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April 13, 2020
As the weeks go by and quarantine stretches on, we are all working to adjust to the "new normal" and what it means to be at home all of the time. For many of us, this is the first time we've had to work exclusively from home, and it takes time to adjust!
So we thought we’d share a bit of insight into how we’re structuring our days and how we maintain our sanity with two young (and very active) labradoodles.
Pets respond well to structure just like humans! We have found that our productivity has increased when the dogs know what to expect. We have jokingly started calling Solo our “time keeper” because his internal clock for our new routine is so strong.
We have found that if we go for a long walk/run in the morning (at least 30-40 mins) and a shorter evening walk (15-20 mins) and then provide enrichment puzzles with their meals and a couple times throughout the day, we can get a solid 8 hours of work time with limited interruption.
Of course every family is going to have a different routine based on any number of factors. That said, we have generally found that our pups respond best to a longer exercise session in the morning so that they are nice and tired when our workday starts. What's the old saying? A tired dog is a happy dog. ;-)
We discovered enrichment activities when the dogs were in puppy school, and they have been a true life saver in our home! There are several types of enrichment activities, but today we're referring to problem-solving activities such as interactive puzzles and slow feeders that provide mental stimulation. If you want to learn more about the overarching concept of enrichment, Rover has a great article summarizing the various types: https://www.rover.com/blog/dog-enrichment-z/
We use enrichment toys throughout the day and also at mealtimes. We switch them up and adjust the difficulty levels to keep them from getting bored, such as switching up how large the pieces of food are or freezing wet foods that take longer to lick.
(And just a note, all of the enrichment toys I mention here are products we've found through research and local pet store or dog trainer recommendations and enjoy with our own pups. They aren’t affiliate links.)
Be sure to follow your vet guidelines on how many calories your dog should be eating each day and take that into consideration when adding enrichment toys that dispense food! We look at the total amount of food and spread it out throughout the day in various puzzles. Incorporating low calorie foods such as vegetables are a good way to supplement denser foods such as peanut butter or cheese.
The concept of this toy is similar to a Kong, where you stuff food inside that your dog will have to work to get out. There are two Toppl sizes available and both have inner "teeth" to hold treats place until your pup nudges them out with their tongue. We switch up the way we use this toy by filling it with kibble at mealtimes or freezing wet food (such as pumpkin or sweet potato puree) for a mid-day puzzle. But what we love most is that the two sizes also fit together for a second type of game where the toy is rolled around to dispense treats.
The snoop is a new favorite in our household. What we love best is that it rolls around but is QUIET unlike other similar toys made of hard plastic. We just throw a handful of kibble or low calorie training treats inside and let the boys go to town rolling them around on our hardwood floors. Chewy also loves to try to "lick" the treats out but his tongue is not quite long enough (hah!) so this often keeps him occupied for up to an hour or more (score!).
We primarily use these bowls for mealtimes. They come in varying "difficulty" levels to slow a pup down from eating too quickly which also helps with digestion. Our dogs eat both wet and dry dog food in their slo-bowls which have been a staple in our house since they were puppies.
We found the Lickimat at our local pet store and decided to give it a try as an alternative to slo-feeders to provide wet food at meal times. We don't use this one as much as the other toys listed since it's not quite as versatile, but we do still find it helpful and freeze pumpkin puree or plain yogurt to keep it interesting. The makers of this product also suggest an added benefit is that repetitive licking is soothing for your pet and releases calming endorphins into the body.
We provided links to the maker of each of these products, but also felt would be appropriate to give a shout out to independent pet stores that likely carry these items and provide curbside delivery. Times are tough right now for small local businesses, so consider a purchase at your local neighborhood store before buying through Amazon or Chewy.com!
If you'd prefer to use what you might have lying around the house, try a DIY enrichment activity instead! Here are a few more suggestions:
This one isn't very advanced, but it is super simple! Put a few treats in a muffin tin and cover each section with a tennis ball or other toy. When you put this on the ground, your pup will smell the food and need figure out how to remove the balls in order to get the treats.
Even something as simple as a cardboard box filled with a handful of kibble and newspaper can act as an enrichment box to keep you dog engaged for a bit! You can increase the difficulty by taping boxes shut (empty cereal boxes work great for this).
If you have an old t-shirt or some fleece lying around, you might consider making a "snuffle" mat for your dog. The concept is that you hide kibble or treats within the layer of the mat so they have to sniff around to find them. Here is a youtube link for a DIY tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjDRqyvsujE
While this post is meant to give you ideas for how to keep your pup occupied so you can attempt to stay productive in the midst of these crazy pandemic times, know that we are all struggling right now in some way or another.
Maybe you’re killing it in the kitchen making amazing new recipes but the rest of your house is a mess. Or you get an A+ at putting on “real” clothes every day but haven’t worked out all month. Or maybe your dog relentlessly barks during conference calls regardless of what enrichment activity you give him.
Whatever is happening in your life, be gentle on yourself and those around you. We are all just doing the best we can. And that’s good enough for today. Meditate when you can. Hug your pups. Think positive thoughts. And just keep going. This might be a long road, but we’re all on it together.
Do you have any other strategies you’ve employed to keep your pups busy while you work, or have other ways you’ve been combating the craziness that is life right now? I’d love to hear how you are doing in the comments!
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