HELP!!!! I’m Stuck In Lockdown With My Puppy!!!!!

Socialisation v Habitualisation

Ok, so I’m guessing this may well be a bit of a contentious subject, and I’ve seen arguments from both sides regarding weather now is the best, or worst time to get a puppy. All I will say is that the wrong time to get a puppy is when it’s a spur of the moment thing, or a ‘I know what will cheer me up’ thing, or a surprise gift thing, etc etc!! The right time to get a puppy is after a long period of discussions (with EVERYONE who will be affected) after much compiling of ‘Pro’ and ‘Con’ lists, and after a realistic analysis of who it is who will ‘actually’ take on the downsides and the less glamorous elements; cleaning poo off the carpets, walking in the rain when you’ve a stinking cold, spending countless hours stood in the garden waiting for ‘toileting by torchlight’, sitting on the bench outside while your dog pines after the rest of your family who are in your favourite shop browsing it’s wares, the cost……food, vet bills, insurance, boarding, repairs to elements of the house that get eaten, the realisation that your garden will never look pretty again to name but a few!!

So, let’s assume that for whatever reason, you have a puppy, you had plans for puppy classes, trips to the beach, countless walks daily, plenty of time at work; with pup at home in their crate; giving you some escape from the constant biting, barking, peeing etc etc.

Suddenly……all bets are off. Lockdown. You’re stuck at home, only allowed out once a day for exercise, you’re a runner, so this precious time is allocated to a (cheekily slightly more than 30 minute) run. You’re home schooling you’re ‘less than enthusiastic’ kids, you’re at your wits end……and you’ve got a puppy!! The very thing that was destined to bring you closer together as a family is proving to be the biggest stress you’ve ever encountered!!

Don’t despair……the negative news first……..Lockdown doesn’t look to be about to end any time soon, it’s going to be tricky to get your pup to socialise with other puppies, animals, the vet, public transport and people in general!! You might have to forsake the daily run; and give Joe Wicks a go!! The positive news……there is still a shed load you can do, you should have plenty of time on your hands to give loads of positive input; broken down into little puppy bitesize chunks, now (with social distancing) habitualisation (I’ll explain what this is in a bit) is far easier than it was previously. You have more than enough time to do some research, read some books (on positive dog training) get lost on you tube and put into practice all those great ideas that ‘would be fabulous, if only I had the time’.

So, no excuses. None. Put in the time and the effort, and you really will reap the rewards when ‘normality’ resumes, both, nay, all of you will!!

Socialisation v Habitualisation

You will get regularly informed that your pup needs socialisation, socialisation, socialisation!! This is true……to an extent. But what really is socialisation?? Well, in short, it is encouraging your pup to meet, greet, interact and play with anything and everything!! Good in a way, and certainly better than doing nothing……..but not the be all and end all.

Socialisation is important, we want pup to be sociable and friendly towards anything they’re likely to meet, but we don’t necessarily want them to tear across the park at every dog, squirrel, person, ball, piece of litter etc that they see!!

At the same time, we don’t want them to be terrified of every truck, bang, shout, lift or escalator that they encounter.

This is where habitualisation comes into play, so take pup to new areas, with new experiences. Don’t take them right up to a lift, drag them in it, and force them to ride up and down in it until they quit complaining and just accept it…….that’s not good!! Instead, couple new and positive experiences. Sit 10 metres away from the lift, give treats when they are relaxed, then move closer and repeat. Then stand next to it being rewarded while the door opens, then walk away, next time, step inside, reward and leave. When pup is happy with a stage, do a little more, keep rewarding, keep it positive, and don’t be afraid to go back a step or two if we push pup to far!!

The same process is followed for being in the company of things that really, pup just wants to jump all over, chase and play with. Start at a distance, reward for being calm and for giving attention to you. Then get a little closer, and a little closer still!!

Don’t walk straight up to the person, dog, sheep etc that pup wants to show how well socialised they are with, instead reward them with food, interactive treats and ultimately, play time with the very thing they want to get to, but not until they are calm, relaxed, focusing on us and ready to listen to our consent or invitation to go play!!

