Humans aren’t the only ones who can get bored and depressed. Our 4 legged friends can too. With this in mind, what can we do to alleviate the doggie doldrums?
Just like humans, dogs can and do get depressed, bored, and lonely. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here. Missy, my dog, is bored out of her tiny little mind. A dog is a man’s best friend, but I’m failing to return that friendship at the moment. I’m finding it difficult to give her the full attention she needs. With home schooling taking precedence during ‘lockdown v3’. It’s a matter of multiple quick walks through the day and we try for longer walks on the weekend.
Richie Sills from RichiesRoom.com has offered a guest post to give us some tips and advice on how we can help alleviate the doggie doldrums.
Lockdown Lethargy and Doggie Doldrums – What Can You Do?
Lockdown v3 was the final push to help stop the spread of Covid-19. The restrictions can be tough on our mental health – and the longer they persist, the greater the potential impact.
What about our dogs mental health?
Obviously, they don’t understand anything about Covid-19 itself. However, they are very perceptive animals, and they very quickly pick-up on changes in the behaviour of the people around them.
If you are stressed, worried, anxious, or depressed there is a good chance that this will be noticed by your dog. Some dogs will try to lift your spirits by constantly trying to engage with you. Others will mimic your behaviour and will become more withdrawn.
And then there is the amount of physical and mental stimulation that they receive.
Chances are that this will have reduced during the lockdown. And this, too, will have an impact on your dog’s behaviour. Dogs get bored too and will try to relieve their boredom in ways that you may not appreciate!
Here in the UK, we humans, during the lockdowns have been encouraged to go out once a day for some socially-distanced exercise. And for good reason – it is good for us physically and mentally.
The same goes for your dog. Dogs love a good walk and it is great for burning off some excess energy.
Until recently, I thought that to be able to give our dog, Harvey, two walks a day would necessitate me and my wife each walking him on our own as part of our allotted one lot of exercise per day.
If you take a look at the official government guidelines on dog walking it actually says that you can go out more than once a day if you need to walk your dog (but should limit this where possible). So, don’t go mad but if your dog is bouncing off the walls a quick walk may be in order.
I’ll let you into a little secret by way of a quote from the great Ian Dunbar. “Mental exercise tires a dog physically more than physical exercise does.”
How cool is that?
You can tire your dog out, and relieve his boredom, by using mental exercise. So, how do you go about doing this?
The humble walk – revisited
When you take your dog for a walk, remember whose benefit it is for – your dog, not you.
- Take a walk where you don’t have a predetermined route or amount of time dictating the structure of the walk.
- Walk at your dog’s pace.
- If your dog wants to stop and sniff something for a minute then let him.
- When you reach a decision point, like a ‘T’ junction, let your dog decide which way the walk progresses.
- Encourage your dog to interact with the environment. Throw treats on to a grass verge for your dog to find. If it’s a dry day, use treats to encourage your dog to jump up onto a bench or tree stump.
Scent work / Find it
This is something that can be done in your house or in your garden, depending on the weather and time of day. I’d recommend that you start off indoors to make it slightly easier for your dog until he/she is used to the game.
Show your dog some of his favourite treats – then have him wait while you hide them around the house. Don’t make it too difficult to start with. Try things like placed under a favourite toy, under a cushion on the sofa, or on a kitchen cupboard handle.
Make sure that the hiding places are safe for your dog to access and that it won’t cause any damage that you may later regret!
Then tell your dog to ‘Find it’.
Most dogs pick this up very quickly. If yours needs some help you can always go to one of the hidden treats and get your dog’s attention to encourage them to investigate.
Once your dog has mastered the indoor version of ‘Find it’, give it a try in your garden for an extra challenge and a bit of variety for you and your dog.
As a variation to ‘Find it’, you can also do good, old-fashioned ‘Hide and seek’. You’ll need 2 people for this – 1 stays with the dog while the other goes and hides somewhere (take some treats with you!).
Then, after an agreed amount of time, the person with the dog sends him to find the hiding person. When he finds the hiding person, make a big fuss of him, reward him with the treats, and tell him/her how clever he/she is!
Is your dog perfectly trained?
No? That’s excellent as it gives you something to work on!
Before you start anything new, I would urge you to have a read of my post on Positive Dog Training. Believe me, your dog will thank you for it.
Take a blank piece of paper and divide it into 2 columns; in the first, list out all of the cues that your dog already knows, and in the second list out the new cues that you want to teach.
Some common cues are:
- Stand (many people forget this one after the previous 2 cues)
- Come (*)
- Touch (hand)
- Hold it
- Drop it
- Bed (go to)
For an added challenge, try teaching the cue at a distance (it is more difficult to get a dog to Sit when 5 metres away than when immediately in front of you). Don’t immediately start at 25 metres! Build-up gradually.
Many dog owners dream of having a rock-steady recall but often settle for one that is, frankly, not fit for purpose. If that sounds like you then this could be the perfect time for you to address this issue – take a look at this post on obtaining a Rock-Steady Recall.
Teach new tricks
Let’s start by dispelling a myth – you can teach an old dog new tricks! And he will enjoy it!
There are so many tricks that can be taught to our dogs. None of them are of any practical use, but that’s not the point. The point is that it is mentally stimulating for our dogs to learn new things and they enjoy it.
Common tricks are:
- Shake hands/paws
- Sit pretty
- Weave through legs
Be careful when training Kiss – Harvey is a little enthusiastic with this trick sometimes and what should be a gentle kiss is more like a head-butt!!
Let’s start with an old favourite – Tug. Many (not all) dogs love to play Tug. And, when done properly, it can be both physically and mentally tiring.
The first thing to do is to acquire a Tug toy – these are widely available, including online outlets like Amazon. And once you get it, use it only for Tug games. And, importantly, don’t use anything else to play Tug.
Encourage your dog to take one end of the toy in their mouth while you hold the other. Then, as your dog pulls you provide resistance and say ‘Tug’ at the same time. Then end the encounter by using your ‘Drop it’ cue. We don’t want any individual encounter to last too long in case the dog becomes over-excited.
Tug tip 1
This is a game for your dog’s entertainment. It is not a competition. Sometimes, instead of finishing with the ‘Drop it’ cue, let your dog ‘win’ the toy – he will likely then parade around for a while showing off the spoils of his victory!
Tug tip 2
Try to keep the action at your dog’s level. Don’t pull upwards, pull back as you would in a human tug-of-war. Do, also, be careful of your own back when playing – bigger dogs can be surprisingly strong!
Tray find it.
Take a muffin tray and put treats in a few of the individual moulds. Then place tennis balls or other balls that your dog plays with, into all of the moulds so that the treats are concealed. Put the tray on the floor and encourage your dog to find the ones with treats in.
Name find it.
Do you give names to your dog’s toys? You should. If you get your dog used to a certain name for a toy you can then put the toy in amongst a pile of other toys and ask your dog to ‘Find Smiley Face’ (yes, we have a toy with that name!). Being able to differentiate between various toys adds a little extra mental stimulation.
I assume that I don’t need to tell you how this is played! What I would say is that when doing this indoors it is prudent to stick to using soft toys that won’t bounce, or be thrown, into your TV or other breakables!
Keep in mind what we said about mental exercise being tiring for dogs – don’t overdo it! Start with 10-15 minute sessions and see how your dog gets on.
Be patient with your dog. Things are tricky for him during lockdown too – with the added complications of not knowing what the cause of it is and not being able to easily communicate to you how he feels.