Over the last few months, dogs have sensed their humans being home much more than usual. In turn, humans may have noticed that their four-legged friends could stand to brush up on some obedience training. Or perhaps you have a dog that’s a tad stir-crazy, and you’re looking for fun new ways to entertain him or her—so they’ll zonk out for an afternoon nap. Ahead, local experts offer ways to improve your pet’s behavior and have more fun together.
School is in session
Whether you adopted a “pandemic puppy” that’s headed to obedience school for structured training or you have a dog with some long-term behavioral issues that need addressing, it’s important to practice consistency with dos and don’ts at home, says Dan McCarthy, owner and head trainer of Centennial-based Triumphant Canine Dog Training: “In general, you can’t apply human emotions to dog training.” Instead, think like your pet.
PREVENT SEPARATION ANXIETY
As you’ve been home more, you may have noticed your dog becoming hyper-attached and experiencing separation anxiety every time you grab the keys to make a grocery run: Shivering or shaking when you’re preparing to leave, closely following you around the home, chewing up a rug while you’re gone, barking and having accidents are among the common signs of separation anxiety. When you’re at home, it’s important to continue to leave the house without your pup for short periods throughout the day, so they remain accustomed to being apart, McCarthy says. And don’t make leaving or returning a big deal.
DON’T BEND THE RULES
If you want your dog to stay off a couch or steer clear of your home office, make sure everyone in your household is consistently enforcing that rule, rather than making exceptions here and there. “For a dog, once means always,” McCarthy says. If they’re cuddled with you on the couch for one movie night, you’ll have a hard time getting them to stay off the furniture in the future.
REWARD YOUR DOG FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR
Say you’re training a puppy who mistakes your slipper for a toy and starts chewing on it. Where many pet owners go wrong is chasing the puppy, who then runs off, McCarthy says. The better solution is to get on your hands and knees and use a high-pitched voice to get your dog to come to you. And when they do, they should get a treat. “Knowing they’ll be rewarded when they come to you is good motivation [to always come when you ask],” he says. Treats tend to be the best prize, but know that some dogs are also motivated by balls, toys or simply being petted.
Now, let’s play
“A tired dog is a happy dog,” says Corinne Gearhart, founder of Cherry Creek Pampered Pets, a Greenwood Village-based dog walking and pet sitting company that specializes in “shed-free” boarding for non- and very-low-shedding dog breeds. Her boredom-buster strategies will mentally stimulate your pets, while also tiring them out.
SOLVE FOOD PUZZLES
Handing out special treats, like nibbles of cheese, by way of a food puzzle activates your pup’s foraging senses. For the uninitiated, food puzzles are challenging toys your pup needs to paw at, nibble or roll in order to shake loose the goodies. Two untraditional ideas: freeze yogurt or peanut butter in a Kong toy or make regular use of a snuffle mat, a popular plaything with fabric strands attached to a backing that, when filled with hidden chow, mimics searching for food in the wild. “Save these goodies for when you need some quiet time,” Gearhart advises.
TURN WALKS INTO SCAVENGER HUNTS
Mix up your walking routine from time to time: “Dogs love the new stimulation,” says Gearhart. When socializing a new puppy, thinking of walks as treasure hunts, she says, will put the focus on exposing your pet to new people, places and things—which will help them to not be fearful in the future.
PLAY INDOORS, TOO
On sweltering summer afternoons when you can’t exercise your dog outside, play chase with a flirt pole. The play equipment—made of a pole, typically elastic rope and a toy attached at the end of the rope—is also touted as a solid training tool.
MEET THE NEIGHBORS
Some of the good boys and girls you just might see Cherry Creek Pampered Pets trotting around the south suburbs.
MARPLE, English Cream Golden Retriever
Fun fact: She’s known as the mayor of the local dog park because she says hi to everyone she sees.
Favorite walk: Open space between Lakeview Park and Peakview Park.
Fun fact: Nestlé has mastered a cute head tilt when you say his name and, when he’s playing, he bounces around like he has springs for legs.
Favorite walk: Nestlé likes to follow in the paw-steps of his big sister Hershey, a standard poodle—they love Cherry Creek State Park, thanks to the prairie dogs.
DUTCH, Australian Labradoodle
Fun fact: His nickname is Ferdinand, like the bull, because sometimes he just wants to plop down and smell some flowers.
Favorite walk: Prairie Vista Park.
LAVERNE, LUCY and LILY, Westies
Fun fact: They are professional sunbathers and give the best kisses.
Favorite walk: These triplets prefer their own Greenwood Village backyard, diligently patrolling for squirrel invaders.
Fun fact: Moseley loves visiting the horses in Orchard Hills Park.
Favorite walk: The path to Hoffman Park.
GO TO THE PROS
Triumphant Canine Dog Training
Cherry Creek Pampered Pets