By Ruth Doherty
As we've all been spending a lot of time indoors, dog owners around the UK are discovering new and innovative ways to spend quality time with their pup at home - from inspired hide and seek games to DIY agility courses. But it's not always easy to know exactly how to stay happy and healthy at home with your dog, and if you need a little guiding hand, you're in the right place.
With time at home a new norm, dog owners have become even more appreciative of their canine companions (especially as a reported 46% of dogs like watching TV beside their owners). However current restrictions on daily walkies has meant that dog owners need to get creative to ensure their four-legged friends remain happy and healthy.
A study of 1,500 UK dog owners, commissioned by Devon-based, natural dog nutrition experts, Forthglade, found that 57% of owners cite their canine companion as a best friend, with 88% saying their dog makes them happy and 60% saying their dog helps them deal with stress and anxiety.
For Certified Animal Behaviourist Caroline Wilkinson, co-founder of ‘Mindful Living and Our Dogs’, more time at home is an opportunity to unwind, switch off, and deepen a meaningful connection with our dogs.
Wilkinson comments: 'We’re all adjusting to a very new world right now. Yes, even your dog is adjusting. They’re adjusting to their humans suddenly being more accessible and present in the home.'
On how to stay happy and healthy at home with your dog, she suggests: 'Don’t overlook the value of a routine. Routines can offer a sense of security, particularly to anxious dogs. Aim to include any cornerstones of your usual routines that you can - being predictable when it comes to mealtimes, exercise, and bedtimes. While exercise time is restricted, think creatively when it comes to any mental enrichment you can also offer your dog. It's so important we consider our dogs' welfare - and our own sanity! - during the coming weeks.'
Dr Carri Westgarth, dog walking expert and Senior Lecturer in Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Liverpool, explains: 'Spending time with our dog, and watching them having fun, is a vicarious pleasure for owners – it makes us happier! Daily allowed exercise and indoor playtime isn’t just for our dogs’ mental and physical health, it’s for our own wellbeing too.'
Need a little inspiration? Caroline and Carri have handily revealed 15 top tips on how to stay happy and healthy at home with your dog.
Discover 15 tips to stay happy and healthy with your dog at home below:
1. GO OUTSIDE
Enjoy outside time when you can. Sunlight can help with the production of serotonin – a feel-good hormone – for us and our dogs. As we’re staying indoors for the majority of the day, really make the most of your outside environment if possible. Use your walks and garden space as a time to take your eyes off your phone and enjoy an adventure with your dog.
2. FOCUS ON THE BASICS
This is a great time to work on low-distraction behaviours with your dog. Things like ‘response to name’, recall from room-to-room in your home, or just games of tuggy, will all build up the value you hold in your dog’s eyes.
3. CREATE ALONE TIME
While we’re lucky to get extra time with our dogs at the moment, we don’t want to end up with hyper-attachment issues once normality resumes. Make sure you spend a little time away from your dog each day – whether that’s giving them a solo activity to do in the garden (such as food scatters) or leaving them in the lounge for a snooze while you are in another room. If your dog seems to be getting more needy or they’re concerned about being left alone even for a few minutes, seek advice of a force-free behaviourist over the phone or online.
4. USE NOISE
This is a great time to be working on slow, steady exposure to different sounds our dogs might usually be a little uncomfortable with hearing. Download some sounds, such as fireworks, traffic, thunder, or airplanes. Start off with these noises played at really low volumes in your home while your dog is doing something super fun – like playing with you. Over the coming weeks, slowly build up the volume of the sound. If your dog acts fearful at any point, again seek out the help of a force-free behaviourist.
5. MAKE FEEDING FUN
One way we can easily add some extra entertainment into our dog’s day is by changing how we feed them. Instead of putting all your dog’s food into their bowl, allow them to eat half from their bowl and then give them a way to earn the rest. This could be through food scatters in the garden, putting their food into a slow feeder or mat, or asking them to do some simple behaviours to earn it. Earned food is often better than free food.
6. USE YOUR DOG'S NOSE
Our dog’s noses are incredible tools and by using them to find food, scented items, or their favourite people or toys, we can raise the happy hormones in our dog’s brains. Try wrapping some tasty treats up in a towel for your dog to unravel. Or, have 3 containers and hide a treat under one, shuffle their positions and then ask your dog to find the treat-hiding container. Play hide and seek in your house - when your dog finds you, give them a game of tuggy or a treat as a reward.
7. THE POWER OF TOUCH
As long as your dog is comfortable with being touched, stroking them or having cuddles can be mutually beneficial for both dog and owner. If you’re not sure if your dog does enjoy being stroked, try stroking them for three seconds and then move your hand away. If they move back in towards you for more, you know they were enjoying it. Touch creates another great feel-good hormone - oxytocin, which is the love and bonding hormone. While we’re socially distancing and unable to hug our human friends, hug it out with your dog.
8. HELP THEM RELAX
If your dog isn’t used to relaxing on its own when you are around, anticipate the problem and give them something to do instead, like licking food out of an activity toy or a safe chew.
9. IGNORE PESTERING
Try to ignore your dog if they are pestering - any response (even negative or pushing them away) is a reward as you have given them your attention, even if you just look at them.
10. REWARD GOOD BEHAVIOUR
Teach your dog that chilling out is rewarded by telling them that they are good and giving them attention when they are lying nicely in their bed, so that they do this more often.
11. USE A 'BACK SOON' SIGN
Create a visual signal which means you will not give them any attention whilst that can be seen – this helps with times that you may be working at home or speaking on the phone. Introduce a piece of fabric over a door, or clearly put an object in sight, such as a lamp on a table. Dogs will quickly learn that in that situation, trying to get attention will not be responded to, so not worth pursuing.
There is lots you can do with your dog to keep building a positive relationship, such as teaching a new cool trick, or you can give your dog something to do to keep them occupied.
12. MIX FOOD AND TOYS
Stuff a safe dog toy with dog food (even freeze it to make it last longer), for a fun treat to keep them occupied for a while as you work.
13. USE THE GARDEN
Scatter treats around the garden or hide a few in the house for added excitement throughout the day.
14. HIDE TREATS
Get your dog to rummage for treats in a box, or safe container.
15. GO FOR A PADDLE
Encourage your dog to play in a paddling pool or sandpit at home if possible, it will keep them entertained while you make that important work call.
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