Groundhog Day is an American custom held on the 2nd February every year. If the hibernating Groundhog comes out of its den to sunshine he will see his shadow. Legend states this will mean 6 more weeks of winter and so the Groundhog will return to his den and go back to sleep. If the day is cloudy with no shadows the Groundhog will stay out of his den and spring is just around the corner. I am definitely hoping for cloudy!
Of course, Groundhog Day is better known in the UK for the 1993 Andie MacDowell and Bill Murray film where every day is literally the same day, over and over again. With Covid restrictions, home learning and working and limited entertainment options I have a much better understanding of how Bill Murray's character would have felt.
But perhaps, this year has also given us an amazing opportunity to relate better to our pets and particularly our dogs. Most dogs live in a permanent state of Groundhog day. They are completely reliant on us and we usually set their daily routine at least during the week.
I realise that our dogs are no longer wolves, but if you compare the variety involved in a wolf packs day - socialising, playing, sleeping, hunting, patrolling, arguing, exploring and investigating throughout the day - with the average UK dog you may begin to see what I mean.
We have all been at home more over the last year and our dogs will have got used to our presence and our new routines. But as the metaphorical spring - with the roll out of vaccinations - is around the corner our routines are likely to change once more. This could mean our dogs will once again be left for extended periods of time and the days become even more regimented once more. There are likely to be some behavioural issues associated with separation anxiety, boredom and general stress for many of our dogs as they try to cope.
There are many blogs out there on helping your dog with separation anxiety so I won't go into any detail here. But there are simple things you can do to help your dog break out of the routine and enhance your dogs quality of life.
Enriching your dog's life can help your dog relax and cope
There are many things you can do to enrich your dogs life experiences, here are just a few:
Learning & Training
Most dogs love to learn, but many will only experience 'training' as puppies whilst we teach them the things we expect from them - toilet training, sitting, recall, stay, lead walking and oddly, give paw.
But dogs, like us, love to learn throughout their lives. Teaching new skills can be extremely rewarding - why not try to teach them to walk backwards, spin (both ways), shake on command, stretch, or take them to a fun agility class?
Your dogs ability to learn is often limited by your own imagination and you only need to watch dogs 'dancing to music' to see how much they can really do.
"Tidy Up" by Helen Greenley, Animal Behaviourist, Aberdeenshire
For many dogs their dinners are the highlight of their day. But given that most dogs are fed in a bowl and the food is gone in seconds this highlight is very short lived. Feeding using interactive feeders will mean your dog is using their body and brain. Eating is slowed down making the whole process far more rewarding and also more natural.
Your dogs' ancestors would hunt, catch, kill and eat their prey. Simulating some of this behaviour with scatter feeding, hiding food and feeding out of slow feeders such as Kong will all mimic their natural behaviours. Feeding raw bones, hairy ears and cartilage based food (such as tracheae, chicken feet and bird necks) can also take your dog longer to eat and will give them valuable nutrients. There are lots of excellent independent pet shops that will be able to advise you on this, my personal favourite is McGrumpy and Snuffles, in Aylesbury.
Little Mia, above, has some neck pain, so this fun food game is also really helpful for getting her to stretch her neck downwards.
Play and Exercise
All dogs need opportunities to express themselves and explore their world. This is one of the reasons dogs need to go out for walks, so why not look at ways you can enrich this experience for them.
Taking their favourite toys out on walks and hiding them for your dog to find can be super rewarding for your dog. If your dog is ball obsessed reconsider using a ball thrower - I have already produced a blog on why I don't particularly like them. You can always use the ball as a reward for some impromptu training. Why not train a send away, reinforce the recall or a sit and stay?
Let your dog sniff and explore their area. I see too many dogs being marched around on walks with owners or dog walkers completely focussed on their phones. But walking the dog is a sociable activity for most dogs. If they were part of a dog pack they would often go off together to patrol or explore and they would communicate and interact with each other whilst on the move. If you are on your phone you are missing an excellent opportunity to really bond with, and deepen your relationship with your dog.
Dogs are incredible, intelligent, loving and loyal and deserve the very best from us. I would love to hear what you will be doing differently to enrich your dogs life.
The things your dog can learn are limited by your imagination.