Like many Americans, you may be working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic started and spending much more time around your dog than usual. This is a significant routine change for both of you and can lead to behavioral issues in some dogs. If you are staying in and exercising your pet less than usual, you may see an increase in attachment issues in some dogs. Keeping your dog stimulated mentally and properly exercised can prevent many training problems.
If you find that your dog has more energy than you can manage, try essential oils made to combat anxiety. You can also use pet massage, calming collars, or chew toys, which claim to help dogs relax.
It can be challenging to focus on remote work when your best friend wants to play with you. Luckily, there are many tricks to keep your dog entertained and take the burden off you.
Here are five ways to keep your dog entertained during the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Puzzle Toys
There are great boredom-busting toys on the market that use dog food to keep dogs busy for hours. Problem-solving is great for your dog’s brain health, and puzzle toys can keep their interest for much longer than a standard chew toy.
You can find different types of interactive toys that are popular among pet owners. Spread some peanut butter inside of a hollow toy, and your dog will be entertained for hours. If your dog is on a diet and you don’t want to use food, you can purchase toys that use puzzles with squeaks as rewards to stimulate your dog’s brain without the extra calories.
Rotating toys is another great way to keep your dog interested; swap out toys every few days to prevent boredom and make your toys last longer.
2. Get outside
While you are likely spending a lot more time indoors, ensure that you are getting outdoor exercise. This is crucial for both you and your dog’s mental health. Take your pet for long neighborhood walks, make sure you get a good Dog Harness and if you have a yard or access to an off-leash park, engage in a game of tug, fetch, or tug of war with your dog. A fetch stick is fantastic for keeping dog well-exercised because it tosses the ball much farther distances than most people can throw.
If your city has trails and hikes open during the pandemic, take advantage of this effective way to keep your pet exercised and stimulated. Ensure you only take safe, well-marked trails that you are familiar with, so you don’t risk needing essential services on a search and rescue mission. Keep 6 feet distance from everyone you pass, take your mask, and respect all leash laws. Letting your dog off-leash in restricted areas disturbs wildlife and damages trails. Furthermore, if your dog approaches an on-leash dog that is not friendly to other dogs, you risk a dog fight erupting.
You can also schedule a playdate with friends or people in your neighborhood who have dogs, as long as you keep 6 feet apart and wear a mask. Socializing is great for your dog’s ongoing development and training and improves their mental status.
3. Indulge In treat finding games
Hide treats around your house or yard in a fun game of ‘find the treats’. This keeps your dog’s senses sharp and engages their hunting instincts. Scatter treats in interesting spots to keep your dog guessing, and if your dog is prone to weight gain, use small bits of kibble instead of full-size treats.
4. Up the training
While you are at home, utilize this time to improve your dog’s training? This is a great time to work on behavioral issues and teach your dog new tricks. There are excellent training books, websites, DVDs, and YouTube videos offering instruction on dog training. “Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones” by the ACVB is a great place to start.
Attachment issues are common in dogs, and if your dog becomes accustomed to you being home all day during the pandemic, he may experience more distress than usual when you leave the house. Ensure you still leave him alone for some time, and if he becomes too attached and exhibits behavioral problems when alone, nip that in the bud through targeted training.
Improving your dog’s recall, stopping jumping-up behavior, and working on leash manners are great places to start. You can even teach your dog fun tricks like ‘high five’, fetching the remote control, or ‘playing dead’. Dogs have short attention durations, so keep training sessions no longer than ten minutes at a time. Several short daily training sessions are more effective than one long session.
5. Use visual stimulants
Set up a window seat for your dog, and keep a curtain open so he can observe the world outside, preferably in a spot where people or animals regularly pass by. You might be surprised at how this will keep your dog’s attention for hours. This can also be used as a training opportunity to stop excessive barking if your dog barks at passersby.
Another great boredom buster is dog television- yes, it exists! Set up your TV with videos from YouTube specifically for dogs or a dog streaming service. Dog streaming websites often have a 30-day free trial and feature dog-friendly videos for exposure, relaxation, and mental stimulation. They also have informational and training videos for owners and relaxing music that both you and your pup will enjoy.
While self-isolation can be challenging, the COVID-19 pandemic is also an opportunity to deepen your connection with your dog and improve training. As the adage says, “a tired dog is a happy dog,” and regular vigorous exercise will keep your dog’s mental health intact. Dogs are natural athletes that need to move, and most destructive behaviors come from excess physical and nervous energy. Employing these tricks will help keep your dog calm and happy, and, as we all know, a happy dog is a happy owner!