If you’re a pet owner, it can be quite the task to keep your pets entertained and properly exercised during lockdown.
One woman thought of a nifty solution by creating an obstacle course for her creatures – including her two dogs, Ripley and Merlin, as well as her eight chickens, in the garden.
Joe Collings Nutkins ,40, had been meaning to set up the course for a while, but as she has Myalgic Encephalitis (ME), which causes extreme pain and fatigue if not managed, and often needs to rest between playing and training her dogs, she had yet to find the time.
But thanks to lockdown, the 40-year-old dog trainer from Clacton-on-Sea finally had the chance to do it.
Being a dog trainer, Joe had some material at home, but has also utilised random items such as hoops, boxes, lawn chairs and stands to create the space.
‘I have ME so I have to rest after I’ve set up a course for the dogs I train, so I don’t usually get the chance to do this with my own dogs,’ she tells us.
‘During lockdown, I’m doing online classes and Ripley and Merlin are my helpers, but it can get very repetitive for them, and I wanted to give them something physical that was just for them and would challenge them.
‘They are loving it.’
‘I’ve also created mazes for them, where they have to find a ball pool which contains a treat and then find their way out again,’ she added.
But Ripley, who turns two in a month, and Merlin, who is eight and a half years old, aren’t the only pets enjoying the course.
Joe is using it to train her chickens, too.
‘We’ve had the chickens for a year, there are eight of them but we’re actually picking up four rescue chickens tomorrow, too.
‘It was my husband, John’s idea, to get chickens.
‘I joke that it was a midlife crisis and he couldn’t afford a car, so got them – but we both just love animals. He’s kept snakes, and I’ve kept rodents in the past.
‘At the moment, I’m working on clicker training the chickens, by making them go through a hoop for a treat, which is nice and easy, but then we move onto the ramps in the garden.’
If you’ve got pets at home, creating an obstacle course might help distract them when you need some alone time.
Joe shares her top tip on how to keep dogs happy and active in self-isolation.
‘You’re getting a lot of dogs going from two to three walks per day, who now just get one,’ she says.
‘It’s important to get them into a routine, so replace the walks with some other kind of enrichment so that they can use their bodies, minds and also, noses. If your dog likes to sniff a lot when out, hide their toy in the garden or house with a treat so they have to go looking for it.
‘Or for something more active, you can do an obstacle course or a maze, but you don’t need all the materials I have in mine – look around your house, use things like chairs or, as an example, put boxes on top of each other in the shape of a tunnel with a towel on top and have your dog go under it.
‘You can easily create things at home that don’t cost a huge amount of money.
‘And don’t be surprised if you see behaviours that you haven’t before.
‘After all, your dog isn’t used to you being at home 24/7, so they will create their own engagement by doing things like digging up the garden, stealing laundry and chewing on items in the house.
‘I would also suggest training of some sorts to keep their minds engaged, but not just obedience.
‘The other day I started teaching my dogs to read – I promise, I’m not going bonkers but it’s based on the size of the word that you pair with an action. And some dogs can learn up to 10 words.’
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