How To Use Lockdown To Learn About Your Dog
Interacting with dogs has been proven to help humans feel calmer - and, if there was ever a time many of us needed help staying calm, it is now.
But what about our dogs? How important is calmness for them?
We spoke to Chloe Hodder, creator of Calm Dog Games, about exactly this - plus why playing games is so important and what we can all learn from our time in lockdown with our dogs.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and why you created Calm Dog Games?
I’m lucky enough to live in beautiful Devon (not far from Tug-E-Nuff, actually!) with my spaniel, Cam. Before creating Calm Dog Games, I worked as a coach. I apply many of the coaching principles I learned to my work now. For instance, I understand that universal principles apply to ‘success' and how to work with someone to help them achieve that (and I see my dog as a ‘someone’).
Since’s he is from a working heritage, he has a high drive to be active. As I work from home, I had to find a way to tire him out if I was to get any work done, as not only are spaniels physically active but they are also active in their pursuit for affection and attention!
I began creating enrichment and confidence building activities and brain games for us to play together. I was amazed at how much easier he found it to settle after playing these for just a few minutes.
Not only did it tire out his brain, it tired out my brain constantly trying to come up with games and activities to keep him entertained! This is why I created the cards, so I could just pick up a card at random and deliver enrichment and this could be done in the time it takes to boil the kettle. If I wanted to work on a specific area, such as calmness, I could choose from within that category.
Can playing games really change a dog’s behaviour?
I believe calmness is the foundation for everything and that many behavioural issues can be remedied through clear communication, gentle understanding and positive reinforcement.
My aim is to help empower other people who have a dog in their life with simple tools and strategies to communicate and connect with their dog, develop calmness and build upon that all-important relationship.
Why are toys and games such a good idea during these times?
The more you know about your dog, the stronger your relationship will be. Games and toys help you learn more about them; what is distracting to them, what is motivating to them - it is fluffy, it is ball-shaped, does it include food, does it help them feel like a winner?
Also. enrichment is about creating choices. Brain games give your dog the ability to make choice but the opportunity to rehearse good decisions (such as recalling) is also important.
Toys such as tugs help to reinforce that. That’s why it’s so important to keep your dog’s absolute favourite tugs for specific training activities. If they have open access to their tug toys, they become part of the furniture and thus far less interesting.
An easy way to keep things interesting is to play with toys in short sessions and then put them away. This builds the value in the toy and engagement with you.
What can we learn from lockdown with our dogs?
Dog loves novelty, and this is a big component of enrichment. Being in lockdown is giving us a chance to see what life can be like for our dogs if we leave to go to work - looking out on the world from behind glass. Would we want to watch the same TV episode over and over again? Of course not. Creating variety and moments of interest throughout the day can really make your dog’s day.
Also, I believe that disconnection from nature is at the root of the chronic stress many of experience in our ‘normal’ lives. Dogs are a direct connection to the natural world. While they may be far from wild, they are of course instinctual and they show us what matters.
A good day for my spaniel is a good roam about the countryside, lots of affection and snuggles, playing some games and a nice dinner! I’d have to agree with him on that. Working with your dog in a stress-free format (i.e. when it is not about perfectionism) can help us find a deeper sense of calmness, peace and wellbeing.
Together we can help each other unwind during lockdown - them helping us switch off from our screens and constant barrage of information to engage in a bit of quality time, and us giving them an outlet to express their natural behaviours while in our modern landscape.
I strongly believe we can and should take those learnings with us when life returns to ‘normal’.