“Social distancing” is a phrase we hear dozens of times a day. This seems to be difficult for many humans (just look at what happened in Florida, the Tidal Basin and at many parks where people have been congregating). However, social distancing is great for our dogs. They are not worried about other dogs lunging at them or strangers rudely ignoring requests to give the dogs space. Even though my dogs are used to walking around hectic areas like dog events, this does not mean they always enjoy walking in areas with other people and animals. Dogs need walks that allow them to relax and decompress. Start social distance walks.
What is a social distance walk? It is a walk well away from other people and dogs. Forget the government recommended 6 feet as they talk about social distancing, get many yards away from others. Better yet, work to be the only ones in the area. Instead of a retracting leash, use a long line. Foster gets a 12-foot lead. He is almost 13 and does not range out as much. Splash and Uhura get longer ones. We go to a quiet area, put the long lines on, and let the dogs be dogs. They can move about a wider area, sniff, investigate, etc. However, be aware of national, state, community park regulations for leash length rules. If you cannot use a long line, you can allow your dog to be a dog while on a shorter lead. If you can not or will not leave your property, there are other ways you can try to meet your dog’s needs.
This is a perfect time to get rid of those food bowls and use toys for food delivery! Food is an excellent resource for meeting various needs. For more information on food releasing toys visit my blog, westwinddogtraining.wordpress.com, and search “food” and “stuff.” Sprinkle kibble around your house and yard (if your grass is not treated) to get your dog sniffing and moving to eat. Buy or make a snuffle mat. There are many online resources for making food-releasing toys.
Consider using a flirt pole. For my dogs, Shetland Sheepdogs and a standard schnauzer, I use a horse lunge whip with a floppy toy tied on the end. You can also make one out of PVC pipe, rope (elastic rope used for bungee cords is great), end caps and a floppy toy. There are many online resources with instructions. Alternatively, check Amazon and Chewy and order one. Kristin Crestejo has a great video showing how to use a flirt pole to teach self-control https://youtu.be/PZngak0ChcI. If you have a smaller dog, drag the toy through your house.
Use this time to teach silly pet tricks. Consider preparing for a Trick Dog title. This is open to all breeds and crosses at www.akc.org/sports/trick-dog. If your dog has basic behaviors down, start rally training. My daughter has started working two of our dogs for hopeful rally competition. Nose work is another great activity you can start on your own. You can use the competition scents, or you can make your own games using treats or a little vanilla extract for the scent. There are many online resources for these activities.
The next weeks or months are going to be a big change for us. This means changes for our dogs.
Finally, when this is over and we can get back to our old routines, remember your dogs. Take the time to help them re-adapt when their life changes again.
Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.