There is no doubt that as a society we have spent more time with our beloved canine companions during 2020 than during any other year prior. Our dogs have been present for every conference call, virtual celebration, each moment of quarantine snacking, and every short-lived new hobby. While we’ve shared a lot of time with our dogs this past year, how much time have we dedicated to enriching their lives as well as our own? For 2021, celebrate the New Year by including your dog in the tradition of New Year’s resolutions. Here are our ideas on making 2021 a successful and fun year with your dog!
Over the last year, how many times did you carefully consider different restaurants to order food from or make lists of necessary ingredients for a new recipe you wanted to try cooking? Food is so much more than sustenance; it’s a process, it’s joy, it’s comfort. But food for our dogs is usually rather boring and potentially even unsatisfying. So why not try to spice up your dog’s mealtimes?
One of the most straightforward ways to make mealtime more interesting for your dog will be by changing up the delivery method. As natural scavengers, dogs thrive when we give them the opportunity to think critically. Rather than eating out of a boring old bowl, consider feeding your dog out of a puzzle dish. Bowls like the Fun Feeder by Outward Hound are a wonderful way to make meals more intriguing. Some more favorites are interactive food toys like the Kibble Nibble, Kong Wobbler, Nina Ottosson Puzzle Toys, and Snuffle Mats.
If your dog eats wet food instead of dry food, try smearing food in the Outward Hound Fun Feeders, the Nina Ottosson Dog Tornado, or the LickiMat Tuff or Slomo Series by Innovative Pet Products. The beauty of these enriching food toys and bowls is that they allow your dog to eat in a more active and mentally engaging way! Allow your dog to burn energy by using their brainpower to get all of the food over a longer period of time than the usual 30 seconds to 2 minutes that it usually takes them to eat a meal.
Surely one of the most common ways people challenge themselves each New Year is by resolving to be more fit, hit the gym, lift more weights, run a marathon. Each year we aspire to be healthier than the year before or to at least maintain our fitness routine. While there may not be a yearly gym membership for our dogs, there are some things you can do at home to help your dog exercise more and be more fit.
For physically healthy dogs, doggy pushups are a great way of exercising. To practice doggy pushups, you’ll use treats to guide your dog into a “down” then “sit” position. Alternating between the two positions allows your dog to burn calories and build core strength. Consult your veterinarian before embarking on any major health journeys to ensure you’re taking the right steps for your dog. Be sure to work on non-slip surfaces and keep strengthening exercises to less than 5 minutes just a few times a day.
Another popular goal set each year is the aspiration to learn. Whether that is by taking a class, reading more, learning a new skill, or strengthening an old one, learning is at the forefront of our culture as we know it. Why should that yearly ambition not also be set for our dogs?
Arguably the most important life skill we can teach our dogs is recall. Building and maintaining this skill may seem straightforward but it can be quite complex. To begin building this skill, you’ll first need to teach your dog that your recall cue (which might be “come”, “here”, “front” or any other cue you can think of) means reinforcement! The easiest way to build this behavior will be by using tasty treats like tiny, cut up pieces of hotdogs, sausage, or cheese.
In a quiet space, free of distraction, begin by offering your dog a tasty treat. If they are excited and interested in taking it, you’re ready to begin training! Say your dog’s name and recall cue once in a bright happy voice (ex: “Karma, come!”) and feed them several treats in a row. If you do this a few times in a row and they are quickly offering you attention, you can begin to build distance. To build distance, take one small treat and toss it a few feet away from you. Your dog should be aware of the treat you threw and should run after it to go eat it.
Once they finish the treat you threw, say your dog’s name and recall cue in a loud bright voice. Wait for them to turn, then cheerlead as they come back to you. The moment they reach you, praise them and give them 3-7 treats in a row. Practice daily so that this behavior becomes a reflexive response! Slowly build up distance by throwing your first treat further away. Be sure to begin in quiet spaces free of distraction and always reinforce your dog every single time they come to you when you call them.
Now that we’ve talked through the possibilities, here comes the hard part, deciding what you want to focus on! The most common foible with New Year’s resolutions is that we struggle to maintain them throughout the year. Be sure to give yourself realistic, sustainable goals, and build them into your everyday schedule.
We at Central Bark wish you and your canine family a happy and healthy New Year!
Carla is a Behavior & Operation Advisor for Central Bark and co-owns a dog training and behavior consulting business, Good Karma Canine. Carla has three dogs Karma, a seven-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier Mix; Gypsy, a five-year-old Bull Terrier/Lab Mix; and Newt, a two-year-old Chihuahua.