As many of you know, we recently lost our almost 19-year old American Eskimo, Kandi. Because of her declining health during the last 5 years of her life, attending to the daily needs of an aging dog began to create sets of ritualistic behavior for my entire family. Even though much of our actions centered around caring for Kandi, each of my other 3 dogs accepted these procedures as part of their daily routine. After her passing, much of the need to carry out our daily routines stopped. While we all mourned the loss of Kandi, our other 3 dogs – in some ways – were even more deeply affected.
For years, before bed and first thing in the morning, I had to carry Kandi down the steps so that she could go outside. She also got a "treat" every night for her daily medications and I would play with the other dogs while waiting for Kandi to do her business in the yard.
Recently, (just 3 days after Kandi’s passing), when getting ready for bed I noticed our big girl, Sunshine, waiting by the back door. Even though all the dogs could easily get outside on their own through the dog door, she was waiting patiently. As I started to walk her outside, I noticed a huge smile on her face and the other dogs jumped up and started running down the steps too. After some before bedtime play, they got their treat like they used to get when Kandi was getting her medication. The next morning we started doing all the routines over again and the dogs have started slowly becoming their normal joyful selves.
I have always known that routines were important for dogs, but I’ve learned that even if your daily rituals don’t happen to have them at the center of attention, daily repetition goes a long way in shaping your dog’s behavior and bringing much joy to their life.