The COVID-19 lockdown orders sent many pet parents into a tizzy. Owners were now spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with their furry loved ones, and it soon became apparent that it was up to them to keep the pets active and engaged. Where dogs and cats once napped the day away or played at a daycare while their owners were at work, now they could attach to their humans all day long!
And with that, it was time to get creative. Here are some clever and fun ways to stimulate your pet while you’re in lockdown mode.
1. New Tricks, New Tricks!
When in doubt, turn to new tricks! Teaching your pet something new is a great way to mentally stimulate them while solidifying your bond. Dazzle your friends when lockdown ends by teaching your dog to spin, your cat to play agility, or your parrot to say a new phrase. This rewarding endeavor can eat up quite a bit of time each day, and the mental energy expended will put your furry or feathered friend right to sleep.
With the internet at our disposal, a slew of free education resources exist on YouTube, pet websites, and more. A quick internet search should lead you right to various step-by-step guides, so you certainly don’t need to be an expert dog trainer.
A big trick is to pick the right treat for training your dog. “High-value treats” is a common term used among dog trainers. High-value treats are goodies that the pet finds irresistible, making them a great motivator to get your pet to do what you want.Photography by Anabel Dflux»
2. Get Creative at Walk Time
For dog owners, a walk is a very big deal and a great way to tire out a furry friend. But walking in the same direction and passing the same things every day can very easily become boring, for both you and your dog.
Get creative at walk time! Take your dog on a new route (preferably one with minimal foot traffic) or practice commands during the walk. Walks are the perfect time for practicing heeling commands and exploring new parts of the neighborhood, so add both to your regular walk routine to spice things up. (Editor’s note: See article in this issue, 5 Tips for Stress-Free Walks, on page 32.)
The new routes also have an added bonus of helping your dog understand where “home” is. The more routes you take around the neighborhood, the better oriented your dog will be—this can be a big help if the unthinkable happens and your dog gets loose outside.
3. Try Some Nose/Scent Work
Nose work—or “scent work,” depending on the program you follow—is an awesome game to play. Adapted from the training of dogs to search for bombs and narcotics, this game requires the dog to find a scent and alert you to its position. In the actual sport, dogs search for different wood smells (such as birch).
Although they do sell scent work kits online, if you just want to play with your dog, you can hide treats in a room and have your dog look for them! Make sure to hide treats in a safe place, somewhere your dog cannot get accidentally hurt in their pursuit. As well, don’t get too complicated with a hiding spot when you’re first starting out. You want the dog to be successful, especially in the beginning.Photography by Anabel Dflux»
For training, you want your dog to alert you to where the item is located, so be sure to make a big fuss when your pup finds the hidden goodies so he gets the idea that he’s rewarded for letting you in on the discovery.
Nose work training has many benefits besides just being a fun game to play during quarantine. Dogs engage their brains tremendously in the sport, and they burn a lot of energy doing so (a tired dog is a good dog!). Shy or fearful dogs build confidence, and overactive dogs put their energy into fun searches. Countless rescue pups whose owners have put them in nose work classes have found a new confidence that really allows the pup to thrive. As well, the dog and owner now become a great team that learns to observe, understand, and rely on each other.
4. Toilet Roll Tubes
Most of us remember all too well the alarming toilet paper shortage we faced at the beginning of the lockdown. Thankfully, the crisis seems to have passed, and thank goodness, because did you know that the cardboard toilet roll tubes can be an endless form of entertainment for pets? There are so many games you can play with a stack of empty toilet rolls!
You can hide treats in the tubes for the scent work practice. Try creating a design on the ground by standing empty tubes upright, and hide a treat in one of them. Let the dog run over and sniff until he finds it!
You can cut a small hole in a toilet paper roll tube, run a string through it, and make a new bouncy toy for your cat—one that won’t frustrate you when it is ultimately destroyed.
And while you’re saving your empty toilet paper rolls, hang onto some of those cardboard boxes all your online purchases come in, too. Cats love to play in cardboard boxes, so use yours to build a small castle or fort for your kitty to hide in. For dogs, make a cardboard box tunnel and teach them to go through it—call it living room agility training!
5. AKC Virtual Titling and Challenges
The American Kennel Club (AKC) has found a way to replace traditional dog shows and sporting events that were halted because of COVID-19—with AKC-official virtual sports! You and your dog can now earn various AKC titles completely online, through a new AKC virtual titling program. Just film yourself competing in a sport with your dog at home and have it reviewed and approved by an AKC-approved Canine Good Citizen (CGC) evaluator. You can search for a CGC evaluator in your area on the AKC website, akc.org, where you’ll also find all the rules and requirements for earning AKC titles virtually.Photography by Anabel Dflux»
Did you know that cardboard toilet roll tubes can be an endless form of entertainment for pets?
Virtual Top Dog Challenge: The AKC Virtual Top Dog Challenge is an online conformation event for AKC-recognized breeds, as well as the Miscellaneous class. This program is for individuals who want to try the sport of conformation (and don’t know where to start) or for those that just miss the thrill of a good conformation show!
To help you and your dog be successful in the programs described here, AKC also provides virtual classes taught by certified AKC trainers to help you through each sport. Visit akc.org for all the information to get started. (Editor’s note: See article in this issue about AKC Online Dog Activities on page 56.)
Even while we’re all locking down and social distancing, you don’t have to isolate yourself or your dog. The silver lining to this difficult COVID-19 situation is that creative pet owners are coming up with all these new ideas for fun and games. Every activity enhances the bond between you and your pet, so take advantage of your time at home and have some fun with your best friend!
Some easy tricks you can teach your pup include Spin, Bow, Rollover, and Touch!
FOR SPIN, grab a high-value treat and show your dog to get his interest. Then, proceed by slowly moving the treat around behind him so that he is encouraged to follow with his body (effectively doing a spin). As your dog spins, clearly say the word you wish to associate with this command, like “Spin.” When your dog has managed to spin the entire way around, give him the reward. Do this several times. Eventually, your pup will associate the word with the action.
FOR BOW, while your dog is standing, use your high-value treat and slowly move it to the floor right in front of their feet. Most dogs will keep their butts up in the air and bow down on their front legs. This is exactly what you want! As your dog does this, use your command word “Bow” and let him have the treat.
FOR ROLLOVER, your dog must first know how to lie down. As the dog is in a down position, slowly swirl the treat over your pup’s head in circular motions while clearly saying “Rollover.” Your pup will be inclined to roll over as his eyes follow that treat.
FOR TOUCH, sit in front of your pup with a high-value treat. Hold up your hand and touch the open palm to their nose, saying the command, “Touch.” Practice this a few times, then hold up your hand and ask your dog to touch. This trick is also very useful for training other tricks and ensuring that your pup is focused on you.