By Brie Kuna
Remote work, social distancing, and self-quarantine can be difficult for a lot of people, but do you know who is going to love it? Your pet! Here are some tips and tricks to have fun with your pup while staying home and safe.
Every free moment you have with your pet at home is a chance to have fun, including dinner. Toss out your pet’s bowl and find new ways to feed them, like homemade puzzles or treasure hunts. You can roll their dinner in a towel and challenge them to a game of tug, or toss it and watch your pup devour every kibble in the folds. Build a trail of food around the house and see how long it takes them to find it all or hide piles of kibble around the room. Beside buying you time to finish dinner for the family, that mental stimulation is as important as a walk around the block for your pet. Don’t forget the adage, “one man’s trash, is another dog’s treasure,” and recycle every box and paper tube for puzzles. Toilet paper tubes make easy, disposable treat pockets and empty Amazon boxes are great hiding spots for their favorite toys and snacks. You can stack the boxes, leave some empty like three-card Monte, or stash them around the house as your dog plays Sherlock Holmes.
Looking for a great way to keep yourself busy as well? Teach an old dog (or even cat) new tricks! Maybe your pet is the sit and stay master, but can they do it when you’re hosting a one-person dance party or playing hide and seek? Each time you add a distraction or challenge, you are increasing their ability at the trick, which is helpful when you need them out of the kitchen or off the couch. Looking for fun Instagram posts? Make your dog or cat a star by teaching them “high five!” It’s super adorable and post worthy but is an important form of touch training, which is the basis of almost all dog and cat training. Cat training? Absolutely! They are smart, love treats, and can be taught almost anything a dog can learn (flyball might be a little outside of their skill set). If your pet isn’t the best about vet visits or nail trims, work on “chin rest.” Training your pet to place their head in your hands is the perfect Snapchat story, but is also important for consent. They are choosing to initiate contact, and they get rewarded, which is important when they need a vaccine or a manicure.
When it’s time to finally head back to work, set your pet up for success by “social distancing” a few times a day to help the transition. Dogs thrive with routine, and you have worked hard to develop what works. All of that can be lost after three or more weeks of constant contact together, and can lead to separation anxiety, destructive tendencies, or loss of appetite. Go for a walk by yourself, take a drive and watch the sunset, but make that “me” time. Your pets love you so much, so help them keep a schedule and stay happy.
This is a time of uncertainty and worry. Find the silver lining and build a stronger relationship with your pet; Their love in return will be worth anything you feel like you’re missing in the world.
Brie Kuna is the behavior team lead and a dog trainer at the Arizona Animal Welfare League, the state’s oldest and largest no-kill shelter.