Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How Do Dogs Love Ritual and Routine? Let Me Count the Ways.

I'm a Dog Mom. Hear Me Bark.

Dogs are creatures of habit. They like to know what’s happening, when, where, and who’s in charge. One of my favorite things at Camp Bow Wow is checking in Campers in the morning. Our “regulars” know the routine and they LOVE it: They come bounding into the lobby with mom or dad, and as we greet them by name, they often stand up at the lobby counter, lean in, and give big kisses. They stand in front of the lobby gate, tail wagging, as their parent gives any new instructions for lunch, nap, often asking if their pup’s favorite buddy is at Camp today. As a Certified Camp Counselor comes up, the dog bounds through the gate, and sniffs all the leashes hanging on their pegs—“Hey, that’s Steele!” Or Hank, or Belle, or Blue, or Tucker, or “Hey! A new kid!” When the Counselor opens the door into the back area, they know just where to go. If they’re a big dog, they head to their left, knowing that the left side aisle leads to the big dog yards. If they’re small, they head to the right, knowing that the small dog yard awaits. I can’t tell you how joyful it is to see all those happy butts bounding away, tails wagging,  as they run toward the play yards, eager to greet their best buddies, make new friends, and have a rompin’, rollickin’, rowdy good day at Camp!

When dogs are disrupted from their routine it is often hard to witness; their confusion and worry is especially painful because we can't just sit them down and explain what's happening. We have had many Campers who have come to us as a recommendation from a trainer: dogs whose family is moving, or having a baby, or having extended visits from unfamiliar friends or family. Even something as seemingly simple as hosting a party at home can cause some dogs to act out in ways they never have before--destructive behavior, extreme neediness, separation anxiety, and even aggression--leaving their parents nonplussed. So when I see dogs who experience change calmly, not protesting or pouting (as we humans often do), I stand absolutely in awe. Case in point: I suffer from chronic migraines. And the past ten days have been really hard for my own pack. When I get a days-long migraine, our house is a very different place. Everyone tip-toes around, trying to keep things quiet, dark, and cool. My wonderful husband takes over providing meals, keeping the house decently clean, and fielding calls or texts from family and friends. However, I sometimes think my dogs suffer almost as much as I. They’re not feeling the excruciating pain of migraine, but their routine is completely disrupted and worse, they don’t know the rhyme or reason of it. They just know that mom is sick and all she wants to do is lie in bed, perfectly still and utterly boring. There’s no “Group Bark & Howl” to start the day. No happy, bell-like jingling of kibble flowing into breakfast and dinner bowls (dad doles it out as quietly as possible). No walks. No Frisbee throwing. No fetching the oh-so-loud squeaky ball. No swimming. No belly rubs or tricks for treats. And worse of all, it often seems that there’s no end in sight.

I am amazed at how wonderful and supportive my dogs are during my “flares.” They seem to know what’s needed. They spend most of the day lying quietly in bed with me; dark during the day, dark at night. There’s no barking at the mailman or neighbors and dogs walking by our house. There’s not the usual wrestling and tussling, or even chewing bones—that’s too loud, after all. Instead, they snuggle, lick my face, snooze for hours at a time, and just BE with me. They seem to know exactly what I need to get well as quickly as I can.

And eventually, the morning dawns when, like a miracle, I wake up without pain. And they know it! Maybe it’s the way I stretch, or the tone of my voice as I greet them. Perhaps it’s the way I sit up quickly and easily and reach out to give kisses and belly rubs. And when they see these signs, well heck! It’s party time! And our routine of the “Group Bark & Howl” to greet the morning gets going. Zoe, our eldest, a black-and-white Border Collie/Lab mix, launches onto my chest, pins me down, gives me my morning facial of luscious licks, and stretches out her back legs to get her massage. Buster, our 70 pound Bluetick Hound mix, begins his tandem “Who’s the man?” ritual with Charlie, our 7 pound wire-haired Chihuahua. Charlie on the bed, Buster on the floor, they race from one side of the bed to the other, growling, barking, tails a blur, and in Buster’s case, howling for all the world to hear. Bella, our middle child, a Catahoula Cur/Sheltie mix (we think), barks, growls, snarls, and snorts simultaneously—the strangest vocalization combo you’ll ever hear—in her own unique style, while tossing her head and alternating body pins with Zoe. Our smallest, Capri, a Chihuahua/Rat Terrier mix, weighing in at 6 pounds and a princess to boot, tucks up by my head, so she won’t get stomped in the fray. But she doesn’t let her small size keep her from joyfully adding her voice to the chorus. All of this lasts several minutes and by the end of it I’m so full of joy and laughing, that I add my own howl to the cacophony. When I’m finally able to sit up in between body pins, the ritual ends (mostly) and we all head to the kitchen for breakfast and the weather report.

When I see “routine” through the eyes of my dogs, the oh-so-human urge for something ever-new, ever-bigger, better, shinier than yesterday, seems rather compulsively ADHD. And I think, “Vive la routine!” What’s your morning ritual with your dogs?  Share!  

Here's my babies, all decked out in their Halloween costumes for our Camp "Howl-O-Ween Yappy Hour" in 2012.

Thanks for visiting!  Michelle Vardeman Martin

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