If pup learns that the reward comes when you run up to and play with everything you come across, before mum or dad give permission, you’re going to be ‘that’ person in the park that people avoid, “oh yes, I know them……..they’re the people with the crazy dog that runs around like an idiot!!’. More importantly, when they get bitten by the dog on the lead with nervous aggressive issues……it’s your fault, not theirs, not the other owners……yours!! 😔

So socialise, teach appropriate behaviours, but just as, if not more importantly, practice habitualisation, let pup learn that strange things are ok, that new dogs can be played with, when we are calm and await permission.

As a general rule, habitualisation can be tricky with a pup, everyone wants their dog to say hello to the cute little pup, wants your pup to love them more than the next person, but with social distancing, that’s not possible, so teaching pup to be happy and calm when close to other dogs, people and animals just got a whole lot easier to do!!

Use our allowed ‘outside’ time wisely, do the best we can, and vary our encounters and experiences as much as we can!! You’d be surprised how much we can still teach from a distance.

Be that person that of known the park for all the right reasons!!

My next blog will touch on a very real concern for puppies brought up in lockdown……separation anxiety!! Trust me, you don’t want your dog to be a sufferer!!

Get pup used to being on their own, make it fun to be alone……..

Covid-19

A Volunteers Perspective

The Background

I write this blog simply to share with you a snippet of my day.

I am hoping that this will act as encouragement for those of us who are, will, and wish to contribute in some way to the concerted community effort that we are being humbled by on a daily basis as we battle through these most unprecedented times.

As a Fire Service employee I am proud of the role I play within our community; and grateful to have being given the opportunity to contribute to the efforts to ease the suffering caused to that very community by the Covid-19 pandemic.

When gifted the opportunity to volunteer by my employers I, like countless others, jumped at the chance.

The volunteer roles of my colleagues are as varied as they are invaluable. From the delivery of essential pain relief medication to those at home receiving palliative care, to the delivery of food parcels, hot meals, essential supplies, shopping vouchers, regular medication and sadly, the retrieval of the bodies of those who lost their individual Covid-19 battles in a safe, dignified and respectful manner, all are vitally essential in this most testing of times.

Having being involved in the delivery of several of these services, I would like, albeit briefly, to reflect on one individual incident.

A standard food parcel delivery, the delivery address, in a beautiful part of the country, an affluent area with gardens boasting neatly manicured lawns and flower beds bursting with colour.  A far cry from the addresses we had visited previously that day; addresses that clearly illustrated the plight of their occupants……..I confess to flicking my colleague a questioning look as we pulled up outside the house.

Placing the boxes of neatly packaged food on the doorstep I rang the doorbell, its regal chime hailing our arrival. 

Stepping back from the door, which was answered some time later, I waited.  A well turned out chap, probably in his 70’s or 80’s opened the door, we will call him William for the purposes of this account.  With my voice muffled by my face mask, I explained who we were, and that we were making his food delivery. Simultaneously, a smile spread across his face as he placed his hand on his head. Retreating back along his hallway he asked if I would be so kind as to place the boxes inside his doorway so as he could put the items away one at a time, being unable to lift a whole box at once.  This seemed the least I could do. 

As I stepped inside his hallway; William repeating the word ‘thankyou’ over and over, I was drawn to a cupboard, it’s surface playing host to a number of pictures; memories. Pictures of a lady, elderly, with a kind and smiling face sat amongst those depicting children, and families. Reminders of family William is unable to touch, a teenage sweetheart who gained her wings, some lost and mourned for, some, more recently untouchable through restrictions, restrictions put in place to protect the vulnerable, to protect William himself.

Hiding, amid the pictures, one, standing out from the others in its faded and sepia form.  An image of a young man, with a familiar look, standing proudly in his military uniform, a smile on his face, a smile I saw when William answered his door.

Glancing back at William, now standing with both hands cupping his face, I asked if he was coping ok (probably the most ridiculous thing to ask at that moment in time) He smiled and nodded, both of us knowing the truth. I returned the gesture whilst telling him to keep his chin up and that we would get through this together, that this awful nightmare would soon be over.

He offered a note, his voice cracking as he attempted to reiterate the ‘thankyou’s’ he so eloquently delivered upon our first meeting.


