Well I’m sure I’m not the only one who didn’t see this turn of events coming. 2020 didn’t start off the best but I didn’t think I would be sitting here in March getting updates every 15 minutes on new closures for recreational facilities, ski hills, schools, businesses, and offices. It felt a bit surreal a week ago. I was asking myself, why is this progressing so quickly? Why is the response so serious? Then I remembered I’m a Risk Analyst in my day job so I crunched some numbers and saw what I had been missing. This isn’t like SARS. It’s not like H1N1. It’s not anything like the flu. So we really do have to try and stay home.
The good news is that our dogs are pretty psyched about us being home more often. So what can you still do safely with your dogs to take advantage of some extra time together? I thought I would put together a quick list:
- Walks. Go outside and walk! Keep your distance from others and I don’t recommend that you let strangers pet your dog right now (germs could stay on surfaces like the collars), but go outside and walk with your dog.
- Hikes. I love hiking and although it’s not the season here, we have been snowshoeing on the hiking trails instead. It’s not busy and there is no shortage of space to move out of the way if you encounter someone. So hit up a dog friendly trail and go for a hike. It’s good decompression for both of you.
- Runs. Well, this is an obvious one, but one that is really important. If you find yourself all of the sudden in a new routine, exercise helps so much. So go out for a run with your pooch.
- Train a new trick. Teach your dog a new trick or two. Better yet, teach them a bunch of new tricks and go for your trick dog title. It can be as easy as give a paw or you can pick something really useful like “go lay on your mat”, but now is the time. Keep training sessions short and fun. Do them multiple times a day and you will see how fast your dog learns!
- Teach your dog a new language. Yes. I’m serious, if you know a couple words in another language (or maybe you are learning yourself), then teach your dog a verbal cue for a trick they know already in that language. How do you do that? Easy. Say the new cue “sentar” wait two whole seconds, then say “sit” and repeat. Some dogs will connect the cues very quickly, some will take more sessions. But at some point your dog will sit or start to sit in that 2 second pause and that’s how you know they get it. So now you can brag your dog is bilingual.
- Work on handling. I often hear clients complain about their dogs not being easy to brush, have nails clipped and so on. So now is the time. Take a couple minutes a day to work on this slowly. Use treats, and introduce the tools first. Then work towards touching your dog with the tools and make sure you have a wiling partner. If your dog walks away, you pushed a bit too hard too fast, take it slow. You have time.
- Teach your dog to love the muzzle. Most dogs may have to wear a muzzle at some point in their lives. If something happens that is traumatic to your dog, like a serious injury, they may try to bite those trying to help, so vets will often muzzle a dog to keep everyone safe. You can make the muzzle a fun thing now to save that stress if it happens. Muzzle training should also be approached slowly, introduce the muzzle with lots of treats, slowly and carefully work towards having it on for short periods of time. Once again, if your dog is trying to get away, you are moving too fast. Your goal is that your dog will wear it without trying to take it off right away. So slow and steady is the way to go!
- Work on your recall. Time to pack a bag full of chicken and head to an open green space with a long line. It’s a perfect time to improve that recall. So head out, have the goodies, hook up the long line onto your dogs harness (never a collar) and practice rewarding attention and then a recall. When you recall, have a high pitched voice, say your cue once, if your dog looks at you, take off running away from them. They will chase you and once they catch up, give them LOTS of rewards. Many tiny treats one after another feels more rewarding to your dog than a handful at once, so you don’t need to use a lot of food, just have a high number of treats. Then keep practicing. The long line is there so that if your dog takes off, you can catch them. If you get frustrated, stop and just go for a walk instead. This should be fun. If your dog is not interested in you or your treats, try somewhere less distracting first.
- Work on that loose leash walking. Always wanted a dog that keeps close on a walk? Then work on it! There is only one way to get a happy dog trotting next to you and it is with training. So grab your treat pouch and towards the end of your walk, start rewarding your dog for being close to you. Make sure to feed the reward near your leg so your dog starts to learn this is the spot to come for goodies. Keep doing this every walk, closer to the end is better, and you’ll start to see improvements.
- Play a game. Just have fun with your dog. Play fetch. Tug. Hide cookies in the house. Play hide and seek with your dog. Give them lots of love and enjoy this new found time with them.
This situation will not last forever and our dogs will not be around forever. So let’s just enjoy the extra time that we have together. I know it’s not easy, people are getting sick, so many are losing income or jobs altogether, but our dogs don’t understand this and they just love us. So let’s enjoy time with them and make the most of this situation.