Lockdown can be a really difficult time for people with dogs. They’re utterly thrilled that we’re at home with them but maybe some are struggling with just one walk a day. If you’re anything like me and can’t walk all of your dogs at once it can be even harder.
Luckily the weather has been lovely so they’ve had lots of time outside playing. We’ve had our little obstacle course set up and even Paddy is getting involved. Whilst I’ve had a little more time on my hands I’ve been getting involved with some online dog training groups giving me more ideas to keep my gang entertained. We had a chat with our lovely friend Carrie from Carrie’s Canines and Friends on what we can do to keep boredom at bay. Carrie is a dog trainer and walker from Coventry specialising in puppies and is here to help us out whilst in lockdown…
During lockdown what’s the best way to keep my dog entertained if I’m working from home and need them to settle down?
Our dogs have had to adjust to us being at home a lot more. All of a sudden we are working from home and their routine has changed. They will have noticed that we are more stressed and worried too, they are super in tuned to us. You may be finding them following you around more and not settling very well. Some dogs may have now shown some old behaviours which you thought were fixed, like barking at other dogs or people. Or they may be just over excited about you being home all the time due to lockdown.
We need to provide them with a new routine, it doesn’t need to be a strict routine, but just so they have some guidance to their day.
Under the current rules of lockdown, we can go out to exercise just once a day. Your dog may be used to more than just one walk, so they may be struggling with the reduced exercise they are now receiving.
The good news is we can still tire our dogs out, they need mental stimulation just as much as they need physical exercise. This will give you a more content and relaxed dog which will encourage them to settle. Allowing you to get on with your work and will help reduce any unwanted behaviours.
There are different ways to mentally tire our dog…
Such as enrichment toys, chews or you could also do some training. Your aim is to increase calmness, so you need to be careful not to overdo the mental stimulation as your dog will just be waiting for the next ‘thing’. We don’t want to come out of this with fat dogs due to them having extra enrichment.
Scatter feeding is a great way to start your day and is how I start most days with my pair. It is great for getting your dog to use their nose and 15 minutes of scent work is better than a 1-hour walk. Start somewhere easy like tarmac, where they can see the food – this sets your dog up for success – it’s nice for us to succeed isn’t it? So set that up for your dog too. As they get better at it, make it harder by scattering in short grass quite close together. When they begin to succeed at that then increase the distance you scatter it.
I want you to use their breakfast for scatter feeding, not anything extra or special. This way they are working for their breakfast and tiring their mind. If you don’t have grass or live in a flat you could easily take this game on your walk in the morning, just like I do.
Chews are your best friend right now! Antlers, Yak chews, tripe, naturally dried out chews, fish twists etc are good chews for your dog to have. Chewing naturally relaxes a dog and releases endorphins in their brains, helping them to relax. I bet most people have a Kong somewhere too – dig that out from the toy box or out of the garden and make use of it by stuffing some wet dog food in it and freezing it for your dog to have. If you are providing your dog with a Kong or chew, remember to reduce the amount of breakfast/dinner they have so you don’t overfeed them. Unsuitable chews/toys though that I do not recommend for a dog are plastic flavoured bones, rawhide, cooked bones. Please do not buy these as they are not suitable chews for your dogs.
There are lots of other enrichments toys available such as a Kong Wobble, which you could do instead of scatter feeding (not as well as). Just be careful you aren’t providing these all day long. Our dogs need rest and you don’t want them waiting all day for the next thing you are going to provide them.
Another great way to build your relationship and bond with your dog is to teach them something new, like a fun trick, working on their recall or walking at your side. When dogs learn something new it does tire them out, which will give you a sleepy dog.
Come and check out the free challenge I did here which will help you with ideas and have step by step guides on how to teach the games https://www.facebook.com/groups/Carries14dayCanineChallenge/
How long should I be spending on training?
Short training sessions are best. Keeping your dog focused on the task prevents you or your dog getting bored or stops you over-training your dog.
There are two ways I train with my dogs and recommend to my clients. One – count out the number of treats you are going to use for your training session, such as 30 treats. Two – time yourself. 5 – 15-minute sessions are good, short and sweet.
I also suggest using their daily portion of food when you can, to help prevent having fat dogs after lockdown.