Stepping out of Williams door I turned to say goodbye, this proud gentleman to whom we as a nation owe so much, stood, sobbing, in his hallway.  “I cannot thank you enough”, “thank you”, “thank you so much”, “you just don’t know what……thank you”.  The words may not be exact, but the sentiment is true.  William was truly grateful.

We were just the end result.  The army of volunteers behind this food package and William are the real hero’s, we just get to deliver their work and be the face that receives the thanks!! 

We relayed this story to the volunteers back at the distribution centre, and offered Williams thanks, and ours. 

Every single one of us should be proud of the relief we are bringing, the volunteers themselves, those who cannot directly assist, but who are working tirelessly to enable us the freedom to offer our time.  The organisers, the policy makers, the people whom, on our behalf ensure we are safe whilst performing our role. The neighbours, checking on one another, the rainbows in our windows, those clapping and banging drums from their windows and driveways, we all have our part to play, and together, we will get through it.

I’m not normally one for inspirational quotes, ‘tag 10 friends’ and the like, but in this circumstance, I’d like to share this one with you………..

‘A young boy walked along the beach, stooping regularly to gather up starfish, stranded by the receding tide and return them to the sea.  An older, wiser man walking the other way observed the young boys actions before stopping him and asking………

“why are you bothering with that, there are miles of beach and thousands of starfish………you can’t possibly save them all and make a difference??”

The young boy (lets call him William) gazed at the man for a while, before stooping, gathering up a starfish, and returning it to the sea.

With that he turned back to his elder, a smile politely spread across his face, before quietly declaring………

“I made a difference to that one”

So, from William………THANK YOU!!

Covid-19……are my pets a risk to me??

I was devastated recently when I stumbled across an article published by an incredibly well respected source, which will, undoubtedly, raise doubts, fears and concerns in the minds of many of its readers!!

I’m also aware that you guys reading this blog may well be confused by it’s title and be of the opinion that the title should read ‘Covid-19……am I a risk to my pets??’. But either way, here we go. (But the answer to both is no!!)

I think it is important firstly to explain that we are dealing with an ever changing situation here, what we think one day is open to being disproved the next. So above all else, lets please, above all else use our common sense.

We are being urged to self isolate, to stay indoors, to socially distance ourselves. All of these frightening propositions contribute to our mental and physical wellbeing taking a real battering, if ever they were to be tested…….truly tested……it is now!!

Our physical wellbeing is relatively easy to maintain, we can choose ‘home based’ methods of exercise, pitched at an appropriate level. It may well not be perfect, it may well not be what we would choose, but as I write this my children are in the garden skipping……….apparently (as my son assures me) his skipping rope is in fact a ‘Jump Rope!!’. Either way, they are keeping active, it’s something, it’s not riding a bike in the park, it’s not a kick about with your mates, but it’s something.

The mental wellbeing side of thigs is far more difficult to look after, for people to whom their social group play an important part in their lives, those of a gregarious nature, and in some cases even those of us who thought we were introverts and now find ourselves missing the little interactions with the store assistant, the delivery driver, the TV show packed with contestants and a lively audience, this enforced isolation can be devastating!!

In many cases, this is where our pets come into their own, they can be all of these things, they can be the company we desire, the interaction we didn’t realise we craved, the stability in our every day life!! It is now, when the country is on its knees, that our pets can be the one thing holding it all together for us!!

I don’t say this lightly; I see the therapeutic effects my dogs can, do, and will have on people, I see the smiles return to faces, the confidence in our abilities flourish, the connection they give us with the outside World. I see the good they bring, not by trying, but just by being, and I’m scared; I’m scared that sensationalised reporting, based on often non-scientific assumptions, are going to change things. I’m scared that the very beings that offer us such relief from stress and worry are now, in some cases going to be a contributing factor to that very same stress and anxiety.

I’m not a vet, I’m not a scientist, I’m just a bloke, a bloke who likes to see the facts behind a statement before adopting it as a belief. So I’m going to give you my opinion, my thoughts, and my current beliefs…………this is as of today, tomorrow, things may be different, but as we speak……this is them. My ask of you, is that you do the same, think, ask, enquire and then form your own opinions.

