Updated: May 24
There are only so many hours in a day, and as people spend more and more time working to make ends meet and “fit it all in,” something’s gotta give. Because so many lives are ruled by e-calendars, we often fail to pencil in enough time with our pets. Add to that the limited daylight hours and not-so-enjoyable winter weather and we find exercise is neglected, and mental stimulation can be non-existent. Pets and humans alike are becoming increasingly less healthy, and more obese. Lack of appropriate mental and physical exercise for pets also often results in less than desirable behaviors. For example, attention seeking behavior like stealing things and engaging in catch-me-if-you-can games, destructive chewing, jumping, excessive barking or meowing, and more seem to arise when pets are not active enough. Such behavior is often the leading reason for why pets are given to animal shelters and euthanized. Add to all this the fact that the less time we spend directly with our pets, the weaker the bond becomes. Strong human-animal bonds – like all relationships – must be nurtured and tended.
But do not fret yet - there are things you can do!
Enroll in a dog class! There are a variety of quality classes that you and your dog may enjoy. You should have plenty of homework to practice between weekly sessions and your dog will appreciate every minute. There are countless benefits including socialization, exercise and enhancing the bond with your dog.
Install kitty TV. Install a soft spot in front of a window - a bench, a cat tree, or an actual window perch. Try adding a bird feeder outside the window for an extra good "show" or setting up a securely covered and sturdy aquarium. They are like kitty TV where the channel is always changing. You can also buy or build a kitty condo with spots for climbing, hiding, perching, napping, and scratching.
Ditch the food bowl! Use food bowls for water only, and feed all meals out of interactive food toys instead! Kong Wobbler, Kibble Nibble, Eggcersiser, and many other excellent interactive toys are perfect to put treats or food inside to engage natural foraging and hunting behaviors.
Make the dog walk about the dog! Do you do the same route, same pace, same time very night = BORING! Change it up! Make walks more fun and interesting for both you and the dog! Walk in a new direction, then let the dog decide which direction to go, how fast to walk, where to turn, when to stop, and when to start again. For example, at an intersection, let your dog decide whether to turn left or right, go straight, or turn back (obviously, guidance and leash manners are still a must. Even though it can get incredibly annoying, sniffing is something dogs HAVE to do. Mental stimulation and exploration are a major part of doggie brain power.
Think INSIDE the box! Leave paper bags or boxes open, on their side, on the floor (or buy or make cute fabric "cat tents") for fun kitty hiding and napping spots. Dangle toys, incorporate carpet remnants or cardboard nail scratchers, sprinkle cat nip, and keep changing the position and location of these hiding spots for extra investigation incentive. Put them in new rooms or under the table or behind the couch. Cats are smart, inquisitive creatures that like to check out new things Two’s company! If your pet is open to the idea, adopt a new pet to keep your resident pet company while you are away or as a playmate.
Given ‘em a break! Hire a pet sitter, neighbor, or friend to visit and play with cloistered kitties during the day while you are at work. Play dates with other dogs, safe dog parks, doggie day care, and dog walkers are also options for canine companions.
Clicker training! #markertraining or #clickertraining is a great way to teach pets very cool tricks, challenge bored brains, and stretch underused muscles. Don't know how? Check out my upcoming Intro to Clicker - Why, What, and How workshop in Warwick RI!
Exercise, interactions, and dedicated one-on-one time are excellent ways to not only keep your pets mentally and physically fit, but also strengthen your relationship. With a little effort, you and your pet can be happy and healthy for many years to come!