Limited walks, limited exercise and boredom starts to set in, not just for the dogs but for us too.
Here are a few things you can use to keep your dog’s brain occupied during these strange and testing times.
There are two main types of things we can do with our dogs from home and in the garden, these are –
Engagement /bonding activities
These activities involve you being interactive and present with your dog and they will increase the bond between you. This means your dog will be more attentive, willing to please in general – not just when you are training or doing something with your dog actively.
Independent / non engaged
These are activities you can either leave your dog to do while you are busy or preoccupied. Excellent for if you are very stuck for time. Great to calm and tire your dog, but will not increase their ability to listen and engage with you.
Both are important! A healthy mix of both of these things is the best way forward
Down time is just as important as activities
It’s lovely when your dog wants to engage and play and get attention from you however if they are doing this too much it can become annoying and frustrating when you need to do other things. This can often become very frustrating if your dog is being insistent and persistence and starts to bark, ‘talk’ at you or jump on you or do something naughty like steal something it shouldn’t have in an effort to get your attention (just like a naughty child who plays up to get attention of being told off), so this is why it’s just as important that your dog learns how to switch off. To learn that there are times to relax and there are times to interact with you. The last thing any of us want is our dogs developing separation anxiety when things finally do go back to normal and you return to work or being out more.
Non interactive/ independent activities
Lazy but so valuable!
These are the most undervalued tool in your tool box, so easy to do and takes little effort from you for massive benefits to the dog.
Please do not feed your dog Rawhide or Roasted Knuckle/cooked bones
Recommended long lasting chews
Hooves (non filled ones, though you can fill them if you wish. The ones that come filled from the pet shop are full of grit).
Pigs ears (fatty but ok if your dog isn’t on a diet or having lots of them).
Longer lasting chews
These are less interesting/less valuable - however more hygienic to leave around the house and are great for your dog to chew on if they suddenly feel the need to chew.
Having a mixture of both of the above is the best practice. Longer lasting available to them most if not all of the time around the house and the other type kept for when you need them.
Chewing is normal for dogs and they need an outlet for this otherwise they start to chew things we don’t want them to like our furniture or shoes etc. It’s not just puppies who need to chew.
Chewing is a stress reliever, its mentally stimulating making the dog or puppy tired and it’s also a pain reliever. Providing our dogs with things to chew throughout their lifetime is very beneficial just as much for us as it is for them.
Kongs - I love these!
Filled and stuffed with raw or wet food, mashed banana and a few treats then given to the dog frozen is the most time effective and mess preventing way to give them to your dog. Don’t forget you can put Kings in the dishwasher after, saves time cleaning if your dog hasn’t managed to get all the little morsels out.
Licking is calming, you can get the normal range of lickimats in three different difficulties and they also do a deluxe range which has plastic backing for dogs who may decide it’s easier to chew the silicon than to lick the contents. Soft cheese, peanut butter (no additives), natural yogurt and cheap sandwich paste are all great thing to use with these, you can also freeze them too to make them harder and ensure your dog takes longer to lick the contents clean.
The Snuffle Mat
I love this! And so, do my dogs, and my client’s dogs. So simple yet so effective.
It may look like a very fluffy mat. and yes, it is but if we put small treats, tiny morsel of things they love into it, then the dogs get to ‘snuffle’ them out. It tires them out mentally. The thinking behind it is that is mimics them sniffing in grass, something that ALL dogs love to do!
This isn’t something I would leave your dog unattended with as they may start to try and eat the mat out of frustration. So, this is a supervised activity only.
Nose down and hunting through the mat will help your dog focus and relax, the more they can use their nose the better – it makes for a very tired and content dog!
Once you are well practiced with the mat you can try scattering a few treats or their food over some grass in the garden or on walks. This is a particularly useful exercise for dog who become excited or scared around other dogs or people. Allowing them to use their natural abilities to hunt and sniff helps to calm them when around distractions, provided you are at the right distance away from the distraction.
Wobblers / treat balls
Toys that you can place treats in and your dog has to push them around so the treats fall out – these are great, time consuming for your got keeping them occupied and making them tired.
Interactive bonding activities
5minutes, just 5 minutes etc day. Or 3 minutes twice a day would be even better for just sparing that additional minute!
Hide treats around the house – perfect for rainy days or very hot days.
Shut your dog out of the room briefly, have some treats to hand, you can use either their normal kibble for this or some small dry treats, or a mixture of both.
Hide them at the base of your furniture, behind a houseplant, in a corner- all-over!
· Tip – try not to put treats on tables or on the kitchen side, we don’t want to teach the dog to start looking for food in these places.
Let your dog into the room and say ‘find it’ you may need to guide them to the first few treats initially if you have never played this game. Once you have played this a few times your dog will start to get it, and know to look when you say ‘find it’.
You can also play this around the garden and use their daily food ration if they are on dry food.
If they are on raw food or wet food, roll the food into small bitesize balls and freeze, then play the game with the food frozen in the garden to minimise the mess and germs.
You can also play Find It with your dog’s favorite toy. Follow the directions above, but hide the toy instead of treats. When your dog finds it, you can play a game of tug or fetch as a reward.