To aid your research; the links below are to the article to which I refer at the top of this blog, and other links, to articles that need to be read in conjunction.

https://www.bva.co.uk/news-and-blog/news-article/bva-statement-on-cats-and-covid-19/?fbclid=IwAR2ZKuRu_1nE86J7Fjq0F8tmVCW53jf1LgNN06KTbLMmknkH8G2x0qaPC-0

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-52204534

Can animals contract Covid-19?

It would appear they can. It appears to be more ‘carriable’ by cats than dogs, and that the symptoms in these animals are far more ‘diluted’ than the symptoms in humans.

Can humans contract Covid-19 from animals??

As we speak, there are 0 confirmed cases of transmission from pets to their owners, 0.

Can you catch Covid-19 from your neighbour sneezing, from your post, from a door handle, from your pets fur?

Yes, Covid-19 is a virus, and as such, you can catch it from any surface if it is present on that surface, viable, and most importantly, if you don’t take the correct measures to protect yourself.

Covid-19, but this ones harmless!!

So, what are these measures? Well, we know to wash our hands, to sing Happy Birthday twice, to wear a face mask, to socially distance ourselves. But what can we do with our pets? The truth is, most pets never leave the confines of our houses and gardens.

If our cats wander, we have no control over where they go, whom they meet, what they do, so the reality is, they could transmit. So, what do we do? Keep them inside, make our gardens cat proof, lead train/habitualise our cats and treat em like a dog, take them for walks in the garden, include a cat walk in our daily excursion allowance? Maybe, but not always totally practicable.

Walking our dogs is an easier situation to control, but the ‘post walk’ actions can be transferred to our cats upon their return from their escapades.

When walking, avoid contact, but we already do, we are social distancing. If your dog is in the business of running up to everyone and anyone, and you are unable to prevent this, the sad reality is that you should keep your dog on a lead. Having said that, if you have no control of your dog, it shouldn’t have been exercised off lead prior to Covid-19 anyway!!

Loose or on a lead?? If their recall isn’t 100% the decision is easy!!

So, we minimise the risk by avoiding contact. We should be walking from our homes and not driving to places to exercise our dogs. In my neighbourhood, this now means that the streets are seeing far more footfall than previously, more families out walking together, our local parks, more popular than ever. So, we cross the road…..lots, we change direction…..often, we walk at odd times of the day to reduce our exposure to other people.

If we have a choice…..quieter areas are best.

Theoretically, we can pick up the virus on our clothes, our skin, our shoes, and any part of us that makes contact with a contaminated surface. Our dogs are the same, their fur, noses, feet!!

So when we get home, what can we do? Do we all use gel on our hands upon our return, wash our keys after we have used them, and our front doors after we push them open, shower, change and wash our clothes? All while maintaining approved clinical waste handling and decontamination procedures? I suspect we don’t. I know I don’t. Do we fastidiously clean the soles of our shoes after every trip?

Post walk wash downs are vital, clean em off….wash your hands.

Of course we don’t, but we can employ sensible and realistic measures.

Wipe our pets fur, wipe their feet, don’t them lick our faces, after we have our cuddle time; wash our hands……properly!! Keep their bowls, cutlery (for serving, not that that our pets use to eat with!! Unless you have a pet monkey that uses a knife and fork that is!!) leads, coats and anything else they use separate from ours. Do not let them eat from our plates, if they lounge on our furniture (mine do) either temporarily stop it, or use a throw, a pet throw, one that we don’t sit on, and that we can wash regularly, daily, after every use, whatever reassures you most. Don’t join them in their beds……you’d be surprised how many people I know curl up with their dog in its bed!!

Dogs on throws…..one way to create a barrier.

Put a ‘foot and fur’ cleaning station by the door, a towel to stand on, animal safe wipes, a spray bottle………hibiscrub, Safe4, there are loads of animal safe disinfectants out there. Everything you will need to give your dog, cat, or whatever else you are walking a clean up before they run through the house and roll around on the carpet.

Just be sensible, be mindful of the contacts we are making when out and about, and upon our return, and do what we can to minimise the risks!! Unless we put ourselves in total isolation, we will encounter some form of risk, our job is simply to minimise it!!

In short, wash your hands. Wash them thoroughly, wash them regularly, pretend your pet and it’s accessories, along with your own, are raw chicken!!

