Lockdown shows us what it's like to live a Dog's life: Trainer explains
Having been in lock down mode for six weeks now, in Auckland, New Zealand. I have been gaining an interesting perspective. One I imagine a lot of people are, perhaps yourself, experiencing too.
The thought is along the lines of “this must be what it feels like to be a dog, locked inside all day.” Bubble life is boring and it’s exactly what dogs are dealing with all the time.
I don’t know about you, but in lockdown, I wake up excited to go for a morning walk. To simply get out of the house, see different sights, smell the roses (I live across the road from Parnell Rose Garden) and generally just take in and experience different stimuli.
Is this not exactly what our dogs must be feeling each morning? Do you get woken up by a wet nose prompting you to get out of bed, grab the leash and hurry up and go for a walk?! I am starting to understand why any opportunity to get out of the house is so darn exciting for our best fur friends.
It’s also been an interesting time in regards to socialization. For the dogs. And for us. After only seeing my three flatmates, staying in the bubble for so long. We are all joking about needing to learn to socialize properly with other humans again. We say it like it's a joke but when faced with a surprising interaction, we all look at each other afterwards and say “I think I’ve forgotten how to human” this makes us laugh a lot. But it also makes me think about our beloved furry friends. Who spend so much of their life locked inside, or in the yard. With little to no entertainment other than barking at passers by. Defending the house from cats or catching those tasty sky raisins or digging holes in the lawn.. No wonder so many of our dogs have anxiety, destructive habits or stress related behaviours. Boredom is surely one of the biggest causes of problem behaviours in people and pets.
It is not natural for us, or dogs. To live in a bubble. We are designed to go out and explore every day. Dogs that don't live inside houses, for example in Bali or Thailand dogs roam the streets and have a circuit or route they take themselves on each day. Those dog are interacting with the world all the time and they have the ability to make choices in their day.
These street dogs are so calm, confident and not fussed at all by the hustle bustle of the world, people and other dogs.
But in New Zealand it is the law that you must keep your dog securely on your property. Which I believe is an important part of responsible dog ownership. Of course the dog needs to have shelter, food and water. But after spending six weeks inside our own houses, I hope this is an eye opening opportunity for all dog owners. That providing those bare basics, is not enough. Providing satisfying experiences, choice, enrichment and play is such an important part of responsible and loving pet parenting.
Now that we have experienced what it is like to be told you can’t go outside, except for daily exercise. Is this not so relatable to our dogs lives?
No wonder Fido gets so god damn excited about going for a car ride, to the beach, to the shop, anywhere!! No wonder Fido's tail almost wags right off when he sees a dog friend and gets to run and play. I sure as heck am going to be wagging my tail so fast when I finally get to see my friends again!
Some dogs are less excited and instead are fearful or anxious. Not knowing what is going to happen, where they are going to go or who they will meet. Social distancing and the scary thought of getting sick has certainly opened my eyes to the perspective of a nervous dog that only gets walked around the block a couple of times a day or week.
If you have a dog that is having a hard time, just like if you have a human friend having a hard time, coping with this lock down (or life in general) you want to be there for them. Help them feel safe and brave to enjoy the world again. It is more than OK to comfort your scared dog. Just like you would an anxious friend. Lead by example, with kindness, patience and positivity. But also listen to your best fur friend. If they are saying (with their body language) they are scared and want to leave, you can help them feel safe by calmly taking them out of that scary situation. If your dog's behaviour scares or concerns you at all, get in touch with a professional dog trainer. Having a mentor to point you in the right direction will empower you and your dog immensely. Find a professional trainer in your area here. Don’t worry if you can’t see a trainer in person - you can do dog training sessions at home via zoom! It’s a super effective way to train! And most professional trainers are offering this service now.
Since we all know how boring it can be sitting at home and only going out for our daily exercise walks. How can we make our dogs' lives more awesome?
Here are three simple and fun ways to improve your dog's day and life!
Enrichment! Training! Play!
- Teach your dog something new:
Positive reinforcement is the fastest way to teach your dog something new! Grab some treats, a clicker (if you have one) and your dog - you are ready to train!
Does your dog know how to spin? Play dead? Hi Five? You can train absolutely anything that your dog is physically and mentally capable of with positive reinforcement. Whether it is a helpful real life skill like Sit Stay or if you choose to train your dog a fun trick like *Kiss*. Positive reinforcement inherently increases the bond between you and your dog. It’s empowering, effective and fun for both of you.
Check out these resources to teach your dog something new today:
- Youtube: Kikopup Dog Tricks - 20 Training Tutorials
- Online group classes: Virtual group training classes Provided by K9 Services NZ by Liz Clough
- Instagram: Positive Together “Your Pets Got Talent!”
- Book: 101 Dog Tricks Kyra Sundance
- 1-2-1 training via zoom with me Howlistic Help
One of my favourite tricks to show off with Axl is *Kiss*
- Enrichment games with food:
There are soooo many fun ways to use your dog's food for enrichment. Check out the facebook page Canine Brain Games and Enrichment Ideas
Here is a super simple and fun game to get you started.
Have someone hold your dog on a leash or have your dog in another room, or in her crate so she can’t follow you or see where you're hiding the treats.
Take a handful of your dog's food, or treats and hide them around the room or garden.
Let your dog out
Tell her “Find it!” and let her sniff her snacks out!
She might need help or encouragement to begin with, stay with her and help her by pointing in the general direction of the hidden treats.
Be your dog's cheerleader!
Celebrate when she finds the treats “good girl, good find it!”
Once your dog gets really good at sniffing out the food you can make the Find It game harder and harder by putting more distance between each treat or putting them in more difficult to reach places where she will have to use her amazing doggy problem solving skills. E.g. a treat inside a cardboard box under a chair.
Dogs looooove sniffing out food with their nose so this is a super simple way to make their day that much more fun! Woof!
Do you know what your dog's favourite game is?
Does she love to play chase? Fetch? Or tug?
Devote at least 10 minutes a day to play your dogs' very favourite game.
This increases your bond together and it is just good ol’ fun!
Be silly, be present and have fun.
Axl's favourite game to play at home is “Chase me” .
I run around the living room trying to tickle his back. The floors are a bit slippery for him so we go outside to have a more intense game of chase. I run around with my arms outstretched giggling and telling Axl “I'm gonna get you!” he skips around the house and garden running away from me. Then I quickly change direction and run away from him, switching roles he is now chasing me. But Axl's favourite part of the game is being chased. He comes bounding up to me to start the “chase me!” game again! He could play this game alllllll day long!!
10 minutes is an achievable minimum amount of time we can all put aside to play with our best fur friends. You can play as much as you like with your dog, but at least 10 mins a day playing his favourite game is a good place to start!
Axl loves to play tug! Click here for a video of his favourite game “Chase me!”
Playing and training like this will ultimately increase your bond between you and your dog. It will help your dog (and you) feel happy, content and relaxed at home.
Soon hopefully we will be able to see our friends, explore different places and play off leash again. But for now, stay safe, save lives by staying home. Try these simple ideas to make your dog's day (and yours) less boring and more pawesome! Not just during lock down, but always. Your dog will thank you for it!