Most of the world has been in some form of lockdown since March. This has changed our way of life enormously, including for our pets. Dogs especially so given they still require outdoor exercise!
It’s been a mind-blowing time and experience for many people. Not only have many people been required to stay indoors, some countries have even limited the number of times you can go outside each day. This can become challenging when there’s an active dog requiring their normal exercise routine.
So what can we do to help entertain and stimulate our dogs during lockdown?
Optimising the walk
Depending on the country, some outings have been limited to one hour per day within a maximum radius of one kilometer around the home. For some, longer walks, including in the forest, are a no-go. As such, some dogs may feel frustrated by being deprived of their routine walks and sensory experiences. Frustration in dogs can manifest itself in the form of unwanted behaviour such as barking, destruction and even aggression.
If your country and/or region doesn’t have such strict measures in place, you can still profit from your regular walks. However, you may not wish to take the risk of venturing outside in the same way as before. And we can understand this.
In order to optimise your daily walk, you might like to consider letting your dog guide you more on their outing. For example, instead of ensuring you reach a certain distance walking at your regular pace, you can instead let them take the steering wheel at their speed. That is, allow them to sniff freely as they see fit and stop for as long as they want - even if this means you find yourself walking a shorter distance. The more smells your dog sniffs, the more they will stimulate their brain. And this is a good trick to help expend energy.
Entertaining at home
Stimulating your dog indoors might require a little more thought but can be done with the help of a few key games and ideas.
Ideas for indoor games with your dog
Treat-based games: Try setting up various activities involving treats. These can be in the form of a series of small games played one at a time or all together if you have a very energetic dog. Treat hunting for dogs is a bit like children on the hunt for Easter eggs!
If you already own a Kong toy, take advantage of this. If you don’t have one, not to worry - a homemade version is easy enough to make using common household items.
To make your own Kong-like toy, grab an empty water bottle, drill or poke some holes into it, fill with some treats and screw the lid on tightly. And voila - a great distracting toy for your pooch (with a rewarding treat at the end)!
You can also hide treats around the house or garden for your dog to embark on a “treasure hunt".
Indoor/garden agility: If you have a garden or a large living room, try creating an agility-like course using different furniture and household items such as chairs, cushions, tables, boxes, and so on. Be careful to remove any breakable items before allowing the fun to begin!
New tricks: If time is something you have more of these days, then it’s also the time to teach your dog some new tricks. If they haven’t already mastered the basics - sitting, lying, standing, fetch, spinning - then jump onto YouTube or Instagram for a world of tutorials to help you. If your dog is more advanced with tricks, try teaching them something new and quirky like singing, high tens, riding a skateboard, peek-a-boo, walking backwards, or even opening and closing doors. Training your dog is time well spent and your dog will appreciate the extra bonding time they get to share with you. It’s also a fantastic way of ensuring they receive intellectual stimulation - all part of their energy output needs.
Hide and seek: Who doesn’t love a game of hide and seek! If there’s more than one of you in the house then this can be great game to play with your dog. One of you stays with the dog while the other or others go hide. Now unleash your dog and let them hunt you down! Don’t forget to reward them with plenty of love once they’ve found you!
Doggy yoga: Ok, ok. This one might be a little far-fetched for some lovely pooches. But there are some dogs who will actually participate and copy what postures you do! Keep your yoga routine fluid and dynamic to avoid them coming to sit on your lap during supta baddha konasana (bound angle pose). So why not give lockdown yoga a crack!
You might also like to read: 4 super fun brain games for dogs and their parents
It might sound strange when many of us aren’t doing as much or moving around like we once were, but in trying to compensate for such a time we can inadvertently overdo it.
Take into account resting periods to ensure everyone has normal downtime. As you’re together more than you might normally be, it’s also important not to give in to their every whim. Our guilt is real, and it’s beautiful to have so much quality time together. But if you veer away from normal behaviours and boundaries, you risk creating new challenging behaviours that may be difficult to re-correct.
In fact, the challenge will be coming out of this lockdown period, especially for our pets. There is a very real risk of separation anxiety for many dogs having lapped up such a long period of time with their favourite person/people - their family. Maintaining your boundaries, their routine, and general education will be vital to ensure a smoother transition back to normalcy. In this way, it’s also important to ensure your dog has their own time to do their own thing. Feel free to let them isolate themselves if they so wish, whether to rest or chew a bone or toy. Even if it is challenging for you, it will sometimes be necessary to force yourself to ignore your bestie in order to encourage their independence and autonomy.