Preparing pets for changing clocks
Dog Behaviourist Adem Fehmi for Barking Heads shares how pet owners should prepare their pets for changing clocks...
Whilst dogs can obviously not physically tell the time, just like us humans, they have an internal body clock that may signal what time of day it is and what might be happening at that time. For example, if you typically wake up for the day at 7:00am every morning, your dog’s body clock is likely to adjust to this, meaning that they may also wake at the same time every day, ready for whatever happens first. This is likely to be the opportunity to toilet followed by perhaps a walk, breakfast or even simply sitting with you whilst you have a morning brew and read the paper. Whatever their usual routine, our dogs are likely to become attuned and accustomed to this and so they will grow to expect certain events and activities to occur at certain times of the day.
When dog’s become accustomed to a set routine, if we then suddenly choose to have a lay in, our dogs will most probably not understand this change in behaviour and will not get this memo, instead they will wake up at the same time as usual, anticipating our presence. This also goes for the clocks changing. Whilst the Spring clock change might see our dogs surprised to see us a little earlier than usual, the Autumn clock change may have our dogs wondering where we are!
In regards to our dogs being able to ‘tell the time’, things we do as owners may indicate what time of day it is and what is coming next in the day. For example, if as an owner you usually take the children to school before heading back home to walk them, your dog might happily reside in their bed first thing in the morning whilst you all have breakfast and get ready but they may be up and waiting excitedly at the door, full of energy and ready to go, upon your return. Similarly, you may give your dog a bedtime biscuit after their last opportunity to toilet at night before you hit the sack. Coming in from their late night toilet break may then become the trigger for expecting this treat and they may even start to wait by the biscuit tin at this time. Whatever the trigger, our dogs are observant creatures by nature and can learn these cues quickly, learning to ‘tell the time’, even if we don’t realise these cues exist!
Whilst we may applaud our dogs for being observant and ‘telling the time’, a very set or rigid structure to a dog’s day can cause inflexibility and, when things don’t go as usual or as planned, can sometimes cause a dog to feel anxious or stressed. If you know that your dog can feel stressed as a result of change and that your dog’s routine may need to change slightly in the near future, there are steps we can take to help minimise this impact such as slowly changing their usual routine to the expected new routine over as many days as we have before the event. This might mean changing the times that typical activities happen at, or even changing activities. It is best to make these changes gradually, one by one, over time rather than all at once so that your dog has time to adjust.
In terms of the clocks changing, this is unlikely to significantly affect many dogs but, if you know your dog will become stressed or anxious due to the sudden change of time, if possible, I would simply advise shifting your dog’s usual routine by 15 minutes every few days in the ten days to two weeks leading up to the clock change. For, example, for the Spring clock change, a 7:00am wake up would initially become 6:45am, a 7:30am breakfast time would become 7:15am, and so on, adjusting the time for the activities you usually carry out for the rest of the day.
Every few days you would then change the routine again by another 15 minutes until the new target time is reached. Going forwards, however, if your dog is prone to becoming stressed by a change in routine, it would be best to seek the advice and help of a certified behaviourist to address the underlying issues causing this. An experienced behaviourist can help you to build your dog’s confidence and tolerance to change so that events such as the clocks changing have little or no impact on their mental health.
It is also important to consider your individual dog’s life stage or medical needs and this approach could also be adopted for very young dogs who are still toilet training, or elderly dogs or those with medical needs who might also need to toilet more regularly or would perhaps find a sudden change in routine a lot to deal with. The key message here, is to carefully consider your individual dog’s needs and adapt accordingly.