We hadn’t appreciated quite how important this was to him until lockdown. This started having an effect on him after four weeks of being confined to walking round his home town. To try and help him, we’d vary the routes or let him choose the way. However, to our great concern, he started to cut the walks short and also began to lose interest in his usual evening playtime.
Following a necessary trip to the vet, it became clear he was either bored of his walks or he was missing his adventures in the car as he immediately returned to his joyful, playful self as soon as he got in the car, barking with excitement as the handbrake was let off! However, it only cheered him up for a day, after which he withdrew into himself once more.
Worried, we sought advice from Dawn Ash-Bunting, dog trainer, behaviourist and founder of No Longer in the Doghouse www.facebook.com/nolongerdoghouse/ who gave us these great tips:
What’s the problem?
Depression in humans can make us very tired and not wanting to socialise or go out – we hide away from our ‘normal’. The key with dogs is to find their 'happy hormones' which generally involves social contact, sleeping, chewing, hunting, playing and exercise. If we can refresh Ralph’s core needs, his depression will lift, a bit like ours does when we start to go back to our 'normal'.
Going on normal walks are part of your working week so try to keep to this, but also look at ways to enhance them. It’s almost like Ralph is saying to you – “It’s not worth my energy going out on them,” so something needs to change.
I always ask my clients to write down the following in two columns -
1. What do you like to do on your walk?
2. What does your dog like to do on his or her walk?
If we can answer the above and make it part of our walks, it really does make a huge difference to the well-being of the dog and us.
At present it will feel like your walks have merged into one big walk, so new smells are now old smells and when you venture onto new land (or go to the vets!) it is very exciting! Even us humans will get bored of the same route and this will come out in our energy and body language. Can you change it up a bit - take a shortcut to make it short and sweet - or add an extension to the route?
Things to think about
Try your best not to get worried on your walk and give him space to 'be' as much as providing the suggested distractions. Remember when you have your family walks and weekends away, it’s all new and exciting which will be beaming off both of your body languages. These ideas will help replicate that. I'm sure you are both tired of walking the same walks so well done for looking for alternatives and for venturing out, and it will get easier now we have the recent lockdown changes.
In the meantime, I would still look at incorporating the above suggestions on walks, even your more exciting ones since if you repeat them too much, even they may become boring. And in general, look at the core of Ralph’s happiness first rather than the distance you have to travel.
Blog by CAM4animals supporter, Helen Wilson, with grateful acknowledgement to Dawn Ash-Bunting's input. And of course, thanks to Ralph who has appeared in our blogs before.