I’ve been a fan of the post-apocolyptic genre of film and literature for years. It was always an escapism sort of thing for me, a “what if…” Living now in an age of corona virus and actually facing a need to isolate and ride out the storm… I am not really entertained.
The dogs are even less amused.
For those that do not know me, or know me well, I am a severe asthmatic. The idea of corona virus is pretty scary for someone like me. And while I work hard to avoid letting fear govern my decisions I, like many people, am taking the opportunity to avoid any unnecessary human contact. I am still working, but I am just avoiding the rest of the world. Which means no cinema for me!
It also means that I am keeping group classes, and group hikes to a minimum. But what about the dogs? They are used to getting out frequently, they are used to a lot of activity. Especially my working dogs. And I cannot be the only one. So I compiled a list of suggested games and activities to engage in with your dog during this weird, and unnerving time.
Hide-n-Seek: If you’ve been around me any length of time you’ve heard me mention hide-n-seek. This is a wonderful game for any time you are low on energy, low on time or the weather is just not making it easy to be outside. Start easy, put some kibble in a place that is relatively easy to find, and ask a dog to find it. I do the first few stages while the dog watches, so the command for “Search” starts to settle in. The goal being that you can hide food/snacks/toys in variety of locations while the dog is unable to watch what you are doing, and they have to use their nose to “search.” This game works on impulse control, drive and mental stimulation. It is an awesome game, and mentally quite draining.
Toys by Name: We all have dozens of dog toys hanging out in our living room. I trip over them constantly. So I started teaching my dogs the names of their toys. This is so I can ask them to go and get me a specific toy from the vast array. This game works on a dog’s ability to think through commands, to select the correct toy from a bunch of them, their impulse control to not simply grab the first toy they find etc.
I teach it in phases. Phase 1 is to teach a dog a toy by name. I start by playing fetch with one toy, and telling them to get the toy by name. “Go get duckie!”
Phase 2 is to toss the toy into a field of the other toys, and ask Fido to get the specific one.
Once you can get reliable results for toy A, then comes repeating phase 1 and 2 with another toy, by another name. And so on and so forth.
Bonus! If you want to really up the anty: ask them to drop the toy in a basket. To “put the toy away.” Great mental work out, and it minimizes the 3am bathroom break stumble over the dog toy landmines in the living room.
Flow Ladders: This is a great one to work on body awareness, and arousal control. I set up a ladder of sticks (I disassemble my agility jumps and use them – but the handles of brooms and mops work too!) I set up the poles equidistant apart (usually just far enough to be a single stride between – bigger dogs go further apart, smaller dogs closer together etc.) I put two baskets at either end, or Tupperware. And I start by asking the dog to walk through the “ladder” at the end is a tasty snack. Then repeat. Try to get a nice flow going back and forth over the poles (in horses we call it cavaletti.) This is a good game for growing dogs, helps them develop that all important body awareness, and for dogs who struggle with control of their excitement. The flow of going back and forth over the ladder helps a dog even out. And it required mind/body connection which provides a nice mental outlet.
Cups: This one is like the street game, where someone hides a marble under a cup and switches it around with two others and asks you to find it. Unlike with the street game the dog is the one finding it, and the win is from nose work. I use plastic cups, or paper, something if the dog destroys it I will not be upset, or sweeping glass off the floor. I make it simple to begin with; two or three cups. And work my way up there. In a pinch I will use a muffin tin with some tennis balls as a slow feeder as well. Cups works on a dog’s ability to wait while you “switch” the cups, and their ability to use their nose to find the treat. It’s a fun game to play, and requires very little in the way of your own energy output. Perfect for those long days when you’re tired.
“Stupid Pet Tricks.” This one can cover a lot of territory. It is what I call all those useless but fun tricks we teach our dogs (“shake”, “play dead” etc.) They are an amazing way to enrich a dog’s life, build a bond and impress guests at Thanksgiving. Tricks be as simple or complex as you desire. And they are a great way to vary the routine from practicing Sit, Down, Stay etc. More fun for the dog and definitely more fun for you!
Hope you guys find something on the list to help kill the boredom during the quarantine! And remember I am available for online work, perfectly safe, perfectly sanitary AND you don’t have to wear pants. (Technically I am okay if you don’t want to wear pants in a face-to-face session, I don’t judge.)