If you start doing longer training sessions, your dog become accustomed to this, finding it harder to switch off. Short sessions through the day, build them into your routine. For example – when making a cup of tea teach your dog to catch. When you are making your dinner teach them that fun new trick you’ve always wanted them to do.
What sort of rewards should I use for training?
I always use part of their daily food allowance when I can. I may need to use something dog deems as higher value when I am teaching something new or fixing a behaviour. For example wanting them to walk at my side to the park – Kibble then just isn’t going to cut it!
I use meat such as chicken, beef and liver. Cheese isn’t great for our dogs. Cows milk doesn’t agree with them and can put weight on them easy just like us! It is a lot cheaper to buy a piece of beef and cook it for training treats than buy expensive grain-free, specially made biscuits. I buy a piece of meat, chop it into pea-size treats and freeze in small portions ready for training.
If cooking isn’t for you JR Pet products do fab pure meat sticks which come in chicken, lamb, beef and turkey which I have as a back up a high-value treat.
I have a puppy and I can’t walk them for very long yet, what else can I do?
You can be doing similar games with your puppy, get them to engage their nose with a scent game. I love cardboard chaos, just get your recycling out and pile it up. Scatter your puppies meal in it for them to investigate and find. This not only gets your puppy to use their nose, it is also great for building confidence in puppies.
Get them some suitable chews too – yak bars are a favourite for young puppies. When you puppy is done with chewing, take it the chew away. If something is on offer all the time we lose interest. Imagine I brought you cake every day for a week, by day 5 you wouldn’t want any more. If I brought cake round every two weeks you could look forward to it. The same applies to toys, pick them up and mix up which ones she has to keep it interesting.
Practise your training with your puppy form your puppy classes. Puppy push-ups are great fun to do with them as this tires them mentally and are simple exercises. All you need is a sit, down and stand. Quick and easy whilst you have more time during lockdown. Check out a video here on how to do Puppy Push Up’s https://youtu.be/w0La4CFqiks
I can’t get to puppy classes and I’m a first time owner where should I start first?
New owners need to get started with puppy training straight away. Getting polite manners in place from the start is important. Leaving your puppy training until the lockdown is lifted means your puppy could develop behaviours that need fixing. It’s much easier to prevent problems by showing our puppies what we want and giving them leadership and guidance.
I would advise working with a puppy trainer whether that is online 1:1 or an online course. This will help you train the basic behaviours and manners with your puppy as well advising on puppy problems. The most common are toilet training, mouthing, jumping up, nighttime settling and crate training.
You can check out my blog here that has lots of advice to get you started with your new puppy https://www.carriescanines.co.uk/blog/ or join my online training community here https://www.carriescanines.co.uk/puppy-home-school/
What can I do instead of walking my dog?
It will not do your dog any harm having days off walks, especially during lockdown when there’s people out walking at all times of the day. We’ve had it drummed into us over the years that our dogs must have 2/3 ways per day, every day. When in fact some dogs benefit from days off walks. If you are not enjoying the walk, your dog might not be either, they will notice how you are feeling.
Have a day or two off. Do a bit more mental stimulation with them instead. When you do want to go for a walk choose a quieter time of day. Early in the morning or around 6 pm when people are eating their dinner, is usually best.
I own a collie x spaniel and a cavapoo, we are taking our one walk a day in the morning. We see fewer people on our walks then. I did try doing lunchtime walks to break up their day but there were so many people around it was hard on Eric, my cavapoo. He is my little worrier and his confidence has grown bucket loads over the past few years, but with everything that is happening, I have noticed he is reacting to people again, barking at them and he is following me around a lot more. To make the walks more enjoyable for him we go out early so we see fewer people and take days off walks too.
I’m concerned about separation anxiety when we go back to work, is there anything I can be doing now?
Separation anxiety is something that we will see an increase in once lockdown is lifted. This is because dogs have got used to their owners being at home.
Every day take some time to make sure your dog has time on their own. Try popping him in a crate with a chew or reading in your car and leaving him in the house.
If you’d like to get to know more about Carrie or join in her challenges then go to www.carriescanines.co.uk or https://www.facebook.com/groups/Carries14dayCanineChallenge/
Do let us know how you get on and send us your videos of you training!