First off, I want to say that I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy during this coronavirus pandemic. What a crazy time we are going through right now! Everything in life has changed for pretty much everyone. Routines are completely changed, lifestyle is completely changed, work schedules and even the way we work has changed. This will go on longer than our current lockdown situation too, with social distancing probably going to be in effect for most of the year.
A similar statement can be made about our dogs! Their routines are out of whack, they have to get used to you being home all the time, and I bet they aren't getting as much sleep or exercise as they used to either. In many parts of the world, dogs aren't even allowed to be walked, or let off leash, leading to a lot of pent up boredom and frustration.
This blog is all about how to help your dog have some fun, use up energy, and give them something to do so you can get some work done! Remember that not all of these activities are suitable for all dogs, and most need supervising. Please alter them to suit your dog.
The first section is all about using food in genius ways to get your dog to work that powerful nose. Never underestimate the power of your dog’s nose! They can smell 100,000x greater than us, and detect a single drop of a different scent in an Olympic sized swimming pool. 20 minutes of working their nose is just as exhausting as an hour’s walk, so use this to your advantage inside! Think about how tired you are after an hour’s exam where you have had to use your brain.
I highly recommend that you use their meals for enrichment games and a way to use their nose. Avoid feeding every meal in their bowl as this requires no work on your dog’s part and doesn’t tire them out. By using their meals for games and training, it prevents you from over feeding your dog, as you won’t be filling their day with lots of treats in order to train and play games.
A lot of these games and activities can be done with their regular food, and others may require something more motivational! For example, if someone told me to pass the TV remote and gave me a square of chocolate for doing that, I would be pretty happy. But if someone told me to do a 10k run for the same square of chocolate, I wouldn’t be motivated to do it. I would need something much more enticing.
Save any delivery boxes you get. With your dog out of the room, scatter their meal portion inside a number of different boxes, and place the boxes around the room. Let your dog go searching for their dinner!
Use one big box, and fill with various items like towels, toilet roll tubes and balls, then scatter treats or their meal inside for them to root around in to find.
Using a muffin tin, place some of their food or treats in each muffin compartment. Then cover each compartment with a tennis ball or another item that fits. Your dog will have to work out how to get the food out of each compartment.
Save any egg cartons, and place their food or treats inside the carton, before closing the lid. Watch your dog try to figure out how to get it open!
Food on a string. Using some string or twine, thread sweet potato, cucumber, red pepper, dog treats etc on to the string. Then tie the string between two chairs and let them figure it out! Make sure they don’t ingest the string.
Plastic bottles on a string with treats inside. Same as food on a string but this time you thread some plastic bottles (with the tops off) on the string, with treats inside the bottles. The dog has to use their paws or nose to flip the bottles around to get the treats to fall out. Alternatively you can just put the filled plastic bottle on the floor to make it easier, and more active!
If you have kids, you might have a ball pit. If you do, you can scatter treats at the bottom of the ball pit, placeall the balls on top, and have your dog rummage to find!
Snuffle Mat: Make one yourself which is a great way to pass the time during quarantine, or there are lots of different ones you can buy. Scatter their meal inside the material of the mat, and let them snuffle it out.
Find an old towel or blanket, scatter food on it, then roll or fold it up for a makeshift snuffle mat.
If your dog eats wet or raw food, try feeding them in these ways:
I highly recommend buying a Kong if you haven’t already got one. Stuff their meal into the Kong and either give it to them then and there or, if appropriate, freeze overnight for a harder meal time! If you don’t want to purchase a Kong, an ice cube tray works well too.
You can also fill the Kong or ice cube tray with lots of other tasty treats (sparingly). Peanut butter (100% peanuts, no sweetners), plain greek yoghurt, soaked oats, mashed banana, sweet potato, low fat cottage cheese, and many other dog safe foods. You can freeze these overnight too for a longer lasting game.
A Licki Mat would also be a great purchase if your dog eats wet food. It is a rubber mat with lots of grooves on it. You spread their food over the mat and into the crevices, making it much harder for your dog to get their food.
Spend 5 - 10 minutes, a couple times a day, training your dog. A dog can learn an infinite number of things! I am a huge advocate for constantly working your dog’s mind, and teaching new tricks and skills from turning on lights, to spinning in circles. Keep training sessions short, fun and positive.
Each person in your household has a handful of treats. Take it in turns to call your dog by saying their name, followed by your recall command like “Come Here”. As soon as the dog gets to you, say “yes” and give them a treat. Then another person calls them. Do this many times, then each person should try going out of sight, or into a different room so your dog also has to find you.
If it is just you and your dog, then you can still practice recall! Throw a treat away from your dog and say “Find It”. This works best if the treat is hard enough to make a noise on the floor. As soon as they have searched for and eaten that treat, say “Come Here” and start to run away. As soon as the dog gets to you say “Yes” and immediately give them another treat. Then throw a treat away again saying “find It”, before running to a new position.
Please get in touch if you need any training help, behavior modification plans, or how to train tricks. I offer online training sessions worldwide!
You can create an agility course inside your home with no need for fancy equipment! Use sofa cushions, or turn dining room chairs upside down, to create a tunnel. Use a broom handle between 2 chairs for a makeshift jump, and use members of your household as weaving poles!
Collect some leaves and branches when you are on a walk in the park. Place these in piles in your garden to create a more enriching environment for your dog to sniff. When your dog is sniffing trees and plants outside, it is his equivalent of reading the newspaper!
Enjoy this time with your dog! Playing and petting our pets is scientifically proven to help release stress and anxiety. We could all do with that right now.