Our 2018 Pet Census, the largest pet ownership census to date, found that 41% of owners see their pet as their closest friend. So, while traditional dog puzzle games, which often involve finding food, are a great mainstay of interacting with a pet, now we’re going hiking, surfing or doing yoga with them.
So, is this the new way of bonding with a pet? ‘It could be, as long as the activity’s something your animal enjoys,’ says APBC clinical animal behaviourist Inga MacKellar. ‘Many people work and pets are left alone for long hours, so doing something together that’s fun for both of you is a great way of maximising that quality time.’
With anything new, it’s one paw at a time. ‘You’ll know from your dog’s body language whether they’re having fun or not,’ says Inga. ‘But generally, doing anything pleasurable together is likely to lead to a happier and more relaxed pet. This in turn can encourage a bond with your pet and strengthen the relationship you have with them.’
Here, three dog owners tell us how they share quality time with their canine friends.
‘Running with your dog is fun and free’
For keen runner Rachel Spencer from Newcastle, taking to the open road with her two-year-old Terrier, Patch, is the perfect way of unwinding while bonding with her pet.
‘If you’re walking your dog, there’s the temptation to look at your phone, take a call or speak to passers-by,’ she says. ‘With running, there are fewer distractions. Patch loves the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors, and running is a great mind and body workout for us both.
‘I enjoy the freedom it gives you. I can just fetch his lead, some water and poo bags and we’re out the house in minutes. I adopted him fairly recently so it’s a great way of getting to know each other, too.’
Rachel, a journalist and pet blogger, says there’s no one schedule you should use – just tailor it to you and your pet’s initial capabilities and build up slowly.
‘Running is fun and accessible – and a change from dog toys,’ says Rachel. ‘And it’s something most people can do to share time and bond with their pet.’
Inga says: ‘When running with your dog, be aware of what he is doing, as dogs often like to have numerous toilet breaks when out and about. If you’re unsure about your fitness levels or your dog’s; speak to your doctor and your vet for advice on the best way to start running together.’
‘Dancing with my dog keeps us both on our toes’
You don’t have to be able to dance or own a performing pet like Britain’s Got Talent winner Pudsey to get involved with this – any dog can try their paw at heelwork to music (HTM).
For Joe Nutkins, from Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, this sport – a mix of obedience training and choreography – offered the chance of giving her seven-year-old Norwich Terrier, Merlin, exercise while strengthening the bond between them.
Now, six years later, they regularly perform their Ghostbusters routine in a competition ring, as well as at dog shows.
HTM is possibly the ultimate brain game for a dog, as it requires intelligence and agility. It can be enjoyed by any type or age of dog and all you need to begin is a good relationship with your dog, explains Joe, an accredited dog trainer.
‘You learn with your pet, building up trust and communication,’ she says. ‘Through dance, we’ve had fun, got fit together and now we’re inseparable.’
‘Paddleboarding has given us all a confidence boost’
If you’re looking for something a bit more out there, take a leaf out of Hattie’s book. On a sunny day, there’s nothing Hattie from Cornwall likes better than packing up the car and heading to the beach with her paddleboard and Cocker Spaniels, two-year-old Woody and four-year-old Hen.
Once there, her pets can’t wait to put on their doggie life jackets and jump up on the inflatable board for an afternoon on the open waves.
‘Hen’s happy to sit and watch the seagulls, while Woody likes to jump off the board and go for swim,’ she says.
This is remarkable, since Woody was extremely nervous around water when she adopted him as a puppy.
Stand-up paddleboarding (or SUP for short) is particularly popular in Cornwall, explains Hattie, and something she’d tried in the past – but never before with a pet.
‘I bought a cheap board and laid it on the floor at home,’ says Hattie, a professional photographer. ‘Woody jumped on it straight away, so we took it to the beach and began experimenting on the shallow water. In time, he got his balance and I knew we were ready.’
Hattie’s latest canine addition, Hen, loves to share in the fun. ‘The dogs trust me to keep us all safe,’ says Hattie. ‘Sharing my hobby with them has not only boosted their confidence but my own, too.’
Inga says: ‘Hattie trained her dogs in a very sensible way, starting on dry land first to see how the dogs coped with standing on the board. It’s important that if you try this with your dog, you do it gradually and initially for short periods of time. Never just ‘dump’ your dog on the board out on the water. And if your dog doesn’t like swimming, there’s always dancing to try!’
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