Man’s Best Friend – Keeping your furry friends happy in lockdown
With many millions of us being at home right now when our beloved pooches might otherwise be in the care of doggy day care whilst we’d be at the office, it’s safe to say most of our pets have never had so much attention! However, trying to keep the balance between focusing on work / home-schooling and the needs of your pet can be daunting. We caught up with Tess Beer, co-owner of the premium doggy day care service, TW Dogs, based in the TW postcode, to get her thoughts on how we can look after our best furry friends.
What is an average day like at TW Dogs – in normal times!
So much fun and often exhausting! We have a real mix of characters at day care and usually the first hour or so is full on playtime and excitement, the dogs saying hello to each other and having a good sniff. If we didn’t intervene the pups would play until they passed out so we have a strict routine of play-feed-rest throughout the day so that they don’t overdo it. The older dogs tend to follow our lead and we mix playtime with rest breaks and training. In the winter months all of the dogs get a lovely warm shower before leaving so they go home clean, happy and tired. In the warmer months we give a light groom with the brush and all the dogs love this, even a spritz of dog cologne to keep them smelling fresh! We are very keen to get back to work, we miss all of the dogs so much – we care for them as if they were our own and it’s hard not seeing them as regularly as we are used to.
How do you manage so many dogs at once?
We have several paddocks which we use to separate the dogs into smaller playgroups, based on age and activity level. Our busiest days are usually anywhere between 40-50 dogs so this helps us manage the inevitable energy and excitement in smaller groups, and also means that all dogs will receive equal amounts of attention without feeling overwhelmed. Our enrolment process helps to ensure that we only accept well socialised, non aggressive dogs. They must all complete a trial day where we can assess their behaviour and character, which helps us to choose their suitable playgroup. Our day care assistants supervise no more than 8 dogs each and we have such a well-behaved pack, the TW Dogs really are the best dogs.
Do you subscribe to any particular schools of thought when it comes to training?
100% Positive reward-based training! Dog ownership and training methods have changed so much over the years and I’m so happy that more people are seeing the benefits of positive training. I come from a rural background and grew up with dogs so thought I knew what I was doing when I got my first dog in my late twenties…Oh boy! I made so many mistakes, and poor Bentley wasn’t badly behaved, he was confused by me. After searching for advice, I discovered clicker training and it was a Eureka! moment for both of us – we didn’t look back. Our current dog Reggie is a miniature Dachshund, which are notoriously hard to toilet train. Using the clicker and some target practice, I’ve taught him to ring a bell to go outside. I love being able to implement the positive training philosophy at day care too and though at times training can be frustrating, we embrace the challenge and try to see things from the dog’s point of view and find new ways of learning together.
Do you have a favourite breed personally?
It’s so hard to choose a favourite! Day care means that I get to spend time with lots of different breeds and they all have such endearing characteristics and qualities. Before day care, I insisted I could never have a Labrador and that they were just a boring popular choice though now I know them, our small army of Labradors have stolen my heart! We have so many different breeds, a few rare breeds too and it’s been wonderful getting to know them all.
Tell us about your sausage-dog, Reggie – how’s he coping with lockdown?
Reggie is a real character; he makes us laugh so much every day. We have a big garden for him to runabout in and stretch his little legs which really helps, he loves to be outside in the sunshine. Dogs are such social creatures and we’ve now seen the benefits of day care first hand – Reggie has been going since he was a tiny pup. He’s used to being at day care most of the week and at first, he seemed to be really enjoying us both being at home with him. Now we can see that he is really missing the stimulation and social interaction of day care as he is trying to make friends with our cat Ziggy. Ziggy of course, is less than impressed with us all being at home!
For those of us who are at home much more now, and with doggy day care not possible, do you have any tips on keeping pets entertained through the day? We sort of routine should we create?
We found this really tricky at first, balancing working from home, keeping house and making sure Reggie gets the enrichment that he needs. We’ve tried to create structure to ensure that there’s a balance for all of us. A morning walk to get the day started then whilst he sleeps, an hour or so of work. As I might if I were working in an office, I take a coffee break and use this time to move away from screens and play a game with Reggie, do a quick five-minute training session with him or even some grooming (he’s malting a lot at the moment!). He loves these interactions and I’ve found that they really help to lift my mood before I go back to ‘work’ until lunch. By factoring in time for Reggie during my own break times, not only is he benefiting from this new routine, he has also learnt to have downtime when I’m working as he knows that his next playtime isn’t too far away. Once your local day care and dog walkers resume their services, think about enrolling your dog, even for one day a week, so that they benefit from having a fun day out and you can work at home in guilt free peace whilst supporting a local business.
How about balancing kids wanting to play with pets (all of the time!) and getting them all to have their down time – what would you suggest?
It’s difficult for me to not want to play with Reggie all of the time so understand how tricky this must be in households with playful children! It’s essential that your pet has a place of their own that they can go to for a well-deserved rest and that children understand this is their space and not to be bother them when they are there. It’s important to create this boundary for your pets; they will be thankful for it and it will help your child learn respect for others downtime, just as they need theirs.
Can you share any training tricks (tips?) with us for keep our pets learning?
I could spend all day talking about tips and tricks for training, it’s such a passion of mine! I absolutely love teaching a new trick and seeing a dog figure it out for themselves, and find this really helps speed up their learning. Have a clear idea in your head of what you want to achieve before you start and above all, keep it fun! If you start to feel frustrated simply shrug it off and come back to training later, if you’re not enjoying it your dog won’t enjoy it either.
