What to do with your dog when you can't go for a walk: potty training, games and treats
Two puppy behaviour experts offer their advice to UAE dog owners
While there’s no denying we’d all rather be outside, most will understand how important it is to stay at home right now.
We’ve read the news and seen the statistics, staying indoors is essential – it’s for the greater good.
But spare a moment for the dogs no longer allowed to be walked. Unlike us, they don't know why this has happened.
Dogs don’t do well with change, much the same as people
Dubai Authorities have introduced a temporary ban on walking dogs, as a sterilisation programme to stop the spread of Covid-19 continues across the emirate. If you have a garden, you are of course still able to offer your pet some form of exercise, but what about if you don’t?
“Dogs don’t do well with change, much the same as people,” says Dubai-based pet behavior counsellor Aimee Orme, who runs Pawfect Behaviour. “Any kind of change is stressful for them.”
Five tips to help keep dogs who have to stay inside happy and house trained
Physical exercise: use outdoor space if you have it
It is important to limit the stress to dogs as much as possible, keeping pets stimulated throughout the day. “The best thing is mental stimulation, getting them to use their brains. It’s just as tiring, if not more tiring for them,” she says. “Right now, it’s going to be impossible to give them the physical exercise they need, unless you’ve got access to a big garden.”
If you do, Orme advises the typical games dogs love – high energy rounds of fetch or letting them chase you. “I play tag games with my dogs and my clients’ dogs,” she says, “getting them all excited and tapping them on the bum before running away.”
But those kind of games are much more difficult to play inside an apartment, especially if you don’t want to upset the neighbours. That is where mental stimulation needs to come in.
Mental exercise: teach an old dog new tricks
“You can go over their old training that they know, fine-tuning their “sits” and their “stays”, or any other commands they know,” Orme says. “Now is also a great time to teach them new tricks, like rolling over, playing dead, how to high five or jump over things.”
Lesley D'Souza is a force-free dog trainer based in Dubai. Through her business Paws for Applause's social media accounts, she has been sharing some of the games she plays with her own dog Sandy, to help them get through this period of self-isolation.
“One of our favourites is a DIY treasure hunt,” she says. “I got a normal empty cardboard box and filled it with layers of newspaper, and then in between the layers, I just dropped a little bit of her dry dog food and got her to go find it.
"It really gets them going mentally, it challenges them, and it brings out their hunting and foraging instincts as well. It’s a good way to mentally tire them out as we can’t physically exercise them outside now.”
Meal times: get them working for their food
Orme also stresses the importance of getting dogs to work for their food while spending great chunks of time indoors.
“Rather than just feeding them their food rations out of their bowl right now, make sure they are earning it,” she says.
“Whether that is through training, or just throwing the food into the garden for them to hunt for, or through feeding toys or puzzles, anything where they have to use their brain and work for things is going to really help.”
Routine: try to mimic their regular activity pattern
Making sure dogs get enough time for play and stimulation is also vital right now. D'Souza suggests trying to fit in an hour-and-a-half to two hours of play time a day, broken up into smaller chunks of time throughout.
“People are working from home and have kids at home too, so 15 minutes to 20 minutes at a time is fine. Each member of the household can take turns in engaging with the dog, so it keeps everyone busy and keeps the dog busy too."
Orme suggests trying to mimic their regular activity pattern. So, if you would usually take your pet for three to four walks a day, scheduling in time for stimulation at similar intervals.
“It’s also important for them to get enough downtime,” she says. “If you are in a busy household with a family all at home right now, the dog probably isn’t getting as much sleep as they are used to, and that makes them grumpy.”
House training: potty train them as if they are a puppy
Of course, being unable to go outside brings about an added problem for those with limited outdoor space – toilet training.
For many dog owners, this situation will be a first, and will mean potty training your dog as if they were a puppy again.
“My advice is to take a puppy potty training pad, it’s like a baby nappy but much bigger, and on top of that lay some sand or grass or gravel - whatever material the dog is used to going on when they are outside,” D’Souza says.
“Let the dog familiarize itself with it, and when they eventually do go, all the dog owner has to do is reward them or praise them as much as possible to show them they are doing what they are expected to do.”
Orme adds that setting up a dedicated toilet area for the dog is important. “Whether that’s a balcony or spare bathroom, set up a quiet area away from the main living space,” she says.
“Take them to it regularly. If they’ve just woken up, if they’ve had a drink recently, if they have been running around playing. You basically need to retrain them as if they were a young puppy again.”
It will take a bit of time and a lot of patience, D’Souza adds, but don’t lose hope. “I’ve had to do this with my dog Sandy, she’s 9,” she says. “It took her a while, but she got there in the end.”
Updated: April 9, 2020 11:40 AM