COVID-19 has had an unprecedented effect on the daily life, mental health, and routine of Americans and people around the world. Quarantine, social distancing & sheltering in place are words that have entered the everyday vocabulary for most.
While there is an abundance of advice on how to physically and mentally look after yourself and your family during these times, there is a lack of information for the 63.4 million dog-owning households in the US on how to take care of their four-legged family member.
The many health benefits of exercise apply to both people and dogs. We highlight some ideas below to help create a new routine that will provide many health benefits for your pooch and a rewarding feeling for you:
#1: Dog Puzzle Toys
While we tend to think of physical exercise as important to keep dogs calm, it is just as important to give them opportunities to exercise their minds. This is especially true if you find yourself stuck indoors with the more intelligent breeds such as Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and other dogs from the never-quit herding and working breeds.
Luckily there are a ton of great dog puzzle toys like the ones reviewed here. You don’t have to leave your home to take advantage of these doggo toys built on the principle of making your dog think before being rewarded with a treat.
#2: Hide and Seek with Your Dog
Professional dog trainers know this game as “The Recall Game” but kids everywhere know it as Hide-and-Seek. And, if you happen to have kids cooped up inside during COVID-19, this fun game is a great one to get them burning off some extra energy as well.
Another bonus of playing this game with your dog is that it helps to reinforce a critical life skill: How to come when called. You never know when this may just save your dog from danger in an emergency.
As with all training, keep the tone positive and fun. In addition, make it easy for your dog in the beginning. Have everyone in the house take turns calling the dog and then rewarding it with food and praise while standing in a circle in the same room. Then, add as much distance as you can between players, remembering to call excitedly and reward liberally for success.
Once your dog understands the basics of this game, you can add more challenges by actually hiding to make it even more difficult for your pooch to earn their reward!
#3: Indoor Obstacle Course for Dogs
There are a variety of ways to be creative with everyday items in your house to make fun obstacles for your dog to stimulate their mind and body. The trick to building a successful dog obstacle course is to train each obstacle on its own, then string them together for a challenging workout.
Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about how you can build an indoor course for your dog:
- Use a doormat or towel as a “down mat.” Ask your dog for a fast down followed by a 5-second pause before releasing them and rewarding them with praise or food reward.
- Use storage totes, pillows, or some boards to create jumps for your dog. Try setting them up in the hallway and calling your dog from one end to the other for a fun and easy workout.
- Build a tunnel obstacle with an old sheet. Start by making it short so that it is easy, adding length to the tunnel once your dog “gets it” to add a challenge.
- Make “weave poles” by stacking books a few feet apart. Start by luring your dog through them to help them understand the object of this fun obstacle.
#4: Teach Your Dog Something New
Now that you have some extra time on your hands, why not pick up a skill that will serve you and your dog for life: Positive reinforcement based dog training. You may have heard of “Clicker Training” for example. However, you don’t need any fancy tools to use this simple and effective training technique to get your dog thinking and moving while you are stuck sheltering in place.
Here are the basics of making this training system work for you and your dog:
- Use a clear “marker sound” that you can use to mark the exact moment your dog does something towards the ultimate behavior you want. This sound can be a clicker if you have one, but it can also be a special word or sound you use only in the context of training. Always reward the marker sound with a small piece of food, even if your timing was off.
- Use food rewards that will motivate your dog. If you are worried about their weight, it is fine to use their regular food rations, especially if you just add in a little something such as a few bits of cheese or cooked chicken to sweeten the deal.
- Set your dog up for success to keep them motivated to learn. If you have to, lower the bar so they win this game more often, and raise the bar slowly.
- Start with nonverbal cues such as a hand signal, and only add a verbal cue once your dog has mastered the behavior with a hand signal.
- It is okay to “lure” the first steps of any behavior using a treat to bribe your dog. However, experts agree that you should “fade the lure” as soon as possible, turning it into the beginning of your hand signal in most cases, still rewarding after the criteria of success has been met.
#5: Train Your Dog to Use the Treadmill
Dogs need daily exercise and if you happen to be an owner of one of the super athletic herding or working breeds of dog who is used to a daily run to burn off that excess energy, one great way to wear them out is the treadmill. Most dogs will readily learn to use the treadmill, especially if you have experience using reward based training methods to quickly teach your dog new behaviors.
There are many excellent video tutorials to walk you through teaching your dog to use the treadmill safely. In addition, use these tips to make training fun and effective:
- Use positive reinforcement such as praise and reward for any progress toward using the treadmill correctly.
- Keep training sessions short (10-15 minutes) and positive in tone.
- Train a dismount cue right from the beginning and reward your dog when they dismount on command.
- Keep progress tuned to your dog’s ability and set them up for success.
- Avoid punishing your dog, even with a corrective tone, while training them to use the treadmill.
- Once they have some experience and success under their belt, you can use a corrective tone to enforce your dismount command if they try to get off the treadmill before you have released them.
- Always supervise your dog when they are on the treadmill and adjust workouts to their fitness level.