Sarah at Sarah Says Pets is reimagining the way we live with our pets. A renown author of over twelve dog training manuals including “Puppies for Dummies, 4th ed.” (Wiley and Sons Press, 2019), “Modern Dog Parenting” (St. Martin’s Press, November, 2016), Sarah Hodgson is a renowned pet trainer and behavior consultant for pet loving households. Visit SarahSaysPets for more information.
While we’re all adjusting to the new norm of social-isolation and restricted gatherings, pet people have the upper paw on ways to entertain themselves during a pandemic. Whether you love a dog, cat, or another animal, here are a few tips to entertain and keep the tails up in the coming weeks.
- Ditch the Dish. Don’t restrict feeding to a food dish or meal times anymore!
Pocket some to all of your pet’s meals and use it to reward your dog’s focus and cooperation throughout the day.
2) Language Swap. Take the time to learn your pet’s language as you’re teaching them to respond to your own. Print out my Doglish and Catlish chart, remember that animals use gestures instead of words to communicate. With dogs, use your arms like a tail waving them high to get their attention, or wiggle your fingers at their nose level to attract them when they are nearby. Cats love to brush up against the crook of your finger or side of your head. Be still and patient when showing your cat affection and remember the effectiveness of a slow blink: in Catlish is says I love you.
3) What They Really Want. Even furry family members value time spent one on one with you; Take some time to teach your pet cooperative leash skills, new tricks. or words like “come” and “stay.” Think of training like teaching English as a second language and speak to your pet like you’re talking to Siri or Alexa, in a clear, enunciated tone. Devote 5-10 minutes to training a day, pairing words to actions.
Need a little virtual assistance: log onto YouTube, my site or others, and use key words to search your skill. Need more help? Some trainers, like myself, offer virtual training; less-expensive and very helpful.
Cat learn as quickly as dogs, but with your cat, you need to stay calm and avoid direct eye contact or effusive physical praise, both viewed as threatening to cats. Work with high-value treats and practice new training skills when they are hungry and alert. The internet has tips for cat training too.
TIP: To teach your pet a new word or skill link the sound of a shaking cup of treats with new words and activities. By initially linking words to food rewards you’ll inspire your pet to take action. For example, say “Upstairs!” as you walk up the stairs shaking the cup and rewarding your pet along the way. Repeat 6-10 times: your pet will quickly alert to the new word as you say it. Repeat the same activity but this time back up as you shake and say Come! Phase off the treats but continually praise your dog and end learning time with a fun game.
4) Get (or at least peer) Outside! If you’re lucky enough to have a yard or live near a hiking trail, go outside! With treats in your pocket, turn yourself into an animated Pez dispenser, rewarding your dog or cat each time they glance or run your way.
Are you concerned about your pet running off? Purchase a long line or contact me for information about my Freedom Line: made of a unique material, they’re waterproof, as well as tangle and rope burn resistant. Check out the video! Coming in three sizes, they work whether you’re walking a rabbit or a ridgeback!
Bummer. Sassafras Lowery, in her NYT piece, provides tips on house training your dog to potty inside (yikes). Meanwhile, to keep spirits up, open the blinds and let the sunshine in. Sit at the window as you play and feed your pet to prevent isolation frustration. Now that TV is high-definition with stations that have species-specific shows, it’s easy to find something that your pets will enjoy!
If your pet overstimulates to birds or wildlife, or frustrates to being locked away, play Find it and use predatory play pole to redirect their impulses and attention.
5) Discover their Obsession Toy If you haven’t discovered your pet’s obsession toy or chew, use this time to do it! Most have a go-to toy that they seek out when visitors come, or life gets still.
One of mine loves a ball, the other a 3″ bee, and my puppy loves his Frisbee. Whatever you discover, get multiples of this toy, name it, and encourage your dog to find it when life gets too stressful or exciting. Before long, you won’t have to ask—you’ll know your dog wants to play, interact, or go for a walk based on the toy they’re holding!
6) Coddle their Passions Pets, like people, are very different. If you’re a cat person, your cat might love a ribbon toy, while mine prefers a feather toy. Got a dog? I have three! One of mine loves puzzle toys, from the overly expensive ones found on Amazon, or the one put together by hiding treats under tennis balls. My second dog is all tennis balls all the time, whereas my puppy dog, now 18 months old, prefers to chew. Discover your pet’s passion and their happy toys. Play daily!
On a side note, I am scheduling Agility Classes in Banksville, Greenwich, CT, at the end of April. I still hope to once the current crisis is over. During this downtime, we’ve cleaned up the jumps and hosed down the tunnels. Both my dogs and kids are thrilled. Interested in a dog sport? Now is a great time to explore new adventures!
7) Let them Chill Most pets are crepuscular, most awake at dawn and dusk; dogs and cats rest 75% of the day. Don’t feel guilty if they sleep a lot: most do in normal circumstances. Pack in fun in the morning, and at whatever time you usually would if the world were back on its axis–for us it’s between 4-to-5PM.
Meanwhile, do your best to keep everyone spirits up a tall task in scary times. Keep abreast of the latest AVMA pet news: they are asking veterinarians to pause elective surgeries and donate
And resist letting strangers pet your dog; while they can’t get Coronavirus, they could, in rare instances, transmit it. The linked article explains the possibility, though again the chances are slim.