- Schedule Anxiety
If you always do things at the same time every day, your dog will get used to it. He will know when it is time for breakfast, dinner, walks, bed, or anything else you always do at the same time. This can be nice on a day-to-day basis, but the problem comes when something changes. Maybe you have to get up early for an appointment and feed your dog early before you leave. Maybe you want to sleep in because you've been working hard all week. Maybe you want to go on vacation to a place where your dog cannot come – or even a place where he can. In each of these scenarios, your routine will change. If your dog has a tendency toward anxiety, even the slightest change can have a huge effect on his behavior. Changes in routine can add up and make things worse. Say you have to have surgery. You will still be home with your dog during your recovery, so you don't have to worry about separation anxiety! Yay! Everything should be fine, right? Maybe not. Your dog will know if you are in pain, or acting differently because of medication. He will notice your change in physical abilities and need for extra rest. He may become anxious because of those things, alone. There is not much we can do to help with him noticing these things and coping with that anxiety. But if we also have kept him on a strict time- based schedule that is now broken, we have set him up for an extra layer of stress. This is called trigger-stacking.
We can all become trigger-stacked at times. This occurs when multiple stressors that are minor all add up. An easy way to understand is to think of a day when you woke up late, stubbed your toe getting out of bed, spilled your coffee, ran out of gas, had to deal with difficult customers at work, forgot to pick up that one thing you needed from the store, and you get home. You walk in the door and your partner says, "Hi honey. What's for dinner?" You explode. You let out an aggravated sound and yell that you just need 10 minutes to yourself! Your partner didn't do anything wrong. Nothing truly terrible happened. You just had a bad day because everything added up. And you took it out on your partner. This is what it's like to be trigger-stacked. A very simple way for us to try to help our dogs not experience trigger-stacking when something in our lives changes, is to make sure they are used to things changing in the first place. If breakfast always happens in the morning, but never at the exact same minute, and walks always happen before bed, but not at exactly 7:30, our dogs will learn to be flexible. They will not experience an extra layer of anxiety simply because daylight savings time ended, or you happen to have a day off. They still have structure. Their needs are still met. They learn to trust that these things will happen without getting caught up on when.
If we teach our dogs that we will always meet their needs, but in our own time, they will be able to relax. You absolutely should give your dog structure! You should be as consistent with him as humanly possible. You should teach him to trust you. But you
also need to teach him to handle change. After all, the only thing we know for sure in
life is that things will always change, eventually.