Looking after your guide dog
During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the welfare of our dogs is still of the highest importance.
We’re doing everything we can to ensure the welfare of our dogs, and their needs, are continued to be met.
We have put together some useful information and podcasts to assist guide dog owner’s during this difficult time.
If you have an out of hours issue, you can call us on: 0345 143 0217, however, this should only be used in an emergency.
Whilst at home or self-isolating
Welfare of dogs whilst at home
Should I keep my dog at home?
We would encourage you to keep your dog at home with you, where possible, even if you are self-isolating or become ill, providing you are able to care for your dog.
If you live alone it is worth preparing a contingency plan in case you do become ill and are unable to keep your dog at home. We suggest making up a box with some food, a bowl, blanket, toys and a spare lead which can be stored somewhere safe - so that it can be collected with your dog without others having to come into contact with you.
You may ask family or friends if they would be willing to look after your dog if you feel you cannot provide the care your dog needs.
Please call us on 0800 781 1444 if you are concerned and you have no one that could assist you.
Exercise and enrichment
We understand that it may be difficult to exercise your dog, or provide enrichment, at this time, especially if self-isolating.
Therefore, we have put together a list of activities, shown below that you can do at home or in your garden to keep your dog occupied!
Normal feeding practices and times may be adjusted to allow for enrichment to be spread out across the day. As always, we recommend that dogs should not be fed for one hour before or two hours after high impact exercise.
If you are unable to exercise your dog normally you may need to reduce their daily feed ration as they will not be burning as many calories.
If you are well enough and can safely remain two meters from others, we would still recommend trying to free run with your dog.
Advice on providing enrichment
Environmental enrichment activities
Appropriate gnawing exercise
This is a great way to help dogs relax. Providing a suitable chew item, ideally one the dog values, is very good for keeping your dog calm and occupied.
Handy tip: It’s best practice to leave the dog with the chew until they finish. If for you must remove the chew item and the dog is reluctant to give it up, a toy or food item the dog likes even more can be offered to give the chew back in exchange. You always want the activity to end on a positive note!
Allow your dog time to play with a game of tug. Keep the sessions short to prevent your dog becoming overly excited but remember the dog can ‘win’ the toy!
You can strengthen your dog’s leave response by saying the word ‘leave’ and immediately offering your dog a biscuit. This teaches your dog to open their mouth when they hear the word leave. At the end of your game always swap the toy with a biscuit.
Handy tip: If the dog grabs the tug toy uninvited, or jumps up to grab it, do not play tug for that play session. Also ensure that pulling or tugging does not become too vigorous or the dog gets too excited! You can help by keeping the sessions short.
Using ‘wait’ and ‘fetch’ allows the dog to have fun whilst under control. This is a great play session in which you need to encourage your dog to bring back the item you have thrown.
Remember to always complete the game with a positive outcome.
Handy tip: Throwing toys can become a very exciting game for your dog and so it is recommended that sessions are limited to just four or five throws. This helps to prevent injuries in your dog from the fast turns often associated with these games. If your dog will carry a toy it is okay to allow your dog to carry a favourite toy during a walk or around the garden.
These toys offer great mental exercise for your dog but do always supervise with interactive toys. If your dog is struggling to get the toy to release food, try placing some kibble near the toy to encourage interaction.
You can find interactive dog toys available in pet shops and online stores like Amazon. We suggest: Nina Ottoson puzzle games, kong wobblers, reward shells, snuffle mats and kongs.
Hide and Find Exercise
Allowing your dog to use their nose to find food and toys is very beneficial for their mental health.
With your dog in a different room, try hiding some pieces of kibble or a favourite toy around the room (or in the garden), they can be behind objects or even underneath things – use your imagination. When ready invite your dog in and watch as the search begins!
Handy tip: Make sure you hide a safe treat/toy for your dog. E.g. not something too small that could be choked on.
Advice for free running dogs
Getting back out with your guide dog
Worried about how to go back out with your guide dog after a prolonged period of staying at home? Or are you concerned about how your dog will react to people wearing masks when you do go out? In the following podcasts we provide some tips on how to build up your confidence again, as well as your dog’s, so you can both feel ready to get out and about again.
Back to work
Getting your dog used to face masks
With the coronavirus outbreak set to linger for a while, your dog is going to need to get used to see a lot more people wearing face masks.
Initially, they may be concerned or excited by this new experience. But there are a few simple steps you can take to help ensure it’s not going to be an ongoing problem for your dog or you. We discuss these in the podcast and step-by-step guide below.
Dogs and face coverings
Are you going out more now? If possible and it’s safe to do so, sit with your dog and feed them as a reward for watching someone wearing a mask in the distance. Make sure you use some of your dog’s daily food allowance though. It’s best not to create positive associations with masks that could encourage over-excited behaviour.
Around the same time, get your dog used to you wearing a mask at home. Start by popping the mask on discreetly before you start preparing your dog’s food, then take off the mask as soon as they finish eating. You only need to do this a couple of times. If you don’t have a mask, you can wrap a scarf around your face instead.
Move on to putting the mask on, asking your dog to sit, and then feeding them. Again you only need to do this a few times.
Next start wearing your mask around the home while you do the usual day-to-day tasks like making a cup of tea. This will help your dog get used to the mask becoming the norm. Continue making sure you don’t ‘make a show’ of putting the mask on.
After a few days, look for changes to your dog’s behaviour. Are they uncomfortable, backing away, or avoiding eye contact? If this happens, move back a step to feeding your dog while wearing the mask. Or if possible, go back to watching people in the park or street wearing masks at a distance.
If your dog continues to back away or bark while you practice at home, hang the mask up on a wall or door handle, walk to the other end of the room, and feed your dog as far from it as possible. Then gradually walk closer to the mask and feed them for coming with you. As ever, don’t make a big deal out of the process. Stay calm and quiet during the exercise, and make sure you put the mask out of sight afterwards.
In general, keep sessions short, just a couple of minutes a time. Here’s another tip: keep the mask near your kettle, put it on each time you make a cup of tea, then take it off afterwards. Also try keeping a pot of your dog’s biscuits near the kettle, and if they come with you, give them a biscuit after you’ve put on the mask !
What should I do if I’m still having problems?
Of course, things may not go to plan straight away. You may need to work at these exercises for a few weeks. The best way to prevent problems becoming bigger is to avoid making a fuss, talking in high pitched voice, pointing at yourself in the mask or putting your face close to the dog while wearing a mask.
What if there is an incident while I’m out and about?
If your dog does react to someone in a mask while you’re out, perhaps lunging, barking or raising their hackles, make sure you give your dog the opportunity to move away. Don’t force them to approach the masked person or try and use food to get them closer. Try to create more distance between your dog and the person in the mask, walking away and preferably out of sight. At this point the dog might not be able to recover immediately, so it will be worth sitting somewhere quiet for a while before heading home.
Contact us if you need help
If you are still struggling with your dog’s reaction to masks, just get in touch with your contact at Guide Dogs and we’ll help you work out what to do next.
Your questions answered on how we're supporting you during the Coronavirus pandemic
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