Team Captain turns Lockdown Pro
“enrichment” – the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something
Fewer dog walks combined with Mr FMDW and I being around all the time has meant our Team Captain (my own dog Belle), like many dogs during lockdown, has been getting less physical exercise and LESS SLEEP both of which are important for overall well being. While we’ve been sure to leave her alone if she takes herself off for a snooze and making sure to leave her (without access to us) even if just for a short time, its just not the same as us going out regularly for a few hours at a time as we would normally.
Brain games and enrichment activities are a normal part of our routine at FMDW HQ. Now, more than ever, these activities are important to help balance out any potential stress caused by the current lockdown situation. Providing opportunities for my dog to sniff and forage, chew and work out puzzles helps relieve stress and anxiety, provides mental stimulation and helps her to relax.
Fun fact CHEWING releases chemicals in the brain that create the ‘feel good factor’ – helping our dogs to decompress and relax.
Belles favourite chewing activities are a stuffed KONG or a long lasting chew like a goats ear. If you use a kong, make sure it’s the right size (XL Extreme Chewers one for my Weimaraner)!
PUZZLES and BRAIN GAMES could be shop bought toys or you can create DIY versions at home. This could be as simple as rolling up some treats or kibble in an old tea towel for your dog to sniff at and unravel or hiding some treats next time you get a delivering from amazon amongst all the packaging in the opened box.
THE IMPORTANT THING is that its easy enough for your dog to succeed. Make it too hard and they may become frustrated. You want your dog to feel like “Yay I’ve won” when they complete these little tasks. Problem solving not only provides mental stimulation, the ‘win’ helps build confidence too. This is a really easy, valuable way for you to spend time with your dog at home helping them feel good about themselves!
LOTUS BALL TOYS are a real favourite at FMDW HQ. A lotus ball is a toy that opens up, you hide treats inside and then it fastens back together with velco making a ball shape. You either toss it for your dog (notice I said toss it not launch it as far as you can) or have your dog chase it along the ground as your run around the garden with one attached to a fleecey line. The idea being that your dog gets to chase – catch/grab – and importantly ‘kill’ it (by opening it up to find the treats). It is a rewarding game for our dogs as it helps satisfy their natural prey drive.
*Please note – this is different to repeatedly launching a tennis ball for your dog to chase after (without the relaxing, laying down and enjoying the treats part), which can have the opposition affect and create an adrenaline pumped, frustrated dog. Not the chilled out lockdown pro we’re aiming for here!
SNUFFLE MATS and LICKIMATS not only slow eating but also keep your dogs mind engaged. Snuffle mats you hide dry food or treats within the folds of the fleece, lickimats work better with something soft that can be squished in (Belle is raw fed so that works well or I sometimes cook sweet potato and fish for a treat that’s easy on her sensitive tum). Or you could just ‘scatter feed’ in the garden – which literally means throwing their kibble/treats down around the garden for them to find. This allows our dogs to exercise their natural foraging behaviour which makes them feel good.
I hope this has given you some ideas of ways you can help your dog during this time. These activities all really work well for my dog Belle and you know what they say .. happy Team Captain happy Team Coach!
*There are lots of articles out there explaining why using a ball launcher can be detrimental to your dogs health – if this is something you do regularly with your dog you may find it interesting (and eye opening) to do some research. Or you never know, if lockdown goes on long enough maybe I’ll end up writing something about that topic too!