Written by: Dr Jacqueline Boyd, BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD, PGCHE, CHES, FHEA, MRSB
Nutritional Consultant, Skinner’s Pet Foods
If you have ever been to a zoo, you may well have seen some of the innovative techniques employed to make enclosures and environments as interesting, stimulating and enriched as possible. This is considered critical for the health and wellbeing of species living a life which is rather more restricted than would be encountered in a free-living state. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact on the daily life of humans, through restrictions and physical distancing, many of our dogs are experiencing a similar restriction to their daily routine, freedom and activity level. Consequently, it is worth considering different ways in which we can enrich their world, both now and for the future! Indeed, many of the ideas that we are about to describe, can be used when life returns to “normal” too.
Food can be fun
Make mealtimes longer by using your dog’s kibble as training treats, scatter feeding (in a clean, dry area of the garden or even indoors!), using puzzle feeders, snuffle mats or other food toys. All of these mean your dog must use both mental and physical energy to “work” for their food. This can help keep them stimulated and help tire body and mind if exercise is otherwise restricted.
There are lots of opportunities to learn new skills and tricks just now, with many dog training classes and challenges migrating to online, remote platforms. Now is a perfect opportunity to investigate some new skills, whether that be trick training or even practicing fundamentals such as sit, stay or heelwork. It is surprisingly easy to do some valuable training in a small space and in a short time. Indeed, little and often can be a more effective way to train than infrequent, longer sessions! There are even competitions online now too, where you compete at home, so there is no excuse for not honing your skills.
The nose knows
Your dog has an amazing nose and we know that the very act of sniffing is rewarding for dogs. Exploit this! Hide favourite toys or even treats around the house or in the garden and encourage your dog to seek them out using their nose. Start simple initially and gradually build up the complexity or difficulty, always encouraging your dog for actively searching – it can become a great game for you both! I have set up a sandpit at home in the dog garden so my dogs can dig and sniff in it – they even dig and hide their own toys in it!
Keep on moving
If you are lucky enough to have a garden or outside space, then exercise can take place outside and you can create some amazing “walks” even in a restricted space. Over the last week, social media has shown that someone “ran” a half marathon on their balcony and another person ran a marathon in their garden! There is no excuse, even in a small area or inside not to be able to go for a “walk”!
For some dogs, exercise away from their own garden/home is when they go to the toilet and many owners are certainly worried about the impact that restrictions might have on this. It’s worth revisiting basic toilet training skills, even for adult dogs and rewarding them for going “at home” if this is a concern. Indeed, you could even train your dog to “go” on cue, which can be useful – all my dogs know what “be busy” means, and I have even seen them “pretend” to go, just to get a reward! What it does mean though is that when I use that cue, they know they are safe and allowed to toilet in that location/at that time, very handy when travelling, at events/shows or on holiday (all those things will happen again!)
Connect and relax
In these unprecedented times, one benefit is that we can spend more time with our dogs than we possibly ever really get the chance to. Even if that means some time spent relaxing on the sofa, or sunbathing in the garden, don’t feel bad. It is a worrying and stressful time for many, and dogs can be a wonderful source of comfort, support and distraction. Take the time to groom and connect with your dog; I can guarantee you will both feel better for it!
Everyone at Skinner’s hopes you and your family, two and four legged, stay safe and well. If we can help you with any nutrition questions or queries for your dog, our experienced and friendly nutrition team would be delighted to assist you, or find out more at https://www.skinners.co.uk/.