2020 has been a heck of a year so far (to say the very least), and the challenges continue as schools figure out what the fall semester will look like. For most families this means that the kids will not be physically in a classroom nearly as much as they normally would.
So what about the family dog? How does he fit into this new daily routine? I don’t think anyone wants to leave their dog outside or in a crate all day, but there’s only so much we can have on our plate. Lets’s talk about some simple ways we can occupy our dogs when everyone is busy.
Don’t feel bad about separating your dog for awhile!
Yes, you heard me right. We all have certain times of day that our home is more chaotic. This is the time to get the dog out of the picture for a hot minute. BUT we don’t want them to feel like they are being punished or left out, so be sure there’s something in it for them. Grab a favorite toy, chew, or bone, and put the dog somewhere else. Another room, a crate, outside, behind a gate, whatever they are used to. Tell the kids the dog needs space/privacy/alone time or whatever they can relate to. Use a timer to remind you when it’s time to check on the dog.
Mix up mealtime.
Instead of feeding your dog out of a bowl, mix it up a little and make them work for it. You don’t need to go out and buy a puzzle feeder, just scatter it on the floor instead or use an old muffin pan. If you do have a puzzle feeder, don’t use it every day because it won’t be exciting anymore. Alternate between scattering the food, using the puzzle toy, and one of the activities we will talk about. The point of all this is to give your dog some mental stimulation while occupying them for a little while. If your children are older, this can be done in a common area of the house while they are working. If your children are younger, it’s best to do this in another room.
Save the “good stuff” for when you really need it.
Every dog has a treat, toy, or activity that they absolutely LOVE! Or that you don’t want them to have all the time, but they wish they could. To keep these things exciting, save these for times when you really need your dog to be occupied. Prepare food toys like KONGs and puzzles the night before and stick them in the freezer. That way they will last longer. If you don’t have anything like that, grab an ice cube tray or any freezable container that will fit. Fill it with peanut butter, treats, kibble, maybe a Cheerio or two. If you want to keep the fat content down, use chicken broth or water instead of peanut butter. On a hot day some ice cube treats will keep dogs occupied and cool outside, and to minimize mess inside you can put them in your dog’s empty dish or a plastic storage bin.
Use the skills your dog already has.
Is your dog really good about lying quietly at your feet when you’re sitting down? Does she do fine gated off in a particular space and amusing herself? Would he love some extra time in the yard because he just wants to snooze under his favorite tree? Yes, we already touched on this a little, but here I am referring to things that don’t require food encouragement or something to do. Find ways to incorporate these things into your day so that you have one less thing to worry about. Just don’t forget to set your timer so that you remember to check on the dog!
Always remember that this is an adjustment for everyone in the family, including our fur babies! Everyone needs time to figure things out, and if you watch closely you will start to see what is working for your dog. Also remember to praise your dog when they are doing something you like so that they will do it again!
Colleen Perry is a dog trainer specializing in family dogs. She has been a Licensed Family Paws Parent Educator since 2017, “helping families with dogs prepare for life with baby and toddler. ™” Colleen and her husband share their home with two toddlers (ages 2 and 4) and 3 dogs. Born and raised in Massachusetts, she lived in New Mexico for 10 years and moved to Memphis earlier this year. She and her family are loving their new home city and are so excited to be surrounded by green after living in the desert! Find Colleen on Facebook dog and child safety.for information about dog training services as well as