As stay at home orders continue and we try and make the best of being at home without going stir crazy, our canine companions are doing the same.
At the Victoria Stilwell Academy or VSA, we’ve been helping people and their pets adapt to this new normal by offering free webinars and Q&A sessions with my VSPDT trainers. We receive hundreds of questions from concerned dog lovers, many focusing on their dog’s anxiety. While most dogs are delighted to have company 24/7, others are finding it hard to cope with never-ending human attention, especially when there are younger children in the home.
As people transition to online work and schooling, many are asking for activities they can do with their families and their pets to keep life as enriching as possible. In most places, a daily walk is still allowed, but that leaves the rest of the day to think of activities that can make the lives of dogs a bit more stimulating. Here are some activities you can try.
Teach your dog a new skill, like finding an object such as your keys or the remote control
K9 Magazine's Christopher learning how to fetch the remote
I am always losing my keys so I’m teaching my dog Jasmine to find them for me. This will be beneficial when I need her to do it for real.
Here is how you can teach your dog to find your keys:
- Hold your keys in your hand where your dog can see them. Dogs are naturally curious and your dog will most likely go and investigate the keys with his nose as you hold them out to him, smelling your scent signature and the scent of the keys themselves.
- As your dog goes to touch the keys with his nose, tell him to "find my keys". When he touches them, mark the behaviour by saying "yes" and give him a treat. Repeat this exercise until he is confidently touching the keys with his nose.
- When your dog is proficient at this stage, you can keep holding the keys in your hand but move them further away from him so he has to move a little to touch them.
- The next step in this training is to place your keys on the ground and ask your dog to "find my keys." It might take him a moment to transition from touching them in your hand to touching them on the ground, but if he needs help you can encourage him to do it by placing your hand near the keys on the ground if you need.
- When your dog is good at touching the keys on the ground you can hide them further away but still in a place where your dog can see them. Your dog will have to travel a little more to go and touch them with his nose. Go along with him and once he has located them, say "yes", pick the keys up and reward him with a treat.
- When your dog is good at locating the keys in an easy location, you can hide them in harder to find places. Now that he can’t see where you have hidden them he will have to rely more on his nose to find them. Make sure you always go with him as this exercise is not a retrieval exercise but a ‘go to the source and indicate’ activity.
- Keep reinforcing this training and it will be very useful when you actually do lose something you really need.
Teach your dog to read
Dogs can read simple words and you can teach your dog to read a word and perform what the word says. For example:
- Write the word "sit" on a piece of paper and each time you show your dog the piece of paper with the word ‘sit’ on, ask her to "sit".
- Once you have repeated this a number of times, you can show your dog the piece of paper without asking her to sit and she should put her bottom on the ground.
- You can then teach your dog to read and respond to other words as well.
- Always mark the behaviour you like with a "yes" followed by a food reward or toy. Once your dog is really proficient you can use food or toys intermittently, but do continue praising her for getting it right.
Victoria and Jasmine
Wouldn’t it be helpful if your dog can pick up his own toys? You can teach him to do so with a simple phrase, "clean up!".
- Make sure your dog knows how to pick up and drop his toys on cue before you teach this skill.
- Start by having your dog pick up a toy near where you normally store them and release it from his mouth on your cue.
- Ask your dog to repeat this again but then move the toy box and encourage him to drop it into the box.
- Once he is proficient at this task, set the toy on the ground further away from the box and ask him to go get his toy, and then wait for him to walk over to the toy box and drop it inside as you say "clean up!". Mark all behaviour you like with a "yes" and a reward.
- Now you can set a toy out, ask him to "clean up!" and he should go and collect the toy and drop it in the box.
- Gradually move your dog’s toys further away so that he has to travel longer distances to get the toy and bring it back to the toy box.
Test your dog’s memory
Dogs have exceptional memories and you can test how good your dog’s short and longer-term memory is by doing the following exercise:
- Find three identical barriers that your dog can’t see over or through. These can be boxes, chairs, cones etc.
- Line them up in a row and then hide a toy or treat behind one of them so your dog can see where you have put it.
- Take your dog out of the room for one minute. Bring her back in and ask her to get the food or toy.
- If your dog easily remembers which barrier you hid the toy or food behind, test her longer-term memory by hiding the toy or food behind another barrier and then taking her out of the room for two minutes.
- If your dog still remembers where the toy or food was hidden after this time, her memory is good enough for you to test her at three and then four minutes.
These are just a few activities you can teach your dog. None of us knows how long we will be in lockdown but at least we have our dogs to have fun with and provide us with comfort during these uncertain times.