Things to do with your dog during lockdown.

Stuck at home in the pandemic? Wondering how on earth you’ll be able to keep your dog from going stir crazy when you can’t take them out for a walk? While it’s not ideal, there are lots of things you can do to help make this time enjoyable and as painless as possible. Here are some ideas to get you started!

  • Mental exercise can be just as calming and tiring as physical exercise – the key is to provide new, interesting or challenging activities that provide a degree of difficulty, spark curiosity and encourage problem solving.
  • Build a makeshift agility playground in the backyard – you can use bricks, planks, tarps, boxes, a kids pool, sandpit, hoola-hoops, tables, chairs, old sheets etc. Tunnels, planks to walk across, a table with a sheet over it makes a good cubby or tunnel, a tarp placed across an uneven surface provides a new and textured surface to navigate. Line up some chairs and get them to jump from chair to chair. Balance along a plank and then go higher. Make a seesaw. Roll them along a skateboard or in a wheelbarrow. Teach them new words and concepts such as up, through, over, jump etc. Use a lead to guide them at first if needed, and have fun!
  • Turn your dog into a service dog! Put your dog on a lead and ask them to follow you around calmly while you water the garden, clean the pool, do the housework or even watch TV. Providing structure and direction and telling them what they are doing next (rather than them deciding) is completely different from them simply following you around on their terms. This gives them a purpose, an opportunity to serve and develops skills such as patience, leader-follower mindset, and focus. It also prevents overwhelm from having too many options. For dogs prone to anxiety or hyperactivity this can be profound.
  • Practise café and social skills at home! Put your dog on a lead and practise tying them up and saying “stay” while you go and make a coffee, hang up the washing or go to the toilet. This is an important life skill that you need them to be familiar with such as when you go to pay for your fuel, grab milk from the shops, retrieve a ball off the road or when they have to wait while you go and order a coffee. So practise! Make it a positive activity that leads to a reward, for eg, tie up and stay, then follow with a game/feed them/up on the lounge for cuddles. Use various locations around the home and backyard and get this skill solid. Start small and build up.
  • Hide and seek! Kongs, bones and snuffle mats are fantastic but even better is when your dog has to use their nose to find the ‘prize’ in the first place. Their sense of smell is a superpower so let it shine! You can use anything your dog is interested in – food, toys or family members. There’s endless variety with this – you can use lots of little treats and make a trail or a general scattered Easter Egg hunt style, a larger single prize they have to find, you can give a family member a treat or toy and then say “where’s Dad?” and when they find them they get the prize! For more challenge, you can bury things in the ground for fun digging games, put things up high such as in the fork of a tree or on top of a table you have set aside for this, wrap the item in a towel or layers of newspaper and let them work out how to tear off the wrapping, put it under a bucket or mat, or even ask them to find a particular item from a selection and then bring it to you.
  • Remember to balance fun and games with life skills and structured calm activities. It is very easy to create a silly, hyperactive, disrespectful or anxious dog if you overdo the stimulation and entertainment and ignore the serious stuff. Do both.
  • If the weather is warming up and you don’t have a pool, you can use a tarp filled with water to create a waterplay area. You can also make cold treats such as freezing beef or chicken stock, freezing treats or kibble inside iceblocks, freezing bones etc.
  • Make some new dog toys! Old towels cut lengthwise and tied in knots, empty water bottles with a few treats inside, egg cartons to rip up and destroy, cardboard boxes with things inside to get to, tennis balls inside old socks, self-tug ropes (tie one end to something high) so they give resistance and your dog can pull and hang off them at will – get creative!
  • Bones, raw carrots and raw sweet potatoes are all great for boredom and cleaning teeth. Provide ample opportunities for your dog to chew, tear and destroy things – especially young dogs or puppies. This will prevent them finding their own! Old towels and cardboard boxes are also great items to destroy and rip and get out some frustration.
  • Digging is a doggie thing so rather than trying to stop your dog digging – channel it and use it to your advantage. Give your dog at least one allocated digging space and go there with them and DIG. An area of lawn or dirt is ideal, so is a kid’s plastic pool or tarp filled with either water or dirt. Hide things down deep for them to dig up and find, fill a hole with water and have a mud party – basically use the digging to release energy, smooth sharp nails and generally add variety and challenge. If you live in an apartment and have no outside area – use a huge pile of old towels and sheets!!
  • If your dog needs more physical exercise, intense games like tug of war and fetch can drain huge amounts of energy. Make a ‘lure” by basically making a fishing rod with a toy at the end. Eg attach a rope to the end of a broom handle with a soft toy or rag tied to the end of the rope and then challenge your dog to get the toy. You can stand still and sweep and drag the lure around you in a circle or you can run around with it. You can make them jump up high to get it or simply drag it along the ground or across obstacles and jumps etc. My dogs just love this game.

This can be a great time to reconnect and bond with your dog and learn lots of new ways to spend time together. However, don’t overdo it! Make sure you provide DAILY structured alone time for them so they don’t lose the ability to self soothe and be independent. This is especially important to avoid the sudden onset of separation anxiety when you do go back to work. It is also very easy and tempting to accidentally ‘lean’ on your dog for your own entertainment and emotional needs when you’re bored, anxious or down. Be mindful of this as it can be overwhelming for your dog and quickly lead to other issues. They rely on you for security and leadership so don’t let your parenting slide. Each dog is different so just be aware and adjust the balance as needed for your individual situation.

Good luck, have fun and hopefully it won’t be long before we’re all out and about and back to normality again.