Expert dog training tips to help you stop canine cabin fever in lockdown, from a home-made agility course to tasty treats with a difference

Even man's sturdy best friend needs a paw to hold during the onslaught of a pandemic. Rosie Paterson talks to some of the experts about how to keep your pet entertained during the lockdown.

Keeping a dog fit and active is imperative, but with many of the tips below you’ll notice that the mental stimulation is equally important — keeping dogs from going stir crazy is just as important as it is for people. Luckily, taking on this advice will help you both.

Construct an agility course

You’ve seen them on everything from Crufts to Blue Peter — now is the time to create an agility course at home for your own four-legged friend.

‘Create a homemade agility course, using items from your home such as toys, cushions and towels,’ says Carolyn Menteith, a Kennel Club Accredited Instructor.

Your dog will love it — but make sure that you don’t give them too much to do, especially if they’re young.

‘Remember that young puppies shouldn’t jump as their bones and joints aren’t well enough developed,’ adds Carolyn.

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Play hide and treat

Send your dog off on a treasure hunt around the house, placing bits of food —  kibble is ideal — around the house. Don’t make it too easy though, adds Carolyn: ‘Put a few pieces of food into an old drinks bottle or under a plant pot to make it more difficult,’ she suggests.

Popping bit of food inside old cardboard tubes, behind curtains and under scrunched up old towels also works well — and if all goes to plan, your furry friend will be too busy sniffing out treats to bother interrupting your virtual conference call.

Teach a dog some new tricks

This is a great option if you don’t have regular access to outdoor space. Start with the basics: sit, paw and roll. Already mastered that? Try to teach your favourite four-legged furry friend to weave through your legs, spin around (with control, please) and to fetch specific items — a copy of Country Life, maybe?

Dr Chad Dodd, a vet at YuMOVE, suggests investing in a training clicker to help speed the training process up. YouTube is full of videos on how to get started if you’ve not used one before — we found this one simple and straightforward.

Go gourmet

Your canine companion deserves their fair share of isolation snacks.

Pour any leftover stock and gravy into a bowl or container, suitable for freezing. Throw in some kibble, treats and leftover cooked meat. Top up with a little water, and freeze. When solid, turn the ‘ice lolly’ out (preferably outside!)

This is a handy one to take into summer too, as temperatures continue to rise.

Blow some bubbles

Bubbles aren’t just for humans: Amazon and Doggie Solutions stock flavoured bubble solution, specifically for dogs to chase around the room. Alternatively, raid your children’s bedrooms, but check that anything you find is non-toxic.

A short chase and pop session will alleviate boredom and help tire even the grumpiest hound out.

Play some games

Fetch — yes, this is your moment to finally teach your dog to fetch your slippers. Just make sure to use an old pair — an excited pooch is highly likely to destroy them in the training process.

Tug of war is another winner, but there are some ground rules you need to know according to Dr Dodd. Some are practical — play on a non-slip floor and be careful no to accidentally lift your dog into the air — but others are behavioural. ‘Establish your position as master and keep the mood light,’ he says.

‘It is imperative to remain cool and in control, breaking up the tug of war with breaks and not rewarding aggressive behaviour.’

Build a doggy den

Dogs can easily pick up on owner’s anxiety, so they’ll have a hunch that something is currently up. Therefore, it’s important that they have a safe space to retreat to – ideally somewhere that they can rest undisturbed, away from your comings and goings, and things like the TV.

Dogs Trust recommend covering a table or couple of chairs in blankets. If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can fashion something appropriate out of various cardboard boxes or wooden pallets. Place old pillows, blankets or a cosy dog bed underneath.

Fill the den with toys, a water bowl and treats, and wait for them to settle in.

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