy to devote to active training back in my twenties before I had a kid. 


Another pattern I created was to have the dogs wait for me on the couch when I came home. Given that I work by appointment, and may or may not run errands on the way home, there has never been any true routine for my returning home. Teaching them to hop up and wait on the couch while I unloaded dog training gear, purse, groceries, etc, kept them out of the way so that I didn’t trip on them nor drop anything on them, and it also reduced any temptation to jump up in order to lick me (they were very short-legged, very affectionate dogs).


If life is feeling a bit hectic with your dog, think about a daily (or weekly) event in your life, and then picture the way you’d prefer it to go. If your dog is under foot during diaper changes or while you prep and cook dinner, perhaps having them learn to lie down out of the way would be your preference…but how do you get there? A little training and a lot of physical management are the first steps! This means you may work on settle exercises and leave it (training) in a variety of scenarios in your home, and place somewhere comfy for your dog to lie down behind a gate or use a tether (physical management) during the actual event. The less management you use, the more training effort you’ll need to put in, so don’t think of management as a bulky inconvenience. Over time, your dog will learn the pattern of lying down out of the way, and you may not need to use any management anymore (though your mileage may vary based on your dog’s temperament, previous training history, and the amount of training you put in). Sometimes, though, keeping management in place is the way to go, especially when young kids are involved. In Family Paws Parent Education, we call these kinds of setups Success Stations. For help creating your own family patterns and setting up your own Success Stations, work with a Family Paws Parent Educator and/or Dial Guide, such as Kate Uruchurtu, CPDT-KA, FPPE of Calmer Canines LLC.

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