Saturday, April 17, 2010

Management 101: Routines and Downtime

So, this is what I meant to post on Wednesday, but instead was consumed by the Great Off-Leash Dog Incident. Maisy's doing okay, by the way. Seems emotionally fine so far, though she does have a vet appointment next week. She continues to have an intermittent limp on the rear. It's probably nothing, but we'll get it checked it out either way.

My husband and I were on vacation last week, and so Maisy had the good fortune to spend 9 days with her aunt and uncle. (Well, okay, they’re actually my husband’s great aunt and uncle, but let’s not quibble over semantics, as fun as that might be.) She had a wonderful time: extra long walks every day, older children who were willing to throw her ball endlessly, treats that she didn’t have to earn, people home all day long, and lots of snuggle naps.

We’d been home for three days before we went back to our reactive dog class, which was, in theory, time enough for both of us to re-adjust to our regular schedules. There was only one other dog in class last night, a dog whom she’s seen regularly for half a year or so, and whom she’s basically ignored in recent months. Maisy and I pranced in, settled down on our mats, and practiced relaxing during the check-in portion of class.

And then she lost it.

Okay, maybe “lost it” is a bit too severe of a description, but she flew off her mat at the other dog every single time the other dog got up and walked around. She hasn’t done that in a long time, and she repeated this over and over, no matter how much I lowered my criteria and tried to pre-emptively stuff her full of cookies.

The instructor commented that she hadn’t seen Maisy like that in a long time, and it’s true, Maisy’s improved a lot since we joined the class last fall. And, even in this burst of reactivity, she was fairly quiet without much barking or growling, and she immediately self-interrupted and returned to me. She even bounced back pretty quickly each time, able to settle on her mat calmly after each reaction.

The whole experience really cemented in my mind the importance of creating routines for our dogs, especially the easily-stressed. The predictability of a schedule can do a lot to help the nervous among us know what to expect, and thus feel more secure and confident.

I also suspect that the reduced amount of downtime contributed to her increased reactivity. Although I often feel guilty about leaving Maisy home alone for 40-45 hours a week, I've learned that she does better when she has ample opportunity to rest. A constant barrage of stress, good or bad, will accumulate and push a dog closer to her threshold.

And while Maisy got plenty of time to rest and relax while on her vacation, the novel environment undoubtedly made it harder for her do so as thoroughly as she is used to doing at home. In addition, her naps probably weren’t as long as they likely are when she’s home alone all day.

Although Maisy had had a great time while we were gone, it was definitely a big change, and it was interesting to see how much that affected her. It was also nice to have some confirmation of how important both routines and downtime is to her.

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