Toys, leads, coats……use em, clean em, wash your hands.

Our pets will help us through this, we all have our parts to play. But please, promise me one thing, do your research and make up your own mind based on the facts available to you.

I fear that our already stretched rescue centres are going to find themselves pushed further by an influx of pets abandoned and given up as a result of people’s fears, based on speculative claims published in the interests of ‘getting a story’.

Embrace your pets, spend more valuable time with them, train them, play games with them, sit and contemplate with them, enjoy and take comfort from their company. We are stronger together.

If you’re interested, here are a few links that we may just find useful or informative right now 🙂

Home

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/

https://www.samaritans.org/

Home

When Is A Toilet Roll Tube Not A Toilet Roll Tube??….

.…..when it’s an interactive grey matter exercising brain teaser, that’s when!!

Just a toilet roll tube eh??

Maybe not in the current climate…… but these things are generally found a plenty in our recycling bins.

I’m not proposing we stop recycling em, just not before we’ve got all we can from em!!

If our dogs use their nose in a focused manner, whereby they are searching for something particular; their daily units of mental energy that they need to exert are used up far more quickly than if they were exerted by chewing up the carpets, or barking at the neighbours!!

By all means, spend a small fortune on ready made toys (and these do have their place!!) but you don’t need to!!

Our homes, and more importantly, our bins, are filled with opportunities to treat our dogs.

The Process

  • Start with a single tube; let’s make things simple and keep our dogs interested in the new game we are playing with them!!
  • Place a treat, splodge of peanut butter, piece of fish skin, or whatever takes your fancy, in the tube.
Umm……fish skin!! 🙂
  • Either leave the tube as it is, or squash it flat to make it a bit trickier.
Squash it flat to make them work a bit harder.
  • That’s it!! Give your dog the tube and let them do the rest!! If they’re not sure what you want them to do, encourage, help out a little, open the tube up to show em the treat. Do whatever you need to, to get em involved……. they’ll soon pick it up.
Ready to sniff
  • You want to see your dog exploring the tube, rolling it around, manipulating it, but above all, you want to be hearing loads of sniffing!! Sniffing is thinking.
Sniffing……
Thinking…..
Working it out…..

Once we’ve cracked it with one tube, and we don’t need to offer any assistance to our dogs; let’s up the ante!! Lets give them a bit more to fathom……… lets give them 2 tubes….. then 3….. then 4….. then…… well….. I’m sure you can work it out!! If you’ve got 50 tubes, give em 50!!

Where you’re using multiple tubes, don’t put treats in all of em, lets introduce a ‘sniffy searchy’ element to the game….. if our dogs have to decipher which tubes have treats concealed within, they have to think more, signals from nose to brain have to be analysed, acted upon, and ruled out as potential leads, the result?? A flat dog, at one with it’s bed and sleeping soundly while it’s brain sorts through new experiences, stores the good (and bad) and records new skills!! Bliss!!

If tubes are in short supply; use screwed up paper, old socks (now I know you’ve all got a pile of odd ones!!), plastic bottles, ball pit balls…….. anything that’s safe for your dog to play with.

If you’ve loads of tubes or other ‘bits’ fill a box with em, scatter them around the garden, front room or balcony. Be imaginative, be creative, be the best and most entertaining thing your dog has ever seen!!

Once you’re done with em, if they’ve survived, same em till next time, if not, stick em in the recycling bin……it’s where they were heading initially anyway!!

Above all, enjoy!!….. and remember; a sniffing nose needs a thinking brain; a thinking brain uses up mental energy; our dogs only have so much mental energy they can muster in a day; and a dog that has used up it’s daily allowance of mental energy has none spare for inventing it’s own games.

Oh, and trust me; when dogs make up their own games, they’re probably not going to be conducive to a clean, tidy and peaceful house, filled with intact furniture, and carpeted right up to each wall and doorway!!

Coping with lockdown and dogs…..cardboard boxes.

Cardboard Boxes

Our houses and bins are often full of em!!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t recycle em, but once you’ve kept the useful ones and those with ‘eBay potential’ reconsider if you’ll ever use em (realistically!!…..which is my problem!!) and before you squash em and stick em in the bin, let’s have some fun with em!!

Just a box……..filled with treasure!!