This game is similar to Find It—but instead of teaching your dog to find toys and treats you’ll train them to search for you. Like Find It, Hide-and-Seek will exercise your dog’s brain and give them an opportunity to use their amazing sense of smell. It can also help them come when called on walks and in from the garden.
Hunt for your supper!
Again best played with dry food (or wet or raw food frozen into small balls). Measure out your dog’s meal. Walk into the garden with your dog and their food. Hold your dog’s collar with one hand and throw their entire meal over the garden. Release your dog and let them go and snuffle out their food with their nose from between the blades of grass. This will take a lot longer than eating from a bowl and will tire them mentally as they have to hunt for their meal.
You could add a little training to this by asking them to wait before being released (start by holding their collar until they relax and then release).
The golden rules for playing tug - You must let the dog 'win' the item often (we let go and let them have the toy for a short while). If we don't let them 'win' it simply becomes boring to the dog, there is nothing to gain from play so they stop even trying to grab the item in the first place. You must 'win' often too, slightly more than you let the dog win (maybe 60% of the time), remembering to win the last time of the session before putting the toy away, only to be given to the dog during the next game. The toy ideally should be a toy that is kept out of reach of the dog and is kept especially for playing tug, this helps to keep the dogs interest and is a 'prize to be won'. Toys that are around all the time for the dog are of less interest (though still useful to have around for the dog) and as such will be of less value to the dog. Keep sessions short (2-3 minutes) and fun! If the dog is struggling to give up the toy when asked (so you can win) do not carry on moving, keep hold of the toy and go very still, this is a clear cue to the dog that the fun stops when they don't listen/respond. Give a verbal reward such as good dog when they release the toy. Tug can be a fantastic tool to use in place of treats as a reward, and can be used to teach impulse control. It's always worth being mindful of your dog’s age too, if they are 6months or under they could still be teething and this game may make their mouth sore, so go gentle and don't worry if they go through a phase of not wanting to play, come back to it in a week or two and try again. If you are playing with an older dog, if they are usually very enthusiastic about playing tug and suddenly are not, it may be worth getting their teeth checked at the vet.
Tug toys also have another potential use - you can soak them in water from your dog’s food if you soak it or dog gravy, or doggy yoghurt etc, you can soak it in something tasty and freeze it. Giving it to your dog frozen to lick and chew (under close supervision so they do not destroy or swallow the toy) is something you may want to try.
Strictly come doggy dancing!
Have a laugh, maybe shut the curtains so the neighbours aren’t getting too much of a giggle.
Switch the music on and be silly and dance around the front room with your dog! Even if just for a song or two, you dog will always be ready to party with you. Mix it up, encourage them to follow you as you dance around back and forth side to side. Laugh and give them lots of physical praise.
Other enrichment activities
Carboard boxes, ball pits etc
Hiding chews, treats or stuffed Kong’s in cardboard boxes for them to rip into and find. Or get small ball pit for your dog and hide these items in the pit between and under the balls for them to have fun with.
Egg box game
Take an empty eggbox and some scrap paper and some treats.
Place treat on a piece of paper then scrunch up the paper into a ball with the treat inside it before placing it in the egg box, repeat until the egg box is full then give to your dog for them to play with and figure out how to get the treats. Great fun for them!
Muffin tray and tennis balls
Take a muffin baking tray and 6 or 8 tennis balls (equivalent to the amount of ‘muffins’ for the tray) and some treats. Place a treat in some of the muffin indents, then place the tennis balls in each one. Give to your dog to find the treats by removing each tennis ball.
Toilet roll tubes and a box
Take a small cardboard box, and keep saving your toilet roll or kitchen roll tubes.
Insert the tubes upright into the box, enough to fill the base of the box, then place treats in some of the tubes.
You can make this harder by cutting up an old fleece jumper into strips.
Placing a treat on the strip then rolling the strip and placing the strip into a toilet roll tube in the box.
An Old Jumper
Using an old jumper or item of your clothing, put some treats inside and trie it up , make a knot in the jumper so it’s more of a parcel for your dog to figure out how to get into it and get their rewards
I’m sure you can be creative now I have given you a few examples. The fact is you don’t need to spend a fortune to keep your dog busy and make them tired – you can just use things around the house!
Don’t worry too much about your dog eating cardboard, while it’s not something I encourage – it usually just comes out of the other end. The worst bit about using cardboard for these enrichments is the clearing up all the little bits of it around the area your dog has been doing these activities after.
TRAIN SOMETHING NEW
Training tricks – I meet lots of clients who aren’t interested in training their dog to do tricks and they want to train them how to be better behaved rather than what they perceive as waste time training tricks. Remember everything we teach a dog it a game or a trick, sit is a trick so sometimes we need to look at things in a different way.
Tricks can be just cute and something to do, something to show your friends but they can also be very useful too!
It’s also worth noting that just ten minute of training tires the dog mentally just as much as an hours walk! That’s not to say it should replace their walk, however it’s another thing you can do to get their brains working and to tire them further.
Tricks I often teach to start with;
Wipe your paws
Ring a bell
Go around (a cone, tree, a plant pot etc).
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