When training it’s important to remember that any behaviour you reward will be repeated, so if every time you ask your dog to sit you give him a biscuit, eventually he might start sitting without being asked. If you then unpredictably reward your dog, so sometimes a biscuit, sometimes an ear rub or sometimes a tiny piece of steak, you’ll find they start to sit next to you without fail wondering if this is the time they get the steak! The trick is to gradually increase the time your dog stays sitting before giving their reward.
If you’re trying to train your dog out of a bad behaviour then you can apply the opposite principle. A friend of mine was trying to work at home last week and despite being well exercised and well fed, her puppy started barking for attention. The best thing to do here is to completely ignore the behaviour, any attention at all would be reinforcing the attention barking. An effective way to solve this is to get up and leave the room without eye contact or speaking every time your dog barks, closing the door behind you and leaving them in the room. Return after a few moment’s when your dog is quiet and resume your work. When your dog barks again, leave the room as before. As your dog learns that barking at you makes you leave and they instead start to act calmly and quietly, reward your dog with some gentle affection. If you are consistent with ignoring the undesirable behaviour and reinforcing the preferred behaviour, your dog will learn that they don’t get the attention they want from barking and you can go back to working in relative peace!
We are all tempted to eat more at home, and it’s no different with our pets being around snacks more too – how many snacks/treats are OK for an average size dog, and what should we be letting them nibble on and what shouldn’t they be having?
This has been a real problem for Reggie and I, we have both put on some weight these last few weeks! You’ll usually find your dog’s recommended daily amount of food for their weight, on the packaging. It’s important to remember that this is for total food including treats, not just their meals. For instance, if your dog’s recommend daily allowance of food is 300g and you’re planning to do lots of training, give 125g at breakfast and again at dinner, and use the remaining 50g for your training sessions. Try to be inventive with your treats, Reggie is raw fed so to avoid grains we treat with Nature’s Menu real meaty treats, he also loves broccoli, carrots and of course Sprats. Beware of cheese though, just 60g is equivalent to a human eating two doughnuts! Most of us know to avoid things poisonous to dogs like chocolate, onions and grapes, the Kennel Club have a really helpful guide here.
Do you have any advice on people struggling to get time to focus when working from home if they have needy puppies?
This is the perfect time to help your pup learn to entertain themselves and settle on their own. Keeping a routine of exercise and playtime, with a few training sessions each day along with some activities they can complete on their own will really help. Kongs lined with sticky peanut butter then stuffed with bits of sprats and vegetables will keep your pup quiet for a while and Reggie loves his lickimat. Activity balls that you can fill with their lunchtime kibble will make them learn to work for their meal and keep them occupied too. Small frozen carrots are perfect for teething pups with sore gums. Leaving your pup with these whilst you are in another room working will also help them grow used to you not always being around, essential for when you eventually need to leave them at home alone! Build up the time they are alone at first, increasing it gradually and try to calmly return to them before they become upset with your absence. Though it can be hard, ignoring them when they are whining and only returning when they are quiet and content will help to teach that crying won’t make you magically appear and it should eventually stop.
Do you have any brands of food, treats or anything else doggy-related you’d like to give a shout out to?
We weren’t keen on raw feeding before we got Reggie though Nature’s Menu have made it so easy and Reggie loves their Country Hunter range of frozen nuggets. Beco make certified ethical and sustainable toys and accessories (their degradable poo bags are great), and Dorwest are such a friendly and knowledgeable company producing veterinary herbal medicine, they even have an A-Z of common problems with recommended products to help – their Keeper’s Mix and Roast Dinner Toothpaste are staples in our house. Oh and for bath time, check out Hownd! Not only are they leaping bunny certified, their Yup You Stink! shampoo smells lovely and is excellent for when dogs roll in stinky stuff.
What makes a perfect trip away with Reggie? What do you look for in your hotels?
When we get the chance to get away, we love to be surrounded by nature, so we’ll often book somewhere with beautiful grounds. Lovely walks on the door step is such a bonus for us and it’s so comforting when dogs are welcomed with open arms not just tolerated by the venue. We pub trained Reggie from a young age so dog friendly restaurants are a must. Access to fresh drinking water and even a menu for dogs is a lovely touch. We live not far from Great Fosters and love the gardens and facilities for dogs available there – and have recently discovered Barnett Hill in the Surrey Hills, which looks perfect for a stay with Reggie!
When we’re back to normal, tell us what areas you cover at TW Dogs, the services you can provide and how to reach you for bookings?
We offer a full day of day care covering a compact area of the TW postcode – Twickenham, St Margaret’s, Hampton and Teddington. In the future we hope to expand into more of the surrounding areas in South West London and Surrey. Our small dedicated team collect our four-legged friends with our custom fitted vehicles and chauffeur them to our private secure field where we spend our days socialising, exercising and playing. Keeping our collection areas small means that our dogs spend more time playing than they do travelling. We have separate areas for different age groups and temperaments, and cabins for shade in the summer and warmth in the winter so our dogs can have the best day out possible. Our rural location means they will benefit from fresh air, grass on their paws and they will see lots of other dogs, horses and plenty of birds from the nearby woodland and lake. Follow our Instagram @tw_dogs and Facebook page to stay up to date with all the goings on and for regular pup-dates.
Lockdown has been a great time for many to welcome a puppy into their home and we are already taking enquiries from owners who are keen to get their pup into day care as soon as we open again. It’s important to make sure that any potential day care for your pup is fully licensed and insured, and has separate areas for small puppies and older dogs. Ideally you would visit their facility, we’ll be doing so by video call in future. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to have a chat about your dog, for advice and to discuss your day care requirements.