Dogs and the Importance of Rituals

Do you have little routines or habits you do with your dogs? You know, how you greet them every time you arrive home or maybe after dinner you give your dog a special treat? You could call these rituals you have established with your dog. Things you don’t even think about much, but things that your dog counts on every day.

Each morning Leila and I take our dogs on their morning walk. It has become a ritual, so much so, that we see Sophie “circling the wagons” if we’re not grabbing tennis shoes and socks (a precursor to walking) by a certain time. She just knows when we walk and she has come to expect that it will happen, rain or shine.

One of Sammy’s rituals is to meet me at the front door each evening with an empty Kong toy hanging off his K-9 tooth. His tail is wagging in hopes that I will stuff it for him and Sophie and Cooper. And I always do. It’s a ritual. They always know I have left over treats in my fanny pack.

Dogs and the Importance of Rituals

Included in that ritual, however, is the game to earn the stuffed Kong toys. First Sammy has to find a rope toy that I hide somewhere in the house and while he’s doing that, I stuff Kongs. It’s a ritual.

Dogs put a lot of stock in rituals. Knowing what activities happen at a particular time helps them to stay stress-free. Less stress = less behavior problems. Dogs also ritualize eating and generally respect order, like “who eats first.”

Dogs ritualize their leader-follower relationships, every day and many times during the course of a day. They do this with displays of behavior like invading another dog’s personal space or keeping a toy or ball away from another dog. Dogs generally prefer these methods instead of engaging in fights to prove social control.

Whether one dog or many, I have found over the years that rituals can be used to your advantage to greatly assist in fixing or even avoiding behavior problems in dogs. Rituals provide structure for your dogs, promote order and calm during times of stress and excitement like during eating.

If you use rituals correctly and consistently, rituals can greatly assist in teaching tolerance and patience, especially when incorporating obedience in all of your rituals like “sit for their food.” Your dog now begins to understand your rules and expectations.

Besides the feeding ritual, there are other activities you can ritualize that will greatly assist in helping you to shape a better dog. But first, let’s better understand the definition of a ritual.

A ritual is a set of actions performed for their symbolic value as prescribed by the traditions of a community. Or in this case “a set of actions/activities prescribed by the traditions of the pack leader.” As pack leader you get to set pack traditions.

The following sets of actions or activities you do with your dog like walking, sleeping, playing, training could be ritualized if traditionally done as best you can at the same time every day.  In fact, there may be rituals you already do with your dog, things you don’t even think about that your dog counts on every day. Some of these could be: how you greet when you come home, special treats after every meal, lap or couch time for love and affection and the list can go on.

All of these predictable activities lessen stress and anxiety. Rituals can eventually endow a secure feeling in your dog and in time build an enduring confidence in his relationship with you thereby providing your dog with a stress-free life.

The key is to do these activities with your dog every day so that he begins to count on them, kind of like your pay-check. It comes regularly on the 15th and 30th. You count on that happening as much as your dog counts on that ritualized walk in the evening. If on the next pay day your check doesn’t show up, you suddenly become stressed and anxious.

Hopefully now you can see what your dog goes through waiting on you to come home from work because that’s when activities with you begin to happen.

Consistently ritualize all or as many activities you do with your dog. You’re his big pay-check. Show up, he’s counting on you. It keeps his stress down and you have fewer dog behavior problems. It’s really very simple. You just have to decide to do it and then do it consistently.

I’m honored that you stopped by and let me share my dog training knowledge with you. I truly hope you found answers and hope for helping your dog. Don’t be a stranger. I’d love to hear what you think. Please come over to my Facebook page to let me know how this article impacted you and the way you think about training. Are you looking at it a little differently? Remember:

“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”

Jim Burwell, professional dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.

His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your dog understands what you expect of him, you empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.

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