During a press conference last week, it was announced in no uncertain terms that “there shall be no walking of dogs. You can walk your dog inside your home”. This swiftly dashed both dog owners and runners’ visions of having daily walks and runs with their four-legged family members during lock down.
Karis Nafte, a dog trainer and animal behaviourist who runs a dog school in the Western Cape called Happy Dogs, saw this as an opportunity to create video lessons for dog owners to do with their dogs during lock down.
Karis, normally, runs 12 classes a week which include puppy training, beginning to advance obedience and her favourite agility*.
She also works both online and in person with people to help them deal with behaviour problems in their pets like aggression, destructive behaviour and anxiety issues. This often means helping divorcing couples make the best decision about who will get custody of their animals. She’s noticed that some behaviour problems can be traced back to the wrong custody decision being made during a divorce. She works with both parties to help determine what is best for their animal.
Karis grew up and studied in the USA and moved to South Africa 15 years ago; where she lives in Knysna with her husband, 11-year-old daughter, 4 dogs and 3 cats. She’s been training dogs professionally for 25 years. Over the years, her job has included working at the first doggy day care in Oregon, to puppy school, obedience training, therapy dog training, behaviour help for dogs with serious aggression problems, competing in dog sports and becoming an agility judge. She’s also a licensed wrangler to train animals for the film industry.
Every day during lockdown Karis is making a video which is posted on both her Instagram and Facebook pages. In what’s becoming a familiar lock down story, these videos have become a family activity. Her husband is the videographer and editor, her daughter, the assistant and her 4 dogs, the stars. While they’re filming the videos in their backyard so that it’s easier to watch, she assures us everything can be done indoors. The inspiration for her trick training came from working on movie sets with dogs and learning all the tricks that go on behind the camera.
On Training Dogs
I really love helping people and dogs improve their lives. Simple things like giving someone the confidence to run their dog off leash in the park can change that dog’s whole life. This job is as much about people as it is about dogs and I love the challenge of finding ways to communicate with my human and canine clients. Understanding dog behaviour makes people better owners and I love sharing what I know about animals.
On keeping your dog happy during lock down, without a daily walk
Firstly, know that your dog will get used to your new routine of not walking. Dogs adjust better than we give them credit for, so even if your dog is a bit antsy he/she will settle somewhat. Don’t assume your dog is depressed, they may just be settling into not walking and therefore no longer getting excited during the day like they used to about walk time. Your dog will get a bit lazy with you and that’s ok.
Create three “active” times a day for about 20 minutes when you focus on your dog and train/play/focus on them in a more dynamic way than the rest of the day. If you have special toys bring them out during those periods, and then hide them the rest of the time. Then your dog will know playtime is over for now. Play with the toys, do tricks, train them, practice “heel” in your living room, play fetch down the hallway.
Activities for dogs who live in apartments and flats with little or no outdoor space
Use your dog’s normal food in creative ways to make them use their brain when they eat. For example, take an old towel, spread your dog’s food (provided its dry pellets and not raw food!) on the floor and cover it with a towel so your dog has to root around to find it. Check my video on “dog lollies” for some simple ideas on freezing an ice cube tray with carrots, dog food and scrambled eggs.
You can also hide your dog’s food and let them use their nose to find it. (This is one way to start scent training for dogs, by the way.) Put them in another room, or on the other side of your flat. Put five or ten pieces of food on the floor and then tell them to “find it” and show them the area where the food is. Once your dog is confident, start hiding the food behind curtains, in shoes, etc. Using their noses keeps a dog’s mind active and will help make them tired.
And use your dog’s food to teach tricks with!
This inspiration behind her daily dog trick videos
I thought about all my students who come to school every week and wondered how I could help them keep their dogs from getting bored and frustrated at home. These videos give your dogs a chance to do something different every day, not just repeat what they did yesterday. Dogs who are good at learning new things are the easiest to train and have a stronger bond with their owner.
My idea was to create videos that only used normal things around the house, no special dog training equipment. I have four dogs of my own who I am using in the videos. As much as possible, I’m finding tricks my dogs don’t know how to do yet so I can show the mistakes and the whole learning process. Some online training videos use dogs who are already trained to demonstrate what do to, which can seem a bit inaccessible if your dog doesn’t seem to do what you want.
Yes, anyone with a dog can do it
I’ve made these so simple that any dog or puppy can do the tricks. There are some tricks that involve dogs stepping on a box or a chair, my one client who has a dog with three legs just uses a very low box so she can get up on it. The tricks are not complicated, but just different enough to keep your dog thinking with you.
People should use their dog’s normal meals for the tricks. This will help keep the waist lines down!
Where to find Karis and her dog training videos
Facebook Happy Dogs
Pet Training www.happydogs.co.za
Pet Custody Consultations www.karisnafte.com
*Agility is a dog sport where dogs go through obstacle courses, jumps, tunnels, etc. Its super fun for busy dogs.
With much thanks to Zissy and her platform for letting us share this original piece