Petersfield-based animal behaviourist and dog owner Julie Hart is locked down in France where restrictions are even tougher than those here.

Hear her advice for entertaining, training and keeping dogs fit and healthy when you’re housebound.

Julie studied animal behaviour and training at IMDT and Canine School of Science.

Julie Hart with four dogs
Julie Hart with four dogs


We can have fun and improve life for our dogs in lockdown.

Staying at home for most of the day is a difficult time for us, but also our dogs. They get their mail
from, clumps of grass or telegraph poles, they cannot escape into a good book or video. Dogs are
most energized by exercise, food, toys and affection and there are many ways we can entertain
and exercise our dogs in a confined space or limited walking opportunities.

We do not have to feed our dogs from a bowl, calculate your dogs daily intake need and spread
this across the day in various forms.

Food distractions:
1 – stuff a Kong or similar tough chew toy, with dog meat and kibble and freeze it.
This is an enriching challenge for the dog and does provide exercise.
2 – Place some dry kibble inside a plastic water bottle and re-screw the lid, this will be a noisy
and entertaining chew for your dog, when he finally breaks in, he has a treat.
3 – Scatter some kibble under the hedgerow or shrubs and encourage him to forage for his treats,
a natural, exercising and enriching activity for the dog.
If you have a garden all chews are even more enjoyable for the dog, outside along with the fresh
air and any smells on the wind. If not, you can still adapt these games for inside.

Playing with your dog does more than exercise and entertain, it strengthens the bond between
you and you have an opportunity to reinforce some training cues.
1 – If you are playing a pulling game, let the dog win. Otherwise its no fun and we are aiming to
make the dog’s day better. You can also teach a ‘leave’ cue.
2 – You can play ball across a very short distance or across the ground, vary the direction. You can
also teach a ‘retrieve’ cue.
3 – Hard and soft chews can be re-invigorated by making them more interesting, push some tiny
pieces of cheese into the gaps and cracks or rub some pate into these items. Pick them up and put
them away when the dog has finished, store them in the toy box.
Remove ALL toys after the dog has finished playing, store them in a box, as a toy re-emerges it
will be received as new, especially if it smells like a badgers bottom.

Short training sessions inside or out also provide mental stimulation and exercise and an
opportunity to reinforce wanted behaviors.
Inside games
1 – Play the cup game, it requires some thinking and choices from the dog.
2 – play eye contact games, this improves your dogs watching and listening skill, good for training
all cues.
3 – use whatever you can find in the garden, create a simple obstacle course and train your dog in
agility. Games are best outside when and if you can get there, but just as easy inside.

Your dog may well be feeling anxious, they are sensitive to changes in our behavior, if we feel
anxious or short tempered, we can transmit this. Your dog may need reassurance. You have some
time to groom your dog, if you have not done this before you can find many sites on line that will
guide you.

If you are not too familiar with handling your dog, try the 5 second rule. Offer your hand to the
dogs nose and move to the side of the neck, caress for 5 seconds, if your dog leans in, he is OK. If,
when you stop, he moves away, maybe he does not like being touched here or at this time. It is
important to reassure your dog by allowing him some choice.

Space out these distractions during a day and give your dog time to rest after each activity,
providing some calm training time. You will both gain from the interaction.

If you have more than one dog, you decide to interact with each one separately, especially when
there is food involved.