Enriching your dog’s home alone time!
It’s hard leaving our fur-babies home alone! We wonder to ourselves how bored and lonely they must be without us. We feel immense guilt when they pull that “you’re leaving me again look”! However, there are solutions at hand to keep your dog ‘positively’ entertained when we really must tear ourselves away from them!
Firstly, making sure that your dog has the right level of daily exercise for their age, ability and breed is top priority, but also allowing your dog sufficient rest time is also extremely important. An adult dog should sleep on average between 12-14 hours per day. Sleep deprivation can cause both health and behavioural issues, so let that pooch get some undisturbed kip time!
So you’ve covered their daily exercise and rest requirements, now you have another 8-10 hours to play with where you can really utilise your dog’s cognitive skills to keep them both occupied, entertained (so no more chewing up your furniture, and raiding bins!), and help prevent cognitive decline (such as doggie dementia). As world-proclaimed top dog behaviourist/vet/trainer, Dr Ian Dunbar, once quoted “mental exercise tires a dog physically more than physical exercise does”. So by providing an enriching environment, mental stimulation and giving your dog a job to do, can really help you leave them, knowing you’ll return to a calmer, happier dog - which hasn’t spent all day re-charging their batteries for you to deal with after a hard day at the office!
The makings for a more enriching home environment!
Making environmental changes are a great start to helping your pupster cope while you’re gone.
Dog’s love dens! Have you ever noticed how your dog loves being under your bed, desk or any small crevice they can fit themselves into? Make sure that your dog has a very comfy doggie-den somewhere they can retreat to, have their own space, and feel their safest. This place should be undisturbed and out of the way, so your dog can get some peace and quiet, especially if you have active kids! Crates are a great option for dens, because they provide a designated area, where beds toys and even bowls can be stored easily. I hear you cry - “I don’t want to put my dog in a cage – that’s cruel!” Actually, crate training can be a really positive tool for both use as a comfy den within your home, and also a safe way to transport your dog in the car, or to help them feel more confident when inevitably they get put in crates during visits to the vet or grooming clinic. Crates should NEVER be used as a place of punishment, and dogs should never be left in them for extended periods alone. This should be a spot where only really positive things happen, like treats and toys! Having a crate means you can cover the top and make it really feel like a proper den! Added cushions and comfy blankets make for a wonderfully comfy safe zone. Remember, it should always be your dog’s choice to get in it, but a treat or two thrown in is usually a good way to persuade them!
See this video for positive crate training advice - www.youtube.com/watch?v=dU64orkKjMs
Other changes you can make to your furry pal’s environment, would be considering your dog’s visual and auditory experience when left at home. Both of these senses are on overdrive when you’re at home, so it can be quite a dramatic change when you leave and they a deprived of the sounds, sights and smells of you being there. Leaving on some familiar noises and lights can help to make the home feel a little like you’re still there!
No one wants to be left in the pitch dark! So if you will be late, leave a light on somewhere so your dog has the choice of a space that has a light, but also a space that is darker in case they rest easier in darkness. It’s all about choice!
Do you listen to the radio or TV while you’re at home – your dog has noticed! Leaving some soothing music on can be beneficial for some dogs who associate these noises with your presence. However, if your dog is sound sensitive; it may be worth checking to see how comfortable they are with the noises before subjecting them to it all day long. It’s also good if you can contain the noise to one area, so your dog has a choice to move away from it if they wish. Overall though, in many cases leaving a radio or the TV on can be very calming for a dog. Recent studies have shown that classical music was linked to more relaxed and restful behaviour, while heavy metal was linked to greater anxiety and unrest – so pick tunes wisely!
A super easy option is to leave Classical FM on for them, or there is a wonderful set of playlists designed for dogs, such as ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’: www.amazon.co.uk/Through-Dogs-Ear-Joshua-Leeds, or Victoria Stilwell’s selection of calming CD’s for dogs - www.positively.com
Even better, for both auditory and visual stimulation, leave your dog with their very own television show – DOGTV! This is an amazing new channel designated to dogs! It is designed to be particularly appealing to dogs, with their use of sounds and images. They claim to help alleviate boredom and even battle separation anxiety - www.dogtv.com
Give your dog a fun job!
