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  • Writer's pictureAshley Timms

Social distancing with your dog for COVID-19

You'll be hard-pressed to turn on the TV or scroll through any social media without being bombarded with information about COVID-19. With all the misinformation spreading and every-changing figures, there is one fact that has been confirmed: your dog cannot get corona virus / COVID-19.

This is fantastic news, of course, for all you dog owners! But being told to practice social distancing may leave you scratching your head on activities. As much as we wish dogs could speak and understand us, a time like this makes us want it even more.

Social distancing for humans involves remaining in your home as much as possible, only leaving for emergencies and absolute necessities (like the pharmacy), and not touching anything other people touch. It also means staying at least six feet away from other humans.

Enough about the downsides. Social distancing means you get to spend more time with your dog! Here are some ways you can keep your dog enriched and entertained while remaining safely inside until COVID-19 is contained.

1. Snuffle mat

You can make your own or buy one! A snuffle mat is a fantastic quiet activity that involves food. Simply place kibble all around the pieces of fabric to make it fun yet challenging for your dog to find every last bite. The mat is rather heavy so it will stay in place while keeping your dog busy.

2. Learn a fun trick

Training isn't just about obedience. Teaching your dog a new trick (or even perfecting an old one) is a fabulous way to bond with your dog. Even if the trick you choose is seemingly useless, you'll both get a lot out of it. A few great tricks to add to your pup's repertoire are sitting pretty (sitting on hind legs), shaking on command (shaking excess water, not paw), and stretching. Stretching and shaking are also calming mechanisms for dogs so this activity serves a dual purpose.

3. Scavenger hunt

With up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, a scavenger hunt will keep your pup entertained for ages. Do a sit-stay and head to a room that is out of sight for your dog. Put treats and kibble in a bunch of different places around your home. These places should be accessible and not too high and certainly not near anything fragile. Once you're done, bring your dog into the room. Your pup might need some assistance to find the first few as well as encouragement to keep going. Once they get the hang of it, they’ll love finding every last piece.

4. Health training

Many dogs aren't a big fan of their paws touched or their teeth or sometimes their ears. Unfortunately, your dog will probably need to have these areas inspected at the vet. To make it easier on your dog, use your social distancing time to work on their anxiety. You can begin by bringing your hand near the sensitive area. Use a clicker or marker word and reward your dog if he ignores it. Then, move your hand a little closer and reward again. It's important to not continue if your dog is stressed out or showing discomfort, so make sure you move slowly and closely monitor their behavior. Eventually, your dog will be much more comfortable with hands near these body parts.

5. Treat towels

A regular household item can actually become a fantastic enrichment toy. Lay a towel flat on the floor and sprinkle kibble all over it. Then, fold it in half and add more kibble. Finally, roll the towel up like you would a sleeping bag and let your dog have at it! Your dog will use his nose and paws to unravel the towel and find every last bite. To keep your dog on his paws, fold the towel and arrange the kibble in a variety of different ways.

6. Make homemade toys

Great enrichment toys can also be made from a number of household items. Recycling materials, such as cardboard boxes and tissue paper, can be layered to make finding kibble as fun as possible. Place treats or kibble inside any boxes, leftover toilet paper rolls, empty paper towel rolls, tissue boxes, or anywhere else. Close any flaps, stack the containers, put little ones inside big ones, or create any sort of puzzle you’d like. The next step is to let your dog loose on the recycling! (Note: make sure you don't include items with plastic or metal and be sure to watch your dog to ensure they don't ingest any non-food items.)

7. Mat training

Mat training is one of the most useful commands a dog can know. Simply grab a towel, their bed, a doormat, or simply a small rug. Start by rewarding your dog for going near the mat with either a clicker or marker word. Then, up the ante and only reward once they step on the mat. Slowly increase the criteria for the reward until your dog is fully on the mat and then laying down on the mat.

8. Essentials training

There are plenty of must-have commands your dog should know and has possibly forgotten over time. Using the confines of your home is a great way to study up on recall, leave it/drop it, and so much more.

9. Spot

Teaching your dog to interact with their environment can really help their confidence (whether they need it or not!). "Spot" (which is the word I used) involves letting your pup use her nose to perform actions. You can choose to have your dog open ajar doors, close cupboards, push objects, and so much more. Pick an action that would be useful in your home and make sure you have plenty of treats for rewards!

10. Go for a walk anyway

Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, epidemiologist, or virologist. But, a walk is a walk and some dogs just need to have activity in order to be happy. If you do decide to go for a walk despite the social distancing recommendations, pick less populated areas where you won't need to touch anything (think access fences). Keep your distance from any other dog walkers and if you do stop and chat, keep six feet away (or more!).

With so many unknowns with COVID-19, it's easy to get swept up in stress. Dogs can sense stress and tension, so it's important to remain calm.

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