It’s not just kids who should be able to see the potential in an empty box, we should too!!

Big or small, we can use em all!!

Little Boxes

Scatter several of em on the floor, turn em upside down and place a few treats/toys next to & underneath some of em. Or keep em the right way up, close the flaps and even interlock em, again treats/toys in, on and around em. Encourage pup to explore the Boxes and find their treats. Initially, make it easy, drop in additional treats and above all, keep it moving, and keep it fun!! Dogs learn best when they are happy, keep the game fun and they’ll soon twig on that by using their nose they can find their treats and get their reward!!

Big Boxes

Waiting for the fun to begin!!

Same as for little boxes, but bigger!! Cut holes, slits and slots in em, place smaller boxes inside ‘em, test pups ability to work things out, use their nose and their brains to work out how to get their treats!!

Fill a big box with screwed up paper, plastic drink bottles, paper cups, toilet roll tubes (although possibly not in the current climate!! 😋) anything safe that you can think of. Chuck in some treats or toys and let the fun begin.

Getting stuck in!!

Piles Of Boxes

Now this is where it can get really fun!! Do all the above, but in multiples!! Stack em up, make a wall, scatter em all over the garden, front room…….wherever!! Put some high up, make pup work to even get the box. With pup watching (& maybe even waiting!! 😬) throw treats/a toy into the pile of boxes, then let pup go find em!!

These ideas might not seem like much, and that’s the beauty, they’re not!! Easy to set up, easy to perform, and adaptable……so, so adaptable, of all you’ve got is cereal boxes, shoe boxes, hessian bags etc…….use them. It doesn’t have to look pretty, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, it’s just got to occupy their minds!!

Keep it fun, keep it moving, mix it up a bit, make some of the rewards ‘bumper’ rewards, chicken, liver paste, ham, a handful of treats…..use your imagination!!

Don’t be precious…….it’s a cardboard box, if it gets chewed, squashed, peed up, sat on, don’t worry……squash it, recycle it and get more boxes.

Most of all, enjoy, have fun…….be imaginative!!

Coping with dogs and lockdown!!

It can be daunting for all of us who find ourselves on lockdown or isolation with our dogs as a result of Covid-19, suddenly finding ourselves denied of the opportunities that the outside world offers us and our dogs!! But fear not, although not necessarily ideal, there are loads of things we can do within the confines of our own homes to keep us, and our dogs mentally stimulated!! And hey, we may even develop a better relationship with our dogs as a result of these ‘enforced’ ‘us’ moments!!

Mental stimulation will use up some of our dogs ‘excess’ energy, every dog has a set number of ‘units of energy’ it needs to use up per day, the number of ‘units’ will vary from dog to dog, and from time to time, a bit like a good phone contact; unused energy can be carried over to the next day…..and the next…..and the next….. This, is a big factor in why we see dogs going crazy as someone walks past the house or the doorbell rings, and goes some way to explaining why some dogs eat the sofa, chew the table legs, or spend all day barking at nothing!!

Frustrating for us, and far from ideal for our faithful companions!!

In this blog, I’ll detail a few ideas for how we can occupy each other, and hopefully make things a little easier for us all!!

My trio of trouble makers!!

DIY ‘Brain Games’

Snuffle mats (like the rag rugs my Gran used to have), boxes full of screwed up paper, plastic bottles, toilet roll tubes etc, scatter treats in them (or regular dry food) and encourage pup to use their nose to sniff em out!! Feed pup this way, or by scattering food in grass etc……make them work for it. Hide and seek games with toys or food around the house and garden. Trick training is great too, short sessions, even if pup doesn’t learn the trick, it’ll tire them out thinking about what they’re doing!! The ‘which cup’ game is a good one; present one cup to pup with a treat under it, when they put a paw on it, let pup have the treat, then do it with 2 cups and one treat, reward for a paw on the right cup, ignore if a paw goes on the wrong cup, (if pup is struggling, help them a little, point them in the direction of the correct cup, lift it a little so pup sees the treat….) let pup learn they need to put their paw on the cup with the treat to get it, then increase the number of cups!!

Couple of ideas, but seriously, anything where pup needs to think about what they’re doing will be good!! 👍🏻🙂