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.


  • Nancy Campbell

    Reply Reply

    Yes, I have noticed my Doberman-Rottweiler mix sleeping more these past few weeks. Also, choosing her comfy dog bed on the floor to avoid the struggle she now has to climb on the loveseat. She survived a nasty bout with aut0-immune hemolitic anemia last year, she’s lost 10 lbs after coming off the steroids, and she’ll be 10 years old in June. I monitor her behavior closely and know she may not be here to help me retire in two years. It breaks my heart.

  • I just relocated to uspstate NY from a very busy Long Island. My terrier, Panda, has really taken this change poorly. She has always been a very nervous dog, and has never taken to change well. For instance, when we went to my mothers for a visit it would take her 15-20 minutes to calm down. And her first night at her only doggie day care, she would not eat. When we would visit friends it would take her one full day to calm down. Well now, she has started seeing “ghosts” in my heating vents. I have always had radiators. Now we are in a manufactured home and all of the heating vents are on the floor. She must hear the heat coming up and therefore she thinks something is in there. I have started her on Zanax temporarily, because she is upsetting my 2 other dogs, who have taken the move very well! I have tried to keep the same routine…..walking 4 times a day….meal time is twice a day…play time in the afternoon and evening….but Panda who does not handle change well to begin with…is taking this change the hardest.

  • Suzanne and Dan

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    Sorry Nancy to hear of your dog’s declining health. Our Coral will be 9 years old in May, but aside from some gray around her eyes, she still looks and acts like a much younger dog – maybe 5 or so. The thought of not having her with us one day is almost unbearable. While we’ve loved every dog we’ve had – even the difficult-to-live-with-troublemaker-Ashley, Coral is, as we’ve said before, really the heart and soul of our family.

  • Suzanne and Dan

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    Some dogs just aren’t very resilient Mary Kay and sounds like your dog is one of them. You might could benefit from working with a behavior professional who can help you counter condition and desensitize Panda to the “heating sounds” that are upsetting her (after first verifying that is indeed the situation) and to help you manage her better in the meantime.

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