Garden time! Help your dog rehearse the right behaviours!
We have all been staying at home for longer than ever before and it is likely that you may have had to set up a temporary office in your dining room or bedroom. Take a moment to think about how you felt about that room prior to working in it, how did you feel when entering it, what emotions did it evoke, what did you used to go in the room for, and compare yours answers to now! It is likely to have changed. Now take a moment to think how this can apply to your puppy or dog.
Rehearse the behaviours you want practiced!
Think about the energy you want each room in your house to have, for example lower arousal levels in the lounge, an area you want to be quiet, relaxed and calm in. Then think about what you are actually practicing in this room with your dog. You have the opportunity to help your dog make the right choice by providing the right options. For example, having a nice safe space for them to relax in, providing chews for them to access and spending time rewarding calm behaviour in this room. Dogs are a creature of habit and efficiency and if the acceptable behaviour is rehearsed and rewarded it will continue.
Avoid leaving your dog unattended to practice what they want
Now let’s consider the garden, it might be somewhere you go to relax and listen to the birds, a place you socialise with friends and family, or somewhere you go to exercise in. It often is an important space, some people even buy their house based solely on the land that comes with it!
For those lucky people that have a garden, it would have been, and continues to be, a very important space to spend time in as social restrictions limit what we can do. With lovely weather, the door to the garden is often open and this offers your dog unlimited access, where they often are left unattended. It is during this time when some dogs will start to practice things that are not considered desirable by their owners, such as running up and down a fence line barking every time they see a squirrel, or digging up the plants in the garden. The answer to this problem is actually simple, do not allow your dog unlimited access to the garden until you have given them the right choices!
Why not try the below for a start:
Train you dog to rest on a boundary in the garden. You could consider a raised bed (like HiK9 beds) so that you can practice whatever the weather. Take a pot of treats in the garden with you, sit down next the bed and reward your dog for a 'look' towards the bed, then movement towards, then maybe one paw on, two paws on... If they offer getting on the bed with four paws then keep rewarding regularly, it is likely they will offer a sit or down at this point, which is what you are looking for, so feed the bed to reinforce this great choice! Practice regularly whilst sitting in the garden.
Feed your dogs breakfast in the garden by sprinkling it in the grass so they have to use their nose to find it. This is a great activity for them to practice, as sniffing provides mental enrichment, in addition to promoting calmness and relaxation.
Provide a sensory garden! You need to make sure the plants you are using are dog friendly and not poisonous. Start by selecting a few plants from the below list. You could choose to plant them in a specific area of the garden in tyres, as this will give your dog a nice shelf to stand on, while they self-select plants to inhale or ingest. You can also offer different textures in your garden using non-toxic sand, wood-chippings and grass or gravel, giving your dog different experiences, or areas you are happy for them to practice instinctual behaviours such as digging.
Provide the right mental enrichment activities in the garden. Use treat balls, treats rolled up in towels, cardboard boxes with newspaper and treats in, or a paddling pool for carrot bobbing. The main thing to remember is to keep to calm enrichment options.
Once your dog has spent time practicing the above activities they will have been given lots of excellent choices and this will impact the decisions they will then make when spending time in the garden!
Here are some of the plants featured for self-selection in Bath Cats & Dogs Home's sensory garden: