Dog lead and training treats

My dog has FOMO!

Can a dog really have FOMO? A dog with a fear of missing out? Absolutely she can, and in this article I’ll try to explain how we saw this manifest itself, and what we are doing to try to counter it.

Routine is not always good

We are a multi dog household. We have Ruby Lou and her two pups Mabel and Benji. Mornings are the usual rush of getting ourselves ready, along with getting the dogs fed and out for their morning walk.

For various reasons we are not yet at the stage where we can walk multiple dogs together, so they are each walked separately, and at the moment there is a set routine. They each take their turn – Benji, Ruby Lou, and Mabel – and they all know their place in the queue.

Routine is not always good though, and in our case it had turned frantic and over excitable. We were, and still are, having problems with Benji becoming extremely excited for his walk. And Ruby Lou had started to have less patience with her pups.

Encouraging calmness

This lack of calmness within the household wasn’t just in the mornings. It had started becoming a problem throughout the day, with adolescent pups chasing each other around barking, and a mother dog getting a bit fed up with it all!

Several dog trainers and behaviourists had suggested a technique called Boundary Training. I’m sure we’ll write about it, but essentially it’s the idea that you give your dog a boundary – perhaps their bed, or a mat – that they know is theirs. You teach your dog that when they are on their boundary that is their calm space; and that when they are on there they are calm and stay until released. Teaching your dog to get on the boundary, and to stay on, involves encouraging them with treats. In the early days, lots of treats!

The problem

Ruby Lou used to love going for a walk. But what we began to see was that she would essentially refuse to go. Point blank refuse!

Benji would have his turn, and on return I would want to take Ruby Lou out. But she would bark and ‘shout’! And she would not come to me to get her lead on. On the rare occasion I could get her lead on her and get her out, she would get so far and literally dig her heels in and want to turn back. Often this would be only as far as the end of the drive!

The barking and shouting was her way of telling me she didn’t want to go for a walk, and digging her heels in and turning back was her wanting to get back to the house as soon as she could.

But why?

Ruby Lou had FOMO!

It dawned on us that whilst the Boundary Training was helping with general calmness, and still does, in this case it was causing the problem.

Whilst I was getting Benji ready and out for his walk, Louise was using Boundary Training to keep the other two occupied and calm. This was great, except Ruby Lou had associated Benji having his morning walk with food and treats!

Ruby Lou had developed a fear of missing out! Why would she want to go for a walk when she could stay at home and get lots of treats?! Even with the treats that the dogs know I take with me on a walk, Ruby Lou had decided the easiest option was to stay at home and get treats!

Change the routine

Once we realised the problem, we stopped Boundary Training in the morning. We still use Boundary Training, but in the mornings we’ve dropped it.

But by ditching Boundary Training in the morning we are not back to square one. There are a number of factors which have helped increase calmness within the home in the morning – the pups are maturing, Benji’s general excitability is decreasing and improving, the mornings are lighter, and due to COVID-19 our work routine has changed meaning we are not in the same mad rush in the mornings (about the only good thing!).

Ruby Lou has learnt that she no longer gets treats whilst Benji has his walk, so when it is her turn she is once again happy to get her lead on and get out for a walk.

The situation is by no means perfect yet. It’s still early days. We still sometimes get some barking and shouting from her, but this is definitely decreasing, and so far we’ve managed to get her out for her morning walk each day.

We are convinced that Ruby Lou had developed FOMO! She would rather stay at home to get treats, rather than go for a walk and miss out on them! Only time will tell, but we hope we’ve managed to turn this struggle around.

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