By Dr. Sarah Shapiro-Ward
Enrichment describes all the activities our dogs do which fulfill their mental, social and physical needs. Toronto dogs are typically accustomed to getting their social time through daycare, dog walkers, playdates and dog parks. Physical needs are typically met via hiking, playing fetch or walking around Toronto’s streets and green spaces. Mental enrichment comes from interacting with their humans, solving puzzles and exploring their environment through their noses. With many of these activities curtailed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, what can we do to ensure our dogs cope?
Sniffing is one of the most mentally enriching activities for our dogs – after all their sense of smell is around 40 times stronger than ours is! It may be counter-intuitive, but walking more slowly and providing your dog with plenty of time to explore scents with their noses is more enriching than walking briskly. Get the most out of your limited outdoor time by allowing your dog time to sniff!
There are also plenty of ways to get your dog’s nose working at home. You can take a formal scent detection class with us, for example.
Alternatively, try playing the “find it” game:
Level 1 (easy): Put your dog in her crate or have somebody hold her while you hide several treats around the house. As you open the crate door cue “find it!” and sit back as your dog uses their nose to search out the treats. If they are struggling after 30 seconds, offer a hint by pointing to the treat.
Level 2 (intermediate): Ask your dog for a down-stay out of sight while you hide the treats. Cue “find it!” to release her from the stay.
Level 3 (advanced): Conceal treats in challenging locations – under the doormat, behind the sofa cushion, on a raised shelf – get creative!
(PS: We’re launching our Scent Detection class for Virtual delivery very soon!)
Food Puzzles are a well-known way of providing some mental enrichment for your dog. These are toys with compartments for concealed food – your dog must figure out how to roll, knock, pull or push the toy so that it dispenses the food. Unfortunately, many of our dogs figure out their food puzzles in record time, and what was a mental challenge quickly becomes just another slow feeder. Keep your food puzzles fresh and interesting by mixing them up!
Training is one of the best ways to keep your dog mentally stimulated, and it has the benefit of improving your dog’s behaviour! Consider replacing lost exercise time with a dedicated routine of training to keep your dog busy and challenged. Work on your dog’s basics by joining us for Foundation Skills Virtual classes (more information: https://sites.google.com/whenhoundsfly.com/virtual) or consider taking a more advanced class with us. During this time, we are allowing anyone to audit our classes on a Pay-What-You-Feel basis (and if your situation is that you can’t pay, that’s ok!)
Set yourself specific training goals and celebrate with your pup when you reach them! Here are some training goal ideas:
- 30 second down stay while I retrieve the tug rope from the other room
- Verbal cue differentiation: Dog lies down on “down” cue and sits on “sit” cue without mixing them up
- Recall from the other end of the house
- Leave-it, treat placed 10 cm away on the ground for 10 seconds
- Teach a new trick! E.g. roll over, play dead, fetch my TV remote, sit pretty etc
If you’re stuck for training ideas or struggling to meet your goals, we’d be delighted to help you via our 30 minute phone consultation service: https://www.whenhoundsfly.com/phone-consultation/
or Virtual In-Home Lessons https://www.whenhoundsfly.com/foundation-skills-in-home/
Canine conditioning is a collection of exercises designed to increase your dog’s fitness, strength, body awareness (proprioception), and co-ordination. Many of these exercises can be done at home with some basic equipment.
Cavaletti poles: These are raised poles for your dog to step over at a walk or trot. This helps your dog develop a balanced gait and good coordination.
Balance Games: Teaching your dog to balance on wobbly surfaces or small platforms can strengthen muscles and improve body awareness.
Hind-end awareness: These exercises are designed to get your dog moving their hind quarters independently of their front legs. Two popular challenges are: Targeting a platform with rear paws only, commonly taught in dog agility to improve Dog Walk / A frame performance; and circling around a front-paw perch which can be used to teach heel position as shown in this video (Andre & Petey). Both exercises are excellent for body awareness and coordination.
There are plenty of other conditioning exercises out there to keep you & your dog busy!
Engagement games foster our dog’s relationship with us through having fun together! These games include Fetch and Tug of War, but did you know there are lots of other engagement games to try?
Hide ‘n Seek: Hide from your dog in another room, closet, under the bed etc. Call them once and wait…. If they successfully find you, reward them with praise and a delicious treat! For an easy version of this, work with a partner to hold your dog as you hide. If your dog is more advanced, try putting them in a down-stay instead.
Come and Go: In this game, encourage your dog to run through your legs! Recall your dog, then toss a treat between your legs. Make the game harder by adding distance or more than one person! Here’s Stephanie and Mila demonstrating the game:
Chase Me: Many of our dogs love to be chased, but we don’t encourage chasing your dog as this can adversely affect your recall. Did you know that chasing can be just as fun for your dog the other way around? Call your dog to your side and run away! When your dog catches up, praise and reward them. Playing chase-me this way around can actually improve your dog’s recall abilities!
In summary, with the requirements of social distancing, now’s the time to invest more in training and enrichment for your dog. Try some of these suggestions, or join us in the virtual classroom! After all, your dog’s can’t curl up with a book or binge watch a series on Netflix – it’s up to us!
Photo Credit: @bearthehappydog