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Tis the Season!

Updated: Jan 5

Training for gundogs at Christmas

For most of us the festive time is fast approaching, which means busier households, lots of tempting things for our dogs and puppies to chew (trees, decorations, presents...!) and all kinds of food that might accidentally slip to your dog that can be toxic (watch out especially for nuts, chocolate and some fruits like raisins and grapes).

This can lead to a stressful time for you and your dog, so I wanted to share some of my favourite ways to provide my dogs with some stimulating or settling activities, or something we can do together to calm ourselves down! Obviously you need to supervise these activities for your dog's safety and welfare, and chose the activity sensibly based on your dog's size, age, desires and behaviour ;)

These fall into five basic categories:

  1. Food-based

  2. Physical movement

  3. Mental stimulation

  4. Sensory stimulation

  5. Social activities


First up, I love "treats in a towel" because it is so quick and easy! Spread a towel or old blanket on the floor, scatter treats across it, then grab the centre and start twisting until the towel is a circle, then let your dog find the treats- great for those dogs that love to sniff and scent stuff!

Treats in a old plastic bottle (like a milk carton or fizzy drink bottle). This is great for dogs who like to throw things around a bit more! Pop some kibble or hard-ish treats into the bottle. scrunch the bottle slightly but leave the end open so the treats can fall out (if your dog is a strong chewer I recommend NOT using this activity, or monitoring very closely!!)

Confidence box- aka Cardboard Chaos! pop some recyling in a cardboard box- egg cartons, plastic bottles, old tin foil scrunched up, newspaper scrunched up, a can or two- think different textures and sounds. throw a handful of treats in the box and let your dog dig them out. This is great for building their confidence as they have to cope with all the noises and things bumping around their head. Great for dogs who like digging and snuffling!

Treats in egg cartons or empty toilet roll centres- great to get the kids involved! Pop a treat or two inside an egg carton or a toilet roll tube, then seal/ push down the ends. Let your dog rip the cardboard apart to get the treats. great for dogs who like to rip stuff apart!

Physical Movement

This can be explored at home, in the garden or out on a walk. Think about challenging your dog with different movements:

Climb on and/ or in something- e.g. a log or a bench, cardboard box

Go under or through something- is your dog confident to go under your arm or leg if you sit on the ground and make a V with your leg (smaller dogs) or reach your arm out to the sofa? Is there a fence or hedge they can try going under (avoid ones with barbed wire!!!)

Paws Up- can you teach them to put their paws up on a surface? start with a solid surface like a yoga block, or a step, then try a cushion, a bucket, a tree stump- it's great for moving your dog off a path as well if you need to ;)

Mental Stimulation

Lots of the food-based games above work the brain, but you can also buy various puzzle feeders to encourage your dog to work out how to get a treat (my top tip- these can often be found in charity shops for very little money!)

Hide and seek- take your dog's favourite toy- at first place it in plain sight in front of them and say "find it!"- once they are "finding" it for you and bringing it back, go place it in another room - but very obviously- then go back and tell your dog to "find it!" again. Build this up to hide it in more and more difficult places, a log basket, the top of a sofa, behind a cushion. Great for dogs (I'm looking at you, spaniels!) who like to hunt stuff out!

Clicker training- pretty much anything you train with a clicker, especially if you are shaping an activity, will really drain your dog's brain- 20 mins of that and they will be snoozy! For example, here's a 2 minute video of me starting to shape "Sleepy" (head on the floor in a down position) with Toffee. You can can see in minute 1 she's not really sure what is making me give her rewards (food) (I'm marking any downward movement of her head at the start) but by minute 10 she's connected that "head down= reward!". Think about the mental energy she's used to work that out ;)

Sensory Stimulation

When the house gets a bit crazy for you both, take a sensory walk! Go slowly and sniff everything. Allow your dog to stop and sniff, guide them to different smells like herbs. Collect items to examine together on the walk- a feather, a stick etc. Try out different surfaces- grass, mud, sand, ice, tree mulch, gravel etc. Stop and listen to sounds- birdsong, other animals, wind chimes. Give your dog a gentle massage- it calms you down too!

Social Activities

Especially important for our younger dogs, giving them time to watch the world go by and absorb information in their own time is important. Go sit in a cafe or on a park bench and just watch- have fun pointing out things to your dog! Investigate new places together- take them to the beach, the woods, the town, to the pet store to pick out their present. In the holiday times be aware that familiar places (including your home and friend's homes) can look and smell very different, so let your dog adjust and take it all in, and let them have time where they can just chill ;)

Hope you have a happy, stress-free holiday time, and Happy Holidays from me and my furry family! See you all in 2024 :)

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