Part of developing a strong bond with your pet is creating a daily routine. A dog’s schedule should include time to eat, sleep, exercise, and spend quality time with their people. When they don’t have predictable schedules or enough time in their day for exercise and enrichment, dogs may grow bored — and boredom is a primary cause of behavioral challenges like excessive barking and chewing up furniture. So, to save furniture and keep dogs everywhere entertained, I spoke to three experts to put together a daily routine that will keep them happy and healthy.
Developing Daily Routines
When thinking about the ideal day for your dog, the most important thing is to develop a routine you can stick to consistently. “Keeping a regular daily schedule for feeding, walking, exercise, and playing will help dogs feel comfortable and less stressed. Exactly what the schedule looks like depends on your dog’s needs and your own personal schedule,” explains Dr. Gary Richter, author of “The Ultimate Pet Health Guide” and founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition.
In general, dogs thrive on routines and predictability, but they are also adaptable. For example, if you work nights and your “morning” is in the afternoon, that’s fine for your dog as long as there is consistency. Dr. Brian Evans, clinical director of online veterinary site Dutch, says, “Ideally, predictability will be baked into the daily routine. The morning and evening should include consistent feeding, eliminating, and stimulation routines.”
When establishing a daily schedule for your dog, be honest with yourself about your lifestyle. Make sure the routines you build are something you’ll be able and willing to consistently maintain.
Richter advises that “most dogs should be fed twice a day, eight to 12 hours apart,” generally with a first meal in the morning and a second meal in the evening. Even if you’re not historically a morning person, it’s important to budget time into your morning to ensure you meet your dog’s needs. “Feed your dog in the morning when you still have time to let them out to go potty or for a walk. Dogs will often need to defecate after eating a meal so allow time for this before leaving them alone to avoid unexpected accidents,” advises Dr. Ante-Joslin, in-house veterinarian of Dogtopia.
When developing a morning routine, consider your overall schedule for weekdays as well as weekends.
It’s generally advised to space dogs’ meals about 12 hours apart, so the time of the evening meal will depend on when you feed them breakfast. Whenever possible though, avoid feeding dinner late at night. “Feed your dog dinner several hours before bedtime so that there is time for digestion and to go to the bathroom before bed,” advises Ante-Joslin.
Although dogs will eat most of their food at breakfast and dinner, you may want to also hold some of their food aside. “I don’t recommend feeding their full calorie intake at each meal,” Evans explains. “I recommend reserving half of their kibble to use as treats and in food puzzles throughout the day.” Using some of your dog’s food as training rewards while on walks is a great way to provide them with activity and enrichment during the day.
Other Meal Considerations
Try to avoid exercising your dog immediately before or after their meals. Large breed dogs with deep chests are especially prone to the serious medical condition gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), commonly known as “bloat,” which can happen if exercise happens immediately after mealtime. This condition requires immediate emergency veterinary attention, and often surgical intervention.
While a mealtime buffer is recommended for most adult dogs, there are some exceptions. Ante-Joslin explains that “some small puppies or toy breeds can experience low blood sugar if they are fed too infrequently.” So, three to four small meals a day may help keep blood sugar levels constant. In addition to smaller breeds, dogs that are extremely active may benefit from multiple meals a day.
Another meal consideration: Dogs with certain health conditions may need to maintain a strict feeding plan. If you have questions about the specific feeding routine that will be best for your dog, it’s always a good idea to consult with your dog’s veterinarian.
All dogs need exercise, both physically and mentally. “The best time to walk and exercise is basically when you can make it happen,” says Ante-Joslin. “Pick what works best for your schedule and stick with it.” Each dog is different in terms of how much exercise and enrichment they need, but “most dogs need more exercise than what most people realize or are able to provide,” says Evans.
It’s best to exercise your dog multiple times throughout the day. Each dog is different, but on average, “dogs typically need about 30 to 45 minutes of exercise per day,” notes Richter. The best time to exercise your dog will depend on your schedule as well as your dog’s temperament. “If your dog is leash reactive when they see another dog, walking them very early in the morning or late at night can help avoid negative interactions,” recommends Evans.
Exercise and enrichment for dogs doesn’t just mean running in the park. The goal is to find ways to spend quality time with your dog while providing mental and appropriate physical exercise. Teaching your dog tricks and practicing basic obedience skills are great ways to bond. If you have an older dog with mobility issues, Evans encourages owners to consider their pet’s “senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) and get creative with various ways to enrich their environment.”
Enrichment and exercise are essential and will make your relationship with your dog better. “Dogs that have both mental and physical activity daily usually live happier, healthier, and longer lives,” notes Ante-Joslin.
When thinking of an ideal routine, don’t forget about sleep. Dogs might be playful, but they need a lot of rest to be healthy and happy. “The amount of sleep your dog needs depends on several factors including age, size, and health,” explains Richter. “On average, dogs sleep about 12 to 14 hours a day. Puppies and older dogs will usually sleep over 50 percent of the day.” Breed or mix of breeds will also impact how much sleep your dog needs.
In the last couple of years, many dog owners have been able to work from (and spend a lot of time at) home. Even if you have a job that allows you to work remotely, make sure to practice leaving the house to give your dog opportunities to be home alone for a period of time.
If you have a puppy or are considering bringing one home, know that they will need more time and attention. “Young animals need stimulation throughout the day for their social and emotional development as well as their physical exercise needs,” explains Ante-Joslin. “Mature dogs can be left alone for a normal workday as long as they are getting enough exercise and socialization when you are home.”
If you need to leave your dog home alone for longer than six hours, it’s best to hire a professional dog walker to take them out to go to the bathroom and provide some enrichment. If your dog is struggling with being home alone, they could be experiencing separation anxiety — a common form of canine anxiety where dogs panic if they are left alone. If you suspect that’s the case, connect with an experienced trainer who utilizes positive reinforcement techniques and have a conversation with your dog’s veterinarian.
Dogs thrive on consistency when it comes to their daily routine, but of course, just like us they enjoy spontaneous fun: “Even if it isn’t the regular schedule, they will enjoy the bonus time exploring the world with you!” encourages Evans. Be sure to communicate their routine to people who spend time with your dog including members of your family and any dog walkers or pet sitters. The ideal schedule for your dog is one that allows them plenty of time each day to get outside for exercise, sleep, eat, and spend quality time with you.