Continuing our series of essential lockdown tips to keep your dog happy, healthy and engaged throughout the boredom of national lockdown, we’re focusing on the most simple and effective ways to keep your dog healthy and fit while largely stuck at home.
Depending on your pets’ usual activity levels, the activities you try might vary in length and intensity, they may be motivated by simply the promise of walkies with their human or need to be encouraged using small treats or a favourite toy, ball or game. There are no hard and fast rules when keeping your dog at peak physical fitness, because all canines are different, with their personalities and individual motivations. The most important consideration is to enjoy the quality time you and your dog spend together during quarantine, whether you choose long walks, training, play, enrichment activities or diet changes.
With that spirit in mind, Benchmark Kennel’s have put together a mini-guide to maintain your dog’s fitness with a bunch of helpful tips and handy advice so you can get active together at home while prioritising the safety and wellbeing of yourself, your family and your pet.
It’s a well-known fact of life that most dogs love the many hours spent walking with their humans in parks, along streets, in cities and deep in the countryside. In normal times there are almost no end of places you and your dog can venture, where they can run, chase, play and burn off all that extra energy which has them bouncing off the walls if gone unspent.
Although it’s not advisable to go wandering miles from home or driving to another county altogether and widening the margin for error in terms of staying alert, there are sure to be many routes in your local area to explore safely.
Going off the beaten track to the parkland of heritage sites is a great way to soak in some culture outdoors and give your dog lots of space to run, play and enjoy some much-needed freedom. These areas often possess large trees for quality stick hunting, lots of undergrowth for natural sniffing, and active wildlife to trigger your pets’ hunting instincts without allowing them to chase or hurt any small animals. On top of this, your dog may have the opportunity to greet and interact with other canines (provided your respective households don’t get too close) which they are sure to have missed during the quarantine.
That said, if you wish to skip the crowds, the best time to grab the lead and get running to your local green space is after 5 pm, ensuring a quieter environment so you and your dog can minimise contact with others.
As previously mentioned in our lockdown series, being stuck at home provides you with the perfect opportunity to focus back on training basics. It’s never too late to revisit the simple things you might have been overlooking or correct bad behaviours you might not have had the time to deal with before the pandemic – with the added benefit of burning calories, improving concentration, and helping them stay active.
One of the best ways to get started, whether your dog is elderly, a pup or any age in between. Though just like humans, older dogs are known to have a superior attention span when compared with very young puppies, is to teach or reaffirm the seven most important commands: no, leave, sit, stay, come, and down. These can be exceptionally useful in almost any scenario you can imagine in which your dog is physically active, both indoors or out.
Finding the right training techniques for these commands is largely trial and error, and should be tailored to your dog, based on how fast and efficiently they learn, how well they remember commands and, if they have been trained before, their motivations.
All training or teaching of tricks should be carried out using small treats or their favourite toys as encouragement, using hand motions as a signal for your dog to position themselves in a certain way or follow you in a particular direction. You may also want to use sound, clicks, claps and whistles to communicate with them, depending on the rapport you share and what your pet responds most positively to.
It’s advisable to begin training in a quiet area so neither you or your dog become distracted, such as your garden during the morning or early evening.
Although it might seem obvious that playtime makes for a great opportunity for your dog to keep fit while having fun, it’s an activity that many pet owners find all too easy to overlook or trivialise. Dogs get bored just like humans, so the rich engagement potential that play provides can alleviate their stress and activate essential brain functions while getting them running, chasing, fighting their toys and living their best canine lives.
Make sure you have their best toys on hand, it’s one thing to watch your dog play alone or with their companion dog (or dogs), but interacting and joining the play yourself adds a new layer of joy for your pet who sees you as the leader of their little pack.
A range of toys will do, for example: chasing a ball allows them to use concentration, understand spatial awareness and increase their speed, building lean muscle mass and burning fat. Tug of war improves their strength and lets them tap into their primal resource instincts. Flirt poles have your dogs bounding, jumping, spinning and chasing; increasing their heart rate, endurance and agility.
However you choose to make playtime a 3D, active and pack-building experience, it’s important to note that wherever you lead, your dog will follow. Your attitude, expressions and energy really will define how exciting, fulfilling and engaging play activities are for you and your dog.
A more relaxed facet of playtime that is often forgotten is enrichment. The definition of enrichment is to decrease boredom and behavioural problems through the constructive use of interesting objects, smells, sounds, flavours or games so that even when your dog is relaxed, they remain active, engaged and fit.
There are many ways to enrich your dogs’ experience of lockdown, the most physically powerful are assault courses, promoting agility and speed. They can be made easily using children’s crawl tubes, slides, and even bamboo sticks staked into the lawn. Another solution is Kongs (a chunky and hard-wearing toy that is perfect for garden play) which can be stuffed with treats and frozen, making them ideal for hot weather as we head into Summer. If you’re feeling particularly creative, allowing your dog an area of your garden, sandpit or scrubby area to dig is an inventive option – we apologise in advance for the thorough bathing they’ll need afterwards though.
Whatever method you choose, you can guarantee your dog will have used their reserves of excess energy through physical and mental stimulation, tiring them out and helping them settle better during those long lockdown evenings.
The single most effective way to help your dog stay fit during lockdown is to provide them with a healthy diet, promoting their wellbeing and shedding unnecessary fat and additives.
Removing man-made ingredients from their bowl and replacing indulgent and often fat-filled red meat-based wet food with lean, cooked white meat like chicken and turkey with the bones and skin completely removed. Fish can also be included in your dogs’ new diet, such as tuna, sardines and salmon, as can leafy greens, eggs, whole grains and vegetables, bringing a nutritional balance to their feeding times.
Instead of sweet treats, exchange this habit for a tiny square of juicy fruit like melon, apple, banana, pear, etc. Take care to keep portions small, as large amounts of sugar and fruit can cause stomach upset and diarrhoea.
Need a bespoke kennel large enough for other lockdown dog activities?
Benchmark Kennels are a manufacturer of bespoke dog kennels, giving dog owners of all breed types, sizes and temperaments a secure and spacious place to stay outdoors. Every kennel is custom-made, meaning you can choose the exact size, material, properties and architecture of the kennel itself to ensure it suits your dog and the outside of your property.