Top tips to keep your dog calm and relaxed in lockdown
Written by Veterinary Dr Linda Simon
As strange and stressful as this Coronavirus lockdown is for us and our families, it must be that little bit more peculiar for our pooches who haven’t the foggiest why we are suddenly around all day, cramping their style and limiting their time outside. Any change in routine can pose a challenge and cause anxiety and, in recent weeks, many of our pets have had their entire world turned upside down. For dogs who are already naturally nervous, this lockdown might be that much harder for them to handle.
Thankfully, there are plenty of things that we can try to keep our dogs entertained and content while we all adjust to this new way of life.
- A busy dog is a happy dog
As is true for people, the busier a dog is, the less time they have to dwell on their worries and the fact that their routine has been changed. A dog’s exercise requirements (and capabilities) will depend on their age and breed, so be sure not to push your dog too far. Working breeds such as Spaniels, Retrievers and Collies will be delighted with a few hours of exercise every day, while lap dogs such as Shih Tzus may simply raise their eyebrow and sit down if you suggest anything more than their usual half hour! Make the most of your walks by exploring new and different routes and allowing your dog to sniff along the way. While many owners find it frustrating to stop at every weed and tree for a good ole sniff, this is actually one of the most exciting part of the walk for dogs, so try not to deprive them.
Some breeds love to swim and will happily doggy paddle in the local lake or in a back garden paddling pool. Try not to let them consume too much of the water (avoid throwing them sticks and balls which can result in water ingestion) and be sure to dry them thoroughly after their swim. For those dogs with long and furry ears, it’s important to dry their ear canals with cotton wool to remove any moisture, otherwise, they will be prone to ear infections; not something we want to be dealing with during lockdown.
Get inventive and set up a mini agility course outside for your pooch using equipment from around the home and garden such as sticks, cardboard boxes, traffic cones and chairs. Encourage them to jump, crawl, climb and weave. Why not have all the family members take it in turn, to see who can achieve the fastest time?
A word of warning: For those longer-haired or snub-nosed breeds such as Pekingeses and Chow Chows, they are less capable of exercising in warm and humid weather and can be prone to developing heat stroke. In the summer, they should be brought out closer to dawn and dusk and kept in the shade. Always have fresh water nearby and stop exercising if they seem out of breath.
- Bring out their inner Einstein
Just like physical stimulation, our cunning canines really benefit from some mental stimulation to keep them happy and engaged. Without this, they can quickly become bored and may even resort to destructive tendencies such as chewing furniture and digging holes in the grass.
A good place to start is with food puzzles. Start out simple and work your way up. A good first piece of ‘kit’ is a lick mat which can be spread with peanut butter (one which does not contain xylitol which is toxic to dogs), cottage cheese, natural yoghurt or sweet potato mash. To make it last longer, you can freeze it.
The next level up would be a rubber ‘Kong’ toy which can be filled with layers of food. For the first layer, use something easy to reach with a doggy tongue such as Pooch & Mutt’s mini bone treats. The next layer can be cooked pieces of chicken, turkey or white fish. On top, use something extra tasty to entice your dog in, such as some low-fat cream cheese. Experiment with different ingredients and, just like lick mats, Kongs can be frozen to last longer.
Scenting games are fun for any dog and are a great way to burn off some steam. Why not hide some kibble and doggy treats around the garden? Sprinkle some about on the ground (these are the ‘easy’ finds to spark interest) and then also place some in ‘trickier’ places such as on benches or beside plant pots. Let your dog watch you place the treats while on a lead and then set him free and watch that tail wag! Of course, before you get started, do double check your back garden is free from any toxins such as lawn feed, weed killer or slug bait.
- Don’t sit idly by as they pack on the pounds
It’s all too easy to not notice a slow and subtle weight gain when we are around our dogs every day. Any reduction in exercise is going to mean a dog will put on weight unless we reduce their calorie intake. The best way to assess if our dog needs to lose weight is to assess their Body Condition Score and ensure they are within the normal range. The risk with allowing our dogs to get porky is that it can predispose them to medical conditions such as diabetes and cancer and can also negatively impact their mobility and worsen any pre-existing arthritis. Remember, if you are giving extra treats or chews to deduct the calorie allowance from their regular meals. As a rule of thumb, treats shouldn’t make up any more than 10% of your furry friend’s diet.
- Consider feeding Pooch & Mutt’s Calm & Relaxed food and treats
Click our treats image to see our Calm & Relaxed Mini Bone Treats.