Dog Enrichment During COVID-19

During these “interesting times”, as long as it’s still safe to do so, taking your dog for a “Sniff and Stroll” walk outside — especially in a park area where there are trees — is one of the best ways to provide for your dog’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

NOTE: if your dog is over-reactive, fearful, aggressive, or pulls too much on walks, I can help you with that. I do offer remote dog training/behaviour modification services through video chat, phone, or email.

Nature is healing for humans and for animals. Sunlight, fresh air, trees, a relaxing walk casually exploring — these all help you and your dog’s stress levels as well. When dogs are allowed to stop and sniff (safe places to sniff, mind you), their heart rates lower and the “thinking areas” of their brains are engaged. A “sniff walk” can be mentally tiring for a dog and can produce much more calm behaviour than a fast “mindless march walk” where the dog walks briskly but doesn’t get to stop and sniff.

Here are some additional ways to help your dog’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Please contact me if you need help teaching these. I can provide dog training services and behaviour consults through video chat, phone, and email.

1. COOPERATIVE CARE: I highly recommend teaching some “cooperative care” skills where your dog learns to enjoy some important animal husbandry activities like teeth brushing, pill taking, nail trims, brushing, tick checks, ear checks, etc.

2. BASIC SKILLS/MANNERS: Work on some basic skills that may need some work — using positive reinforcement methods only. Insert a sense of play into the training. Start from Kindergarten and you’ll be amazed at the change in your dog’s behaviours and relationship with you. If you’ve used coercion, sharp noises or emotional pressure, corrections, scolding, punishment in the past for these skills, you may want to change the word for them. For example, if you’ve always had a stern voice when you use the commands “Drop!”, “Off!”,  “Stay!” or “Come!” then you may want to change to a new word for these since your dog may have a negative emotional response to those words. Ideas for skills to brush up:

  • Not jumping up on you or guests
  • Waiting away from the door when someone is at the dog
  • Not making a fuss when someone walks past the front window or yard
  • Going to dog bed and laying down to settle
  • Going into the dog crate to settle
  • Going potty on cue
  • Waiting for the food bowl
  • Releasing a toy or other object when asked
  • Not grabbing food that falls on the floor

 

3. INSTINCTIVE BEHAVIOURS: Provide opportunities for your dog to do natural, instinctive behaviours:

  • Foraging: instead of feeding the dog’s meal in a bowl, sprinkle it in a room (or two rooms) or leave kibble trails in the yard and then let your dog forage for the food.  Snuffle mats or food sprinkled in the folds of a towel on the floor can work, too.
  • Tearing things apart: cardboard boxes (remove plastic, tape, and staples) are great opportunities to for your dog to destroy something. If your dog needs help getting started, put bits of food inside or a toy inside and then encourage your dog to open up the box. You can even tear a bit yourself and show your dog what to do.
  • Digging: if you have a special area in your yard or an empty plastic kiddie pool that you can fill with dirt or sand (or even snow or pea rock) that can be fun for your dog to dig. Hide toys or chews — things of value to your dog — and let your dog dig a bit to find them.
  • Scent Work: Teach your dog SEARCH Fun so you can then give your dog search tasks to find. It’s a great way to let your dog do the job he/she was born to do.
  • Figuring Things Out: This includes food dispensing balls (or empty water bottles, cardboard tubes, boxes), puzzle toys.

4. PLAY INTO TRAINING: Set up an obstacle course indoors or out in the yard using objects that your dog can go under, over, on, inside, through, around, etc. Try a bit of Dog Parkour if your dog is physically able. This can be done indoors, in the yard, on a walk.

5. CAR RIDES: Driving to a new place can be enriching for your dog, even if your dog doesn’t leave the car. Open the windows a bit to let in the outside smells and sounds and watch your dog’s nose and ears twitch.  If your dog doesn’t enjoy car rides or isn’t mannerly during one, then work on that.

6. CLASSICAL CONDITIONING TO THE NEW NORMAL: Start now to teach your dog that people in medical masks — including you — are no big deal.