By Arden Moore
There is no argument that our pets love us tremendously and unconditionally. But after more than two months stuck spending 24/7 with us in our homes, dogs and cats may be running out of patience with us and clamoring for some me-time.
They may express this by acting out. Just like us, our pets are adjusting to this new norm created by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Your calm dog may now unleash a bark barrage every time an Amazon delivery person puts a package on your porch. He may feel the need to be extra vigilant because you are homebound.
Your usually affectionate cat may now let out a hiss or dash away when you approach to pet him for the 10th time of the day. In his feline way, he is saying, please let me enjoy an uninterrupted nap.
Changes are noticeable even in the homes of pet behavior experts.
“My dog, Maverick, is thoroughly enjoying the increased opportunities to beg for food and clean up the floor as we are eating most meals at home,” says Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist who runs the Florida Veterinary Behavior Services in West Palm Beach and is the co-author of a best-selling book, From Fearful to Fear Free: A Positive Program to Free Your Dog from Anxiety, Fears and Phobias. “I think that he will miss this most when we all go back to work and school.”
And what about her cat, Chewie?
“Our kitty was very attached before, but now he has become our shadow,” says Radosta. “We are trying to make sure that he is very enriched and spends some time away from us each day because we are concerned that he will have a bit of separation anxiety when we go back to work.”
Lack of mental and physical stimulation can prompt some pets to become hyperactive, engage in inappropriate chewing (like on your coffee table legs), paw your leg for attention, engage in marathon barking or meowing, surf kitchen counters and other unwanted behaviors.
Solution: You need to find the “joy factor” in your pet. That idea motivated Radosta and her team to launch an online learning program called Dog Nerds. It is available to anyone in Palm Beach County and beyond who seeks help to keep dogs feeling happy and secure.
You can get your paws on her free e-book, Stuck at Home with a Bored Dog, at https://therealdognerds.com/site/. Here is a sampling of the 27 tips she shares to bring out the best in your dog:
1. End mealtime boredom by scattering his dog food in your yard or hide piles in your home for your dog to find to bring out his inner hunter. On occasion, go bowl-free at mealtime for your cat and have him hunt for his kibble pieces in a closed room like a bathroom.
2. Try different walking routes so your dog can experience novel sights, sounds and smells.
3. Relax your dog (and cat) by playing specific relaxing music, such as classical, reggae or soft rock. Music can also mask environmental sounds that cause some dogs to stress bark, such as a ringing doorbell.
4. Redirect your gotta-dig dog away from your garden or sofa pillows by making or buying a snuffle mat. These mats work a dog’s brain and tap his strong sense of smell as he searches through the mat for hidden food or treats. Here’s a link if you want to create your own snuffle mat: https://iheartdogs.com/diy-let-your-dog-dig-for-food-and-treats-in-this-entertaining-mat/.
As we take steps to resume our work and travel schedules interrupted by COVID-19, use this time to help your pets make this transition for their sense of security — and to reduce their feelings of separation anxiety or frustration.
Radosta offers a win-win plan for you and your pets.
“Now is the time to prepare for what is coming,” she says. “For our dogs and cats, that is about independence and enrichment. We want to make sure that they have things to do which do not involve the pet parent so that they are not completely reliant on the pet parent for happiness.”
Start now by putting your dog in his crate or carrier or closed spare room for about 15 to 60 minutes a day with a favorite stuffed food toy. Or take a walk without him.
“Try to shoot for some independence for your dog,” Radosta says. “We want your dogs to know that you are still leaving sometimes, and they will be OK.”
Cats also need time away from us each day. I have resisted the temptation to wake up my orange tabbies, Casey and Rusty, when they are cuddling together on the couch.
“They have been lying on our laps 24/7 for more than six weeks now,” Radosta says. “Get to shopping online for toys that will occupy your cat. Catit (https://usa.catit.com) makes some great toys. Save the boxes and packing material for your kitty. These can provide them with hours of fun.”
I recently adopted a stray small dog during this pandemic and named her Emma. As much as I love spending 24/7 with her, I have followed Radosta’s savvy advice. As I write this column in our backyard office, Emma — and the rest of my furry Brady Bunch — are napping in the main house.
And I now limit tossing tennis balls to Kona, my terrier mix, to two or three times a day.
Everyone, including pets, needs and deserves some me-time. Emma, Kona, Casey and Rusty definitely.