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Predictability is a hot topic within welfare. It’s important for everyone. You. Me. Our pets. Our ability to predict and react accordingly is critical for us to successfully navigate this wild world. People are able to enjoy stories and media more if they know the ending. When given the opportunity to sample items, people are more likely to participate in activities.
Watch a room light up when someone starts a round of Bohemian Rhapsody or the “Manha Manha” song from The Muppets. You HAVE to join in! That feeling when your GPS gives you an accurate travel time? It’s fantastic.
On the flip side, a lack of predictability, especially over things we find aversive, can send us into a tailspin of deleterious effects including frustration, learned helplessness, aggression, and medical problems. You can see this in this short video (content warning for some colorful language!). The person in the video is filled with frustration at the unclear criteria. Have you been stuck in traffic watching your travel time creep up? It’s a terrible feeling.
What does this mean for our pets?
When we first make a new addition to our home, overhaul our schedule, move residence, or experience some sort of other life change, there is a growing period. Things are less predictable. Tensions are usually running high. We face so many new situations where we ask “if I do X, what happens next?”. One of the things we can do for our pets (and ourselves) is to assess how we provide routine and predictability.
This doesn’t mean regiment every waking moment: 7:00 wake up, 8:00 breakfast, 9:00 flirt pole. I’m a big fan of creating honest signals of what comes next in a smaller context. When someone starts a sentence with “Ellen…” I know I need to pay attention. When I see a yellow traffic light, I know I need to slow down. Little things like this free up so much brain space.
We can provide our pets with similar signals throughout the day! Consider smaller routines you can provide. Some of which are initiated by you, some are initiated by our pets and each has its own benefits.
When X happens, Y will happen.
If you read Allie’s blog post on agency, she mentioned, while we strive for high levels of agency, “Agency doesn’t mean that your pet has full authority to do whatever they want.” Creating clear communication and predictability in the environment can really help create a more harmonious cohabitation with our pets.
Clear indicators can provide information for our pets so they know what is expected of them and what options are on the table.
When I put my headset on, I’m unavailable. When I take my headset off and sit on the ground, I’m available to play with my dogs.
When I walk quietly toward the closet, it’s not for treats. When I say “wanna get a cookie?” and walk toward the closet, my dogs are going to get a treat.
These dichotomies have helped my dogs to relax. Instead of being hypervigilant of my behavior, wondering when they are going to adventure with me or I’m gonna go get them a chew, I make it very clear through repetition that they don’t need to attend to me during these times. I’ll let you know when you need to know.
When I do X, you do Y and I will do Z.
Sounds a bit like training, right? It sure is! Sometimes we want to shake things up, and other times, I want the consequence to be incredibly predictable and clear to my dog.
When I open the back door, if you go potty outside, I’ll give you a treat.
When I ask “do you want to cuddle”, if you come over, I’ll give you scratches.
When I get your harness, if you jump on the bed, I’ll get you suited up.
I think most people have a lot of these built into their day-to-day. If you see some uncertainty, see if you can tighten it up. If you pick up the harness, and your dog runs between you and the door repeatedly with excitement, start picking up the harness and walking directly to a predetermined spot. By harnessing at the same place each time, your dog will start meeting you at that spot.
When you do A, I will do B.
These are routines initiated by my dogs. I saw something they offered and made the choice to tie that offering to a predictable result.
When you bring me a wubba, I will play tug.
When you stand by the back door, I will open it.
When you are trying to run away from something, I will run with you.
When you paw at the blanket, I will cover you up.
What I find really special here is that it allows my dogs to initiate what they need. By building a predictable pattern that I will do THIS when you do THAT, my dogs can be an active agent in communicating and meeting their needs.
Having these small routines in place gives you something to fall back on during times of chaos.
- Think about your normal(ish) day. What are some things you are going to do? Wake up, take the dog out, feed the dog, get ready for the day, some sort of enrichment for your pup, answer email, check on your garden… Can you provide more predictability within a routine?
- Take a list of things your pup offers, and decide how you can predictably respond. When you do X, I will do Y. Can you help your pup tell you what they might need?
- If you already have some routines established, take it one step further, can you provide your pup with more agency?
- Send us pictures and videos of you working on your routines @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram!