Chances are that your life has been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 virus pandemic. But have you considered the impact on your canine best friend? If you’re now working from home remotely due to your state’s lockdown measures and socially distancing, that means that your dog’s daily routines have also suddenly changed. Your dog is also probably spending much more time indoors, so feeling a bit bored. Also, if you are feeling anxious due to the pandemic, are worried about possibly losing your job, and have fears about the protests and riots spreading across our cities, your dog is almost certainly picking up on and sharing your anxiety.
But there’s always a silver lining, right? After all, you now get to spend more time giving your pet what he craves: your attention and your love. It’s a perfect opportunity to find fun new ways to occupy your dog with games that will be entertaining for you both and will deepen your already strong bond.
- Have you ever given your dog a frozen treat? I used to give my Springer Spaniel girls ice cream made specifically for doggies as a special treat. The second I pulled the frozen cups of ice cream out of the freezer, both girls immediately got excited, wagging their tails, licking their chops, eagerly waiting for me to put the cups on the floor for them. One of my girls would lie down, cup the container directly between her front paws, and lick the ice cream until it was completely gone. When she finally lifted her head, her black nose was covered in white ice cream, and she’d try to lick it off her own nose without success. (Absolutely adorable!) My other Springer would lick the ice cream without using her paws to hold it, so she’d make multiple rounds of the kitchen, as the cup repeatedly slid away from her. This typically kept them occupied for 20 minutes or so and made them very happy girls. (This is also a particularly tasty, soothing treat for the hot summer days that are almost with us now.)
But you don’t have to go to the grocery store to buy one of these products. You could also put a favorite treat in an ice-cream container or a small bowl, fill the container with water, and put it in the freezer. Once it’s frozen and ready for your dog, she’ll enjoy watching as the ice slowly begins to melt and will love finding a wonderful surprise as a reward.
- Does your dog enjoy chewing? Chewing is a natural behavior that is normal for puppies to help relieve pain that they may be having from an emerging new tooth, and for dogs, it helps to keep their teeth clean and their jaws strong. Importantly, chewing can keep a dog busy, where he may otherwise be bored—and can also help to relieve any anxiety that he may have. Another bonus is that if your dog doesn’t have fresh breath, you can give him dental chews to improve his dental hygiene. But do be sure to check with your vet to ensure that his bad breath is not due to an underlying medical condition.
- Does your dog enjoy playing searching games? Create your own pet scavenger hunt, hiding some of her favorite toys and special delicious treats around your home. She’ll have fun using her sense of smell to find all the treats and being rewarded every time she locates one. Just be sure not to use too many treats, since it’s important to keep your dog from becoming overweight.
- Does your dog know the names of his favorite toys? You can train your dog to recognize different toys’ names by holding up a toy, such as a squeaky toy, and saying “Is this your squeaky toy?” (of course, while squeaking the toy!). Then throw it gently across the room and ask him, “Where’s your squeaky toy? Go get your squeaky toy!” Then praise him when he brings it back to you. Once your dog knows the names of several toys, you can also make his new knowledge part of your doggy scavenger hunts (described above). After hiding the toys, ask your dog “Where’s your squeaky toy? Go get him!” Praise him when he finds the toy and brings it back to you. Then ask him to find another toy that you’ve hidden, such as “Where’s your ball? Can you find your ball?” You can also train your dog to “pick up” after himself by putting his own toys away, such as into a doggy toy box.
- Does your dog enjoy mental stimulation? Of course she does! Many dog trainers highly recommend interactive puzzle toys that become increasingly difficult as she becomes smarter.
- Does your dog enjoy staying physically active? Again, of course! Although you may still be socially distancing, it’s crucial to walk your dog regularly every day. The exercise is good for both of you! Also, check to see whether there’s a dog park in your town or city. It’s possible to maintain social distancing in the dog park and, of course, to wear a face mask. And your dog will be so excited to be outdoors in the presence of so many doggie friends! Likewise, you can consider taking your dog to a doggy daycare, so that he can run, romp, and play with other dogs. He’ll have so much fun and wear himself out during such an exciting adventure.
Please stay safe and well, and enjoy having such special time with your canine best friend!