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Pet Peeves: To You? It's About Variety. To Fido It's Not

Variety is the spice of life for us, but routine is the flavor your dog loves best.

A dog has different needs from us. We identify with our pets, but we aren't like them, really. They are not our "children," and it is sometimes a mistake to pretend they are.

FOOD: We like variety, identifying with the more finicky felines, chasing new dinner entrees and desiring all sorts of differences in texture and flavor.

Dogs? They could pretty much eat the same dinner every day. With a few exceptions, it wouldn't bother Fido and Rex until we introduce things like tasty steak or special treats. But there's a difference in using special steak or turkey treats to teach a new trick and offering a dog special dinners on a regular basis.

Ask your vet, simply changing the brand of food can sometimes upset your dog's digestion. Changing dinner foods often can upset everything, including behavior.

EXERCISE: Some of us are fanatics about it. But most of us like to have days off, where we lounge around and forget about our bodies, pretending we are heads floating along in space.

Dogs? They need exercise every day, and they'll show it, too, if they are deprived. THe exceptions are with wounded, occasionally lazy, or old dogs. Those are the exceptions.

CASE IN POINT OF MESSING WITH ROUTINE (and how it resulted in a trashed trash can):

A friend took her dog for a drive a few hours away, to visit her parents. This was a vacation for her, so she relied on the lovely spacious yard covered with lovely emerald grass. This yard was certainly enough of a playground for her little dog. Right?

In a few days, she was asking me: "Why did my dog attack the bed, knock over the kitchen trash can, and toss all the trash around the kitchen?"

• Is your dog eating on the same schedule?

• Is your dog getting enough exercise?

• Is his routine pretty much the same?

No, she said. She was feeding him differently, including offering special treats from the table, because it was a special visit. Besides, her dad likes spoiling the dogs.

So, during this vacation her dog ate from the table morning, noon, dinner, and in between. They were all getting up later than usual (people and dogs), going to bed later, dinner was ad hoc. So, no, eating was not on the same schedule.

And the dog's regular dish of food was mixed with chips, french fries, meat of all sorts, snacks, scraps, etc. But surely having juicy steaks and chicken would make a dog LESS prone to raid the trash, wouldn't it?

Finally, she added, the dog was not having the same routine for exercise. The dogs go outside and play in the yard at her parents' house.

They no longer get walks. Surely this is enough, though, right? It's a huge yard, and there are other dogs to play with!

My answer?

Her parents' dogs are old. Her young dog is not exercising much by playing with them. Fido surely loved the new smells and lizards and plants. That kind of variety is good for dogs. But her dog needed the routines of eating on the same schedule, walking the same amount, everything on the same schedule.

I also explained that eating table scraps can cause huge behavior conflicts, sending dogs lots of problematic messages in their way of understanding the world, which is different from how we understand the world.

If we eat first? They relax. If they eat first? They need to challenge us to see where other boundaries are. If they eat with us, off our plates? Ball of confusion.

We experience contradictions about our routines, we're conflicted about our rituals, but animals are not. Dogs, in particular, need theirs. Dogs need play time, a daily run or two good daily walks, meals at the exact same time of day—these are routines that help a dog build its bond with you as well as keep its nerves intact and harmonious.

Humans have rituals, too, and good routines make a healthier and happier life. Morning meditation. A cup of coffee with the morning paper. An early walk to loosen the lungs, work the heart, stir the circulation. All of these are good routines.

Still, we are conflicted about routines. Quite often we hate routines. We are likely to say things like:

"It's all routine, just routine."

Ask your friend Raul how it's going at work.

"How's it going, Raul? Anything new?" He'll answer, "Same old, same old. Same routine."

You don't ask your dear friends what their routines are. You pretty much know their routines. They don't interest you; and you don't ask. You ask what's new and different.

"Hey, Janet, what's up? What's going on?" What's new, you mean.

We value variety and novelty. We sympathize with cats, who need a different type of meal to stay involved in their food dish. We understand all creatures who are easily bored. Or we think we do.

But we are wrong when it comes to Fido.

Generalizing from our own experience works often, which is why we do it.

The best examples in human philosophy and religion are about generalizing from our own hearts: From Confucius and Jesus, who both had similar golden rules, to the philosopher Kant whose Categorical Imperative was a perfect example of basing the best principle for living on what we would want.

But dogs don't want what we want. They don't want a new restaurant every week. They don't get the special thrill from variety that we do.

New smells? Sure. An especially long hike? A trip to the beach? Sure.

But they thrive, really thrive, on routine. Walks, attention, a reliable meal at a regular time, a full, clean water dish, praise when they do well.

If you want to spice up their lives? Live up to the routines they really want. Pepper their day with exercise and play. Salt their evening with a walk and a chew toy. Routine is the spice of a dog's life.

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