Now is the time to strengthen your bond with your pets and help them stimulate their minds and exercise their bodies. Let them live their best lives and you can live vicariously through your pet. Go ahead, we won’t judge!
Social distancing has forced us all to slow down and remain more isolated. How many of you are just waiting for the day when you can resume your normal routine? Most people aren’t enjoying the current quarantine, but our pets are loving this time with you! They are happy to have you home to play and snuggle with all day. They enjoy “contributing” to your video meetings, bringing you every toy they own, and showing you the best windows from which to watch the world go by. They are loving all of the one on one time with you. But you are growing sick of the same old squeaky toys and slimy tug ropes. You don’t want to sit next to your pet and stare out the window together at a squirrel. What to do?
Here are some top tips for enriching your pet’s life during quarantine:
1. Make mealtime fun!
Your pup or kitty might live for mealtimes, but giving them the same food in the same bowl day after day leaves a lot of room for new opportunities. Try giving your pet their dinner in a puzzle toy or treat dispenser so they have to work for their food. There are plenty of great puzzle toys out there but many of our clients love the Nina Ottosson puzzles or West Paw treat dispensers. To increase the difficulty let them go on a scent hunt around the house or in the backyard. Your pet has to search out his/her kibble under the dresser, behind the sofa, or on the corner of the stairs. To switch it up, try putting pieces of their kibble in cardboard boxes and move them around so they have to sniff out the correct box like the ASPCA does for scent enrichment.
Veterinarians contributing to PetMD suggest that hunting is a great way for your feline friend to satisfy their natural instincts while staying active to keep extra weight off. You can use cat treat toys or puzzles to get their minds engaged with their meal. For the low cost version, try cutting some holes in a shoebox and tossing their treats or kibble in there.
2. What’s that smell?
Speaking of scent enrichment, it’s a great way to entertain your pet (and you)! Modern Dog Magazine has a lot of good ideas for scent games and scent training with your pup, but you can also play with your kitty if she’s willing. Your cat may be more interested in “hunting” her scents, for a reward of course. But if your pup likes to use her sniffer then some of these games, like “Pick the Hand,” “Shell Game,” or “Scent Trails” with a favorite ball will go over very well with your four legged friend.
3. Brain Games
Let’s face it. Your pet is never going to be Albert Einstein. But dogs and cats need mental stimulation as much as physical exertion to stay fit and healthy. There are plenty of brain games to offer to your pet to see which sparks their interest. For cats, toys that encourage their predatory instincts to stalk, chase, and bite are very rewarding. But try to add in an additional piece of problem solving to the play by utilizing vertical space for stalking and incorporating puzzle toys or remote control mice.
Dogs enjoy a wide variety of games, so try out these or come up with your own! Fear Free Pets suggests setting up an indoor obstacle course for your pet to take on. Set up boards to walk across, ladders (closed and on the floor) to step over, boxes to sit on or crawl through, yoga mats to lie on, and much more. You can also try hide and seek! Let your dog search for his/her favorite thing – you! Have your dog sit and stay (or have a family member hold him/her) and then go into another room to hide. The better your dog gets the more creative you can get with the hiding spot, but don’t make it too hard at the beginning. When you’ve hidden call your release word and wait for your pup to find you. Make sure you give plenty of praise when they do!
Many of our pets can “shake” and maybe “roll over” on command. We’ve all heard of those basic tricks. But now that you have plenty of time at home how about spicing up your trick routine? Trick training is a great way to stimulate your dog’s brain while strengthening your bond. Be sure to train in increments of 10-15 minutes at a time and break more intricate tricks down into smaller parts to learn. If your pup only knows “shake” don’t expect him to immediately understand a complete trick routine. Stick with easier tricks initially until you both can work up to the more difficult tricks. Dogster.com has some great recommendations for fun tricks of varying difficulties. Why not teach your dog to “spin” or “high five?” For those more advanced tricksters try “make a wish” or “bow.” Domorewithyourdog.com has some great trick training ideas and even offers some free Facebook classes to help with learning how to trick train.
