As you read this you most likely have been social distancing, in isolation, or even quarantined for a week or more. So how does it feel? Are you bored, having already cleaned the house numerous times and binge-watched all of Netflix? Maybe you are on edge, just itching to get outside but you can’t, so you redirect your frustration onto your spouse or kids.
Guess what? Now you know what it feels like to be a dog.
Our dogs (and other pets) spend countless hours waiting for us to come home from work, the movies, our kids’ ball games or recitals. We then take them for a walk around the block, plop down a bowl of food, and call it a night.
Talk about bored and frustrated.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of our routines. There are new normals. And our dogs’ environmental enrichment and mental stimulation should be one of those new normals.
The new normal: ditch the food bowl in favor of food puzzle toys. Food puzzle toys require time, patience, and problem-solving – all skills that are good for your dog. Since dogs are natural scavengers (a raided trash can or surfed counter are testaments to that), food puzzle toys offer a natural solution to boredom. Puzzle toys also encourage chewing and licking, which can have a calming effect to a dog’s brain.
Some examples of food puzzle toys include the Classic Kong, Kong Wobbler, Buster Cube, Tricky Treat Ball, Tug-a-Jug, and Snuffle Mat. If I fed my dogs out of a bowl the food would be inhaled in about a minute. But watch this video to see how long it takes them to eat out of various food puzzle toys. And when they are done, they take a nap!
As mentioned previously, chewing is a natural and must-needed behavior for dogs to practice. We just need to ensure they are practicing it on their safe chew toys, not our expensive furniture. Once again, Classic Kongs and other hard rubber toys make great chew toys, as do marrow bones, Nylabones, and bully sticks.
Tug-of-war, fetch, find it, and flirt poles are all great games that we play along with our dogs, helping to build that incredible bond between species, while games like hide-and-seek, runaway recall, and puppy ping pong help teach our dogs the all-important Come When Called. These games will not only tire our dogs physically, they will also exhaust them mentally.
While many of us are under stay at home orders, most of us are still allowed to be outside, and what a perfect opportunity that is to take our dogs on Sniffaris. A sniffari is an outing in which our dogs lead us while they explore the world by what may be their greatest natural ability: their sense of smell. Relinquishing our need to control the dogs’ walk and letting our dogs dictate where they want to go may be the ultimate gift we can give them.
Hide some treats and toys in your backyards and let your dogs lead you to them. Or take them for a walk in a park and let them discover the wonders of nature through their noses.
This is a time of change. And now that we know how boring it is to be a dog, we can change their lives for the better. If we allow dogs to really be dogs – let them do naturally doggy stuff – it is good for their mood, their behavior, their quality of life. Let’s make improving our dogs’ environmental enrichment and mental stimulation their new normal.
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, FFCP, CTDI