What are 5 easy, joint friendly things pet parents can implement at home to help break boredom and keep their dogs entertained?
Today, Dr. Hannah Capon is going to dive in to 5 joint friendly activities that pet parents can take on at home.
The sad reality is that we cannot spend all our time devoted to our dogs. Most of us have other commitments such as getting the kids to school, going to work or working from home, or visiting (non-dog-friendly) friends and family.
Some dogs will cope admirably with this and will simply catch up on their sleep, as dogs need an average of 12 hours of sleep per day- significantly more than humans. Countless owners report that while they are away from home, the webcams show their dog having a good snooze.
Other dogs will find the lack of their human companion pretty distressing and will be anxious the whole time the human is away. These behaviors can be a challenge to manage, and will require further investigation of the underlying anxiety. More severe cases will possibly require medication as well as behavior modification strategies. Please see a professional if you are concerned about your dog’s behavior when left alone.
Many dogs fall somewhere between the above 2 categories. They will happily participate in activities to help distract and occupy them, and then will likely fall asleep. The below 5 activities are targeted more specifically towards this cohort.
Boredom Breaking and Joint Friendly Ways to Entertain Your Dog
Dogs require daily exercise and engagement with their human in order to be emotionally and physically satisfied. As a rough guide dogs need between 30 minutes and 2 hours per day, however this will vary significantly between dogs.
Your dog’s breed, age, health and fitness will dictate how much exercise they can comfortably manage. Having received a suitable amount of mental and physical stimulation, your dog will be more likely to use their “down time” when you are occupied to rest and recuperate.
When walking your dog, sniffari-style walks are the best. This means allowing your dog to choose the pace of the walk-if they are feeling sore or tired they are likely to want to meander slowly, whereas on a good day they may trot happily. When possible, allow them to choose the direction of the walk as well (obviously only if their choice is safe)-you will be surprised where they take you!
Do they stick to footpaths, or do they prefer walking on grass? Do they want to walk on quiet streets or would they rather choose busier roads? Perhaps most importantly, allow them to sniff to their heart’s content! A dog’s most important sense is their sense of smell-they see the world through their nose. Allowing your dog to sniff as much as they want is guaranteed to tire them out-and they will also feel happy and satisfied after their walk.
Snuffle mats have become increasingly popular in the last few years, and with good reason. Hiding small treats in a snuffle mat can engage and therefore distract your dog’s brain through sniffing. These mats can also be used instead of a dog bowl to extend your dog’s meal times and make this, the best part of their day, even longer. Using a snuffle mat to forage for food is highly satisfying for most dogs.
However, be mindful that the mats can be chewed up and ingested by some dogs. Please supervise your dog while they are using their snuffle mat, especially if they are known chewers and swallowers.
Snuffle mats can be purchased in lots of places-and if you are feeling particularly motivated, you can even make one yourself! They can be washed and used again and again if they are looked after.
Virtually any dog of any age can enjoy the low impact activity of scent work. There are 2 variations on scent work-one where you work as a team with your dog, and one where your dog works independently of you. Not only is scent work low impact, it will help you build a close bond with your dog as you work together in a team.
Learning to work with your dog whilst they find a scent (such as anise or clove) involves observing their body language closely, and helping them learn to navigate increasingly challenging hides. Taking a few scent work lessons initially, or learning on-line, will give you a good starting point when playing scent games with your dog.
Another excellent option for busy people to encourage their dog to use their amazing nose is scatter feeding. This involves your dog finding food that you have scattered in the garden or inside.
Start with a really easy scatter-you may have to show your dog where the food pieces are until they get the gist. Once they confidently search out the food, you can start making the hides trickier. You can vary the heights of the hidden pieces of food, hide food under bushes, in a rolled up towel, in scrunched up paper etc. Then leave your dog to find all the food.
This activity is virtually guaranteed to tire them out for quite some time-sniffing is exhausting but very satisfying work for dogs, and if they are rewarded with tasty morsels along the way, their happiness will be complete.
Please always ensure food is hidden in safe, easy to reach places so your dog doesn’t hurt themselves trying to get hard-to-find pieces.
I am an avid recycler of packaging, and often hide food such as bits of meat or kibble in paper, cardboard boxes and plastic food trays that are destined for the recycling bin. For an extra challenge, the pieces of food can be individually wrapped in a bit of newspaper, and then hidden in an egg carton or cardboard box.
I am lucky that my dog does not eat/ swallow these items but takes great delight in working out how to get the kibble out of the milk carton. If your dog is likely to ingest these items then steer clear and try another one of my suggestions. Please always supervise your dog closely when they are participating in enrichment activities that involve items from the recycling bin, to ensure they don’t eat anything other than the food.
Short bursts of trick and obedience training
Many people get a dog to improve their own physical and emotional well being. So, take short breaks throughout the day to devote time to you and your dog. Taking ten minutes every day to learn new cues and activities will build a strong bond with your dog.
Always ensure you are in the right frame of mind during training, as rushing or getting frustrated will result in a negative experience for both of you. Start and end on a good note and ask your dog to perform cues they already know. There are a lot of tutorials available online that will give you ideas and show you how to teach your dog various tricks. Please make sure you only use force-free techniques that involve rewarding desirable behaviors, rather than using force or fear to teach your dog.
I totally appreciate how frustrating it is to see your dog bored when you are nose to the grindstone with work commitments. However, with a bit of forward planning and a little time and effort, you can keep your dog pretty content every day with these low impact activities.
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