Cats can be trained too, but make sure you are using positive reinforcement! Many cats respond well to clicker training and targeting. Samantha Martin, the director of Amazing Acro-Cats, has clicker trained all of her rescue cats to perform tricks. You can try to teach your kitty “high five,” “go to bed,” or “come.”
Don’t forget to also brush up on your pet’s obedience and social skills. When you can go back out into the world, having solid obedience skills and critical thinking abilities in social settings can make spending time with your friends and family easier and more relaxing for both you and your pet. Being able walk on a loose leash, sit and stay, interact politely with other humans or dogs, and relax on a patio are all great skills for your pup to have in the larger world. The American Kennel Club and PetMD have some good tips on obedience training or contact a local trainer for ideas on how to begin or brush up on obedience training during quarantine.
Got bored kids as well as bored pets? Now is a great time to get your kids involved in caring for your pets. They may be able to help with some of the training or the games of hide and seek if they’re old enough, but what to do after that? There are plenty of DIY pet toys and homemade treats that you and your family can create to the everlasting joy of your pet (or at least until they’ve eaten or destroyed it)! Fear Free Pets offers some designs for creating a catnip toy out of a sock or a dangly toy they can bat at or chase. Dr. Marty Becker suggests adding feathers to a string for a “real” bird feel or cutting holes in a box to play “whack-a-mole” with a hot dog (if your pup is on a diet try a carrot instead of a hot dog).
Besides DIY toys, there are lots of recipes for homemade treats like the Marvelous Mutt Meatball, “Love My Puppy” peanut butter treats, Biscuit the Dog’s PB Banana treats, and more. For those non-bakers, freezing a Kong with peanut butter, plain yogurt, or pumpkin is a great treat for your pup. Add some kibble, banana, or blueberries for an interesting twist. Try the Paw-psicle from Animal Humane Society for your kitties. Mix hot water and tuna fish together and pour into a kitty sized container (like an ice tray or something smaller) and freeze.
6. Calling All Pet Models
Photographer Peter Scott Barta has some great suggestions for getting epic pet shots that could get you found as America’s Next Top Pet Model (it’s not a thing, but shouldn’t it be?). Try using a squeaky toy to get that focused look directly at your camera. For some fun you can put peanut butter on the roof of your pup’s mouth. Time for #tongueouttuesday! The Canine Journal also suggests getting down to their level when taking photos or photographing your pet with other family members, four legged, two legged, or stuffed. Some people have entertained themselves and their followers by dressing up their pets, but make sure your pet is having fun too! Don’t be shy about using those tasty bribes when trying out new costumes for your furry friend. If video is more your style, try fun shots with the slo-mo function on your phone or camera. Blowing bubbles at your pet or playing peekaboo can get some very funny shots!
7. Create a Zen Space
After all of that fun your pet may be wiped out. Consider creating a space just for him/her to relax in. The Animal Humane Society recommends finding an out of the way space in your home like under the stairs or in an unused corner to place a comfy bed, some blankets, and a few soft and hard toys for your pet to interact with. Dr Kayla Whitfield reminds readers that it is important for cats to have vertical space, especially when there are young kids or other pets in the house. Set up cat trees or cat shelves so they can hide above eye level in safety and comfort. Those cat trees and shelves can double as a play space for when they’re feeling feisty, but make sure if you have elderly cats that you give them easy access to those elevated places. Even cardboard boxes and cat gates to block off certain “cat only” areas can help your kitty feel more comfortable in their space and give them a special retreat. If your pet would rather relax close to you, think about putting a dog bed next to your desk (or wherever your home office might be) or dragging an extra chair close to you for your cat to feel like she can stay close while having her own space.
Check out what cutie pie Dundie the Doodle and his family have up their sleeve to combat their quarantine blues.
Now is a perfect time for this post because April is National Canine Fitness Month. Just be sure to keep an eye on how many treats you’re feeding your pet and take it out of their total calories for the day so they don’t gain weight with all this fun. So go ahead. Get your pup (or your kitty) started on a fun new routine to help them stay sane and in shape! What are you waiting for?