Beyond simple environmental changes, leaving your dog a job to do will keep them both busy and mentally stimulated. This is the best way to avoid boredom behaviours, such as chewing up your new shoes or barking the neighbours senseless!
Just because we eat from plates and bowls doesn't mean this is necessarily the best option for your dog. We do dogs a great disservice by always feeding all of their meals in a bowl, it's gone in seconds (barely touches the sides), and we miss such a great opportunity for learning and engaging their brains (and exercise their jaws). Dogs are natural scavengers and their noses are their greatest asset. Even if you feed some of their daily food in a bowl, it’s definitely worth making them work for the rest! Whether you feed dry, wet, raw or home cooked, there are a multitude of ways you can make their whole dining experience just a tad more enriching!
Puzzle toys are usually rubber or plastic containers that hold food inside. Your dog must paw, shake, knock, lick or roll them in order to gain access to the hidden treasure. These require problem solving skills and patience from our furry friends, which are very useful life skills! Such puzzles include the well known Kong, the Buster Cube, the Tricky Treat Ball and the Atomic Treat Ball. All of these toys can also be stuffed with yummy treats like (dog-safe) peanut butter, cottage cheese or natural yoghurt. When you introduce your dog to puzzle toys, start of easy, and progressively get harder as they become puzzle experts! You want to make sure that these games frustrate your dog enough to keep them active and engaged, but not so hard they lose interest and find something less challenging to chew (i.e. your kitchen table leg!) To make the puzzles more challenging choose larger treats, so they don't fall out so easily, or freeze them!
A particular favourite feeding game is the Nina Ottoson feeder (it's designed so you can change levels of difficulty for when they start to find it too easy) - www.amazon.co.uk/Nina-Ottosson-Outward-Interactive-Stimulation
Another really amazing set of fun puzzle toys are the K9 connectables. You can hide treats in them, disconnect and reconnect them, and vary levels of difficulty. You can smear yummy liver paste over them, and leave your dog to entertain and self-soothe themselves! https://www.k9connectables.com/#home
Beyond just puzzle toys, there are many more ways to make dinner time more exciting and longer lasting for your dog. Encouraging them to chew and lick to get their food has been shown to have a significant calming effect on our dogs. Dogs love to forage, so even just scattering food and hiding treats around your home, really engages their brain power, and allows them to adhere to their natural inclination to hunt and search.
Feeder mats are a perfect way to slow down meals. You can smear wet or raw food (or yummy liver paste), and place dry food between each of the sections - www.thepetexpress.co.uk
A Lickimat is another great tool to keep dogs busy. It’s similar to the feeding mat, but better for smearing all sorts of treats like peanut butter, natural yoghurt or liver paste on (again freeze it for longer lasting fun!) - www.industripet.com
Another great invention for dogs is the snuffle mat. This is fabulous for hiding treats in, and encouraging them to use their noses to 'snuffle' out the treats! These are also great for training and distracting your dog from something that makes them anxious - www.snufflemats.co.uk
(if you’re particularly into crafts, these are also quite simple to make at home!)
A super cheap option for keeping your dog entertained on hotter days is to take a plastic container and freeze vegetable stock, water, and small pieces of vegetables. Leave this tasty treat out for them to lick at while it melts. They can then eat all of the hidden bits of healthy veggies! Fun!
'Go find it' is an awesome game to play with your dog, and can be a game you can easily set up before leaving for work in the morning. Practice this by scattering treats on a snuffle mat or in the grass, and use your finger to help point out the food if they're struggling. Add the cue 'go find it' before increasing the difficulty. Now in the morning you can fill their favourite puzzle toy with their breakfast and hide it. Your dog will love hunting down their brekkie, before a well deserved nap!
All this talk about treats!
If you give additional treats on top of your dog's regular diet, make sure you decrease their meal times slightly. This way they don't put on too much extra weight!
A really good source for natural, organic and healthy treats is www.myitchydog.co.uk
I recommend the Meat and Treats for training. These are solo protein sources (chicken, salmon and buffalo). They are easy to chop into small pieces, and easily woofed down! The Arden Grange liver paste is also great for smearing all over toys and mats – dogs just love it!