Let’s talk about walk down-time

Hi there. My name’s Debbie, and along with hubby Dale, we’re fairly new to the world of English Setters and indeed SeBPRA having only adopted Xavi (Mundi) in Aug 21. (and what a wonderful community it is!!!).  I’m going to be writing a few blogs about enrichment, confidence and maybe a few other topics you never know…I’ve never written one before so please bear with me on this.

We’ve got 2 other dogs – a male Working Cocker (Moki) and a female StaffyX (Rhea) – the latter being a particularly high management reactive and fairly anti-social in general little (ish) lady.

Before we rescued Rhea 5 years ago we had never previously had a ‘reactive’ dog, basically a dog who’s behaviour is unpredictable at the best of times – definitely needing to wear a distinctive Yellow Dog warning vest when we go out with her. All our previous dogs were ‘normal’ loveable and playful and back then I would have probably thought Rhea was ‘aggressive’ when actually she’s just really frightened, frustrated or confused in certain situations and environments. Admittedly we floundered with her training – that was until I came across a random Facebook video which showed positive reinforcement alongside training based on playing short, fun games with your dog that will boost their calmness, confidence, optimism and engagement with you amongst other “concepts”, and ultimately creating a very strong bond with your dog.

These games, along with actively learning more about dogs’ body language and behaviour and changing my own outlook on Rhea’s difficulties has made me very aware that you don’t always need to take your dog for that 4pm walk or to have 1.5hrs exercise a day. Sometimes it’s just not the best thing to do for them…

Picture the scenario:– you are walking along with your dog by your side minding your own business then this happens: a car backfires, a child screams with joy somewhere; a huge dog exits from a gate nearby – All potentially bad incidents as far as your dog is concerned. Such bad events happening can lead to your dog losing some of his daily spoon quota.

Sometimes people don’t realise that it’s not only the bad events that cause this but also the good ones:- playing with his best buddy; chasing that bird that happened to move the leaves in that tree; a chance to run after the neighbour’s cat; watching children play football at the park; going to the groomers (that’s debatable though!). SeBPRA refer to this through the spoons analogy, although there’s many ways to look at it. You can read more here

It always pays to ‘read your dog’. Learn some basic doggy body language to help you understand what makes your dog tick- when are they comfortable? What situations put them out of their depth? So, what’s his behaviour like today? Is he getting way too excited at the expectation that now you’ve put your coat on, or picked your door keys up, that means ‘’yay it’s walk time”, is he already yapping and pulling like a crazy thing to get out the door?  If so – You don’t have to.

This is a perfect moment for lowering his excitement levels and embracing some chill time and enrichment that focuses on spending quality time with him and further enhancing your bond. You can still make him mentally tired and ready for another rest.

You could give him a snuffle-mat/ball for him to sniff and search out that yummy food.

You could hide one or two of his favourite treats in a few folded up empty toilet rolls and hide them around a room for him to find. This will encourage his natural sniffing instincts and when he gets better you could even use the whole house.

You can utilise a muffin tray by placing various pieces of food in it and covering the food with appropriately sized balls – “what can I smell? Where is it?”

You roll/throw a piece of his favourite food along the floor for him (doesn’t have to be far) and the moment he lifts his head for more, you mark that with a ‘yes’ or ‘good’ etc and throw food in the opposite direction. It’s like a lightbulb “hey, why did I get that? Ah yea it was cos I looked at mum/dad”. Repeat repeat – this will help to ingrain the idea that it’s always a good deal going back to you.

You can put an object in a place where it doesn’t normally belong and reward all interaction with it – something as simple as a dining room chair in the middle of the lounge or kitchen. I’ve actually found the folded-up ironing board on the floor is a really cool confidence builder for them – “wow this thing wobbles”. Reward him for any interaction and if he’ll put his paws on and even stand on it – even better!!

The Dog’s Trust have got some good ideas including an ‘Enrichment Box’ – basically putting suitable items, you’d normally recycle, into a box and letting him snuffle and forage for the food like he would in the environment.  I love constantly changing the items in the box for different sounds, textures and smells. 

Enrichment can also build up a dog’s confidence – thinking about how to get the treat out of the toilet roll or Kong / listening to the tinkle of empty soft drink cans or plastic bottles and saying to himself ‘hey these noises don’t bother me now’. 

The Number 1 factor to enrichment and growing your bond is that:

the bird, the cyclist, the kid playing football – they should NOT be providing the enrichment, the fun. YOU SHOULD. You’ll be providing it in such as a way that he won’t lose all those spoons he would have lost if he’d gone for that walk.

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