With the glow of the festive season having worn off and January bringing colder, darker nights, it’s easy for many people to feel a little low during this time. While feeling gloomy in January is mainly associated with humans, did you know that our furry friends can suffer from the winter blues too?
To help dog owners in the run up to Blue Monday on 15th January, dubbed the ‘most depressing day of the year’, LORNA WINTER, Co-founder of puppy training app Zigzag and a Director of the UK Dog Behaviour and Training Charter, shares her top tips for checking your puppy’s low mood and how to ensure they stay happy over the darker, colder months.
How to tell if you pup is feeling blue:
- Sudden Changes of Behaviour
The easiest way to tell if your pup is feeling out of sorts is if their behaviour suddenly changes. Perhaps your playful puppy is suddenly sleeping away the day. Or maybe your calm dog is suddenly restless and aggressive. Any sudden mood or activity changes should prompt dog owners to give their pup some extra love.
- Loss of Appetite
Every dog owner knows that pup’s have large appetites, so it can be very strange when they suddenly refuse their favourite food. Keep an eye on what your pooch is eating during these winter months. If their bowl often remains full, it can be a sign they’re feeling a little low and it’s vital that this is monitored so the puppy doesn’t lose too much weight or become ill. A good way to tell this is, popping their favourite snacks in their bowl to see if they still reach for them! If they don’t, then you know they may be feeling down.
- Stress Relieving Actions
Dogs meditate, just like their owners. Actions like yawning, licking, sniffing, gentle shaking, and digging are all ways that puppies can regulate their stress. It’s healthy to let them get on with it. However, if your pup is yawning constantly, it’s definitely a sign that something isn’t right.
If your puppy is exhibiting signs of sadness, it can be very scary as a pet owner who wants their pet to thrive. Thankfully, there are several easy ways to improve your dog’s mood.
My top tips for boosting your puppy’s mood
- No Work, ALL PLAY
Playing games with your pup is vital for both their physical and mental development. Did you know that puppy brain games such as food toys and puzzles activate parts of the brain that are used in hunting, which can make it very enjoyable for them?
As well as satisfying your pup’s natural instincts, and hopefully stop them from gnawing away at your sofa or favourite pair of shoes, teaching them a new game is the perfect opportunity to bond with your pup and make them feel loved.
Setting up Home Agility Jumps is one of my favourites, and your pup’s going to love this high energy game that can be played from the comfort of their own home.
How to play:
- Set up a couple of books into two piles and pop broom handles between them to make a jump. Keep the books at low levels while they’re still growing so they don’t hurt themselves.
- Throw a toy or a treat over the jump and see if your puppy will go over. If they do, woah that’s definitely worth a good reward.
- If your pup is good at this game, add more jumps in a row or add other materials to make an exciting agility course. You might even have a future Crufts winner!
- This game is also great for teaching obedience and waiting.
Another fun game, which doubles up as a great heel walking training, is My Little Shadow. Have you ever wanted your pup to look at you in the same way it might a bag of chicken liver treats? Well, look no further.
How to play:
- Rule number one: always load your pouch with yummy treats
- Start with your puppy on a lead and just walk forwards. If they stay with you then give them some verbal praise and reward them with a treat
- If they get ahead of you, turn 180 degrees away from them and pop the treat on the floor, making sure your pup sees you do this, so they come for the treat!
- As they’re eating the treat, keep walking forwards slowly and then reward them when they catch up with you (don’t walk too fast as pups legs are small!)
- As they get the hang of it, start going forwards, backward, sideways, over obstacles and around trees – and your pup should be just like your little shadow!
One of the most simple games that is guaranteed to make your pup instantly happy is Best Dog in the World, because we all think we have the best dog in the world, right?
How to play:
- Have your pup’s favourite toy in your pocket
- Call your pup using a bright and happy tone
- When they come to you, get down on the floor telling them that they are the best pup in the world. If your pup likes cuddles and strokes, you can indulge in a few before then letting them play with their toy. If your pup isn’t a cuddle monster, just give them the toy to play with straight away.
- They will be LOVING all the attention they’re getting from you. Who wouldn’t?
The best thing about these games is that they can be played indoors and outdoors, so you can keep your pup entertained no matter the weather.
- Relax with your pooch
The simplest things such as playing jazz or sticking on a relaxing show could help your pup to chill out and relieve anxiety on their special day.
Did you know that dogs love classical music and smooth jazz? A study by Queen’s University Belfast found that dogs who were exposed to Mozart settled down more quickly than those who listened to other genres of music. Mozart also showed better results than silence or even playing the Harry Potter audiobook! Who knew puppies had such refined taste?
Another study found that watching Bridgerton can help your pup to chill out – for every hour spent watching the show, dogs in the study spent an average of 37 minutes sleeping or lying around!
- New walkies!
As puppy parents, I’m sure that going for walks is a regular part of your daily routine already. However, by mixing up the daily walk and taking a new route, you can stave off your pup’s boredom!
Experiencing new sights and smells is also great for a dog’s mental stimulation and natural curiosity. Why not make it part of your New Year’s Resolution to take a look online for a new dog friendly place to walk or parks nearby to treat your pup to an exciting new adventure!
Additionally, there are lots of local dog walking groups and puppy socialisation classes. After all, pups are very sociable animals so this is a sure way to give them a dopamine hit!
January can be a bleak time of year for us all, but don’t forget our canine companions can also suffer with the winter blues. There are so many ways to make these colder, darker days a little easier for our pups. From brain training games, relaxing music and therapeutic shows to adventurous walks and new friends, there is no better way to spoil your pup this Blue Monday and ensure they feel happy and loved!