Lockdown with a canine athlete…..!

Covid 19 bought this years race season came to an abrupt end and now the ICF World Champs in October have been postponed. Staying safe and obeying new government rules has to be everyone’s priority, but how do we manage those dogs that run in harness or tons of exercise has been their norm?

We all know dogs do get bored, ‘cabin fever’ can strike the most even tempered dogs. This can manifest in anything from an attack of the zoomies, chewing table legs to even aggression. So how’s life with a top canine athlete and how do we keep them in condition and vented?

Running dogs in harness on the bike is my favourite form of exercise with my dogs. We usually train between 3 – 4 times a week, but with the current situation that’s just not possible. The local forest is closed and most trails are a drive away and not really essential travel. I can run round a field after a short walk from my home, but that’s far from ideal and gets busy. I can canicross Magnus, but can’t keep up with Marshall and if I let them all off lead together locally, there’s the chance Magnus may do a Fenton. My usual trusted off lead areas involve driving, but local walks are rather livestock heavy. So I’ve had to resort to something most working sleddog owners don’t really do…….dog walking!!!!

I only have 3 dogs to walk and not a whole team, but the combined greyster power of my boys means they could easily drag me to kingdom come. It’s been a long, boring slog to be able to walk them all together with some semblance of control, but something I’d been doing long before running privileges got revoked. So as a starting point if your dogs are horrendous on lead, now’s the time to use some of those walks as training. I don’t walk in a harness as that’s reserved for running and didn’t use halti’s or anything similar. I just did the old fashioned way of stopping when they pulled, waiting for the lead to go slack before moving forwards and plenty of rewards for walking to heel. It’s not a quick fix and you have to be committed, but worth it.

Walks help, but my guys like a little madness in their lives, they are competition dogs afterall, but reduced work means that I ‘ve had to come up with other ways to release that energy.  We have a garden it’s not massive, but has become the dogs new playground. I’ve found that even 10 mins of crazy playtime has been enough to give them a much needed vent, which on lead walks just don’t touch. Here’s my easy go to crazy play garden games:-

  • Flirt Pole – I have to use a short line due to the size of my garden and don’t do this for long as can be hard on dogs joints, but 5 intense minutes of this works a treat.
  • Football – As mine are all ball obsessed, it’s a bit of a free for all, but they do know ‘drop it’ so it’s not just a game of chase. I use a flat ball that they can pick up and a fully pumped ball that they move with the heads and legs.
  • Chase – with the football and we all chase the dog with the ball. I find if I chase the dog with the ball the others do the same.
  • Tug of War – with me and between the dogs themselves.
  • Swingball –  where I hit the ball and the dogs give chase. I don’t do this for long as again lots of jumping and changing of direction and make sure the dogs get the ball, so they can enjoy a win.

Having 3 dogs means they will also amuse themselves normally instigated by Miley the collie. She can whip the boys into a frenzy and get them to chase her, but after about 5 minutes she’ll call time, they all give a shake to change energy and then chill out.

It’s not all mental and nuts, I do try to get them to use their brains too, this can be very taxing for Magnus. I scatter feed around the garden, but we call it hide and treat. I use a mixture of Trophy kibble and frozen raw meat and initially just chucked it over the lawn. However the dogs have got to be so good at this, that I now have to get very creative and bury it or place it above ground in bushes. I use the whole garden and it takes them around half an hour and multiple sweeps before they’ve hoovered it all up.

Sticking with food related games these are games that have worked well with mine.  Fill a shallow container with water and then put kibble and fruit in for the dogs to fish out and try and catch, somewhat similar to playing bobbing apples. The kibble sinks and the fruit floats so they have to put their whole faces in to get the goodies at the bottom and chase the bobbing fruit around the surface. Top tip is play this outside.

I’ve also fed their meal rolled up in a blanket and even hid kibble in the ends tied up in giant knots. They have to use their paws to unroll the blanket to reveal their food and mine pawed and the large knots until they could get enough space to push their noses in.

Then there’s the spin the bottle feeder. Put some holes in a plastic bottle or leave the lid off and let them figure out that if it moves the food comes out. I start on the floor and then progress to put the bottle on a line and they have to make the bottle spin to free the treats.

I use these as a way to feed a meal when they’ve had a lazy day and especially now when they can go only go out once. These games have cost me nothing, but there are lots of games, feeders and chews on the market. My guys like most dogs love to chew, it relieves boredom, but is also great for healthy teeth. You can’t go far wrong with frozen kongs and I get bones from my local butcher. Do your research as to what chews work best for your dog and beware there is some rubbish out there, rawhide being one.

And then there’s training. Type in dog tricks in google and a whole host of ideas will come up from simple tricks to more complex stuff. Set yourself a challenge and pick a trick to teach your dog. Just be patient and training sessions are better kept short and frequent than being too long and the dog getting bored.

Let your imagination run riot and have fun. I made a dog assault course out of patio furniture and have been attempting dog parkhour. I’m currently trying to persuade them to jump through an old bike tyre. You can also make your tricks and games interactive, challenge your friends to see who completes the task first or even just to share ideas. There’s lots of pages on facebook full of games and things to try. We ran a live final of our dogs assault course over facebook where we timed each dog to see who was the quickest, rope in other family members and it can be a whole family affair. Obviously Miley the collie took the win here.

As boring as lockdown can be, it gives us this quality time to spend with our dogs, so lets make the most of it. Take the time to play some games, teach some tricks or just hang with your buddy. Not only is it good for your dogs, but we all know the therapeutic powers of our canine family. When the going gets tough, go play the with dog……stay home, play some games and stay safe.

We’d like to thank our sponsors Trophy Pet Foods for their continued support. Our local supplier even delivers to the door, so even more time for me to spend enjoying my team. You can check out their superb products here:- www.trophypetfoods.co.uk

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