My Sheltie Sasha’s best friend is Buddy The Wonder Cat, and he’s 10 years old today!
Buddy the Wonder Cat came to us as a feral kitten, 10 weeks old and weighing just 2½ pounds. Since he joined our household, we’ve discovered he’s a champion jumper (as long as he doesn’t have to jump higher than the laundry room counter). He’s capable of holding a grudge when he thinks he’s been wronged, and he mumbles and grumbles and flat-out worries whenever Sasha goes to the vet clinic or groomers without him.
He’s taught Sasha how to play hide-and-seek as well as the muffin tin game. Since I started teaching Sasha tricks, Buddy has turned into quite a coach. When Sasha achieved Novice level, Buddy promptly claimed the ribbon and dragged it up the stairs. (Upstairs is HIS territory.)
Our boy is an avid TV fan, too. He loves to watch The Detectorists, The Brokenwood Mysteries, and Midsomer Murders with the original Chief Inspector Barnaby. And he never misses the Westminster Kennel Club dog show or a soccer tournament. (Sasha, on the other hand, sleeps through it all.)
When he’s not watching TV or chasing catnip treats, you can find Buddy tending to his collection of strings. He keeps them by his kibble dish and likes to drag them, one at a time, into his food dish or water bowl. His current obsession, though, is sliding and surfing across the oak floors on sheets of shipping paper.
In celebration of life ongoing, here’s a slideshow of the best of Buddy the Wonder Cat through the years.
Thinking of giving someone a puppy this holiday season (or any time of the year)? Award-winning Certified Animal Behavior Consultant Amy Shojai offers eight questions worth considering before you make your final decision. Take a look:
Is the recipient already overwhelmed with other responsibilities that require his or her complete attention? A person who is coping with financial stress, sick family members, or a demanding job may not be able to maintain a puppy.
Does this person spend a great deal of time away from home? If so, is there someone at home who can dedicate time to puppy care?
Does the recipient have the space to house another member of the family?
Can this person afford a puppy? Even a healthy dog is a financial responsibility; pet food and well pet care are not cheap. If the puppy turns out to have medical issues, the costs could run into the thousands.
How stable is this individual? A new puppy may seem like a good way to help someone become more responsible, but the reality is that puppies are not training wheels; they need responsible, caring homes from the moment they arrive.
Is this person going through (or about to go through) major life changes? A couple expecting a baby, a recent high school or college graduate, or a senior whose health is declining are all examples of people who probably do not need a puppy in their lives.
Will the new puppy owner survive to care for the dog over the next 10 to 20 years? This question should be asked when you are considering the idea of giving a puppy to a lonely senior. If that individual is not likely to outlive the pet, will you be willing and able to give it a home?
If you are giving a puppy to a child, are the child’s parents supportive of the idea? Children delight in puppy presents for holiday surprises, but breathing gifts cannot be shoved under the bed and forgotten when the latest must-have gadget has more appeal. Remember—even if Fido is for the kids, the parent ultimately holds responsibility for the well-being of the pet. Will the child’s parents have the time to spend on one-on-one attention a new pet needs and deserves?
Read the rest of the article at The Spruce Pets. And be sure to check out Amy’s website, too. You’ll find great info about her fiction as well as her non-fiction books. In addition to authoring more than two dozen pet care books, she also writes “dog-centric” thrillers.
Let’s close out the year on a high note! Here’s a slideshow of pups in winter, courtesy of photographers who share their work via the website Pexels.com.
Between the pandemic, rising temps, and the dust from the Sahara, our outdoor activities have been curtailed through June. In pursuit of new ways to keep Sasha entertained–and exercised–I turned to the American Kennel Club’s website and discovered cool tips and tricks for indoor fun. I compiled a few of my current favorites here. Enjoy!
Search & Snuffle
If you’ve been following Sasha’s story, you may remember that the coffee bean grinder initially terrified her. (See, for example, posts here and here.) These days, she knows coffee time equals treat time and comes running in to wherever I might be to claim her prize. I usually roll a tiny treat across the oak floors so that she has to search for it. Great game for kitties, too! When I’m tossing a treat for Buddy The Wonder Cat, I make sure it lands in an open area so he can pounce and pat and knock it all about before he eats it.
Snuffle mats are another way to keep your dog mentally stimulated. As I mentioned in previous posts, snuffle mats can be a great way to distract your pup while you’re working at home. And with you close by, you’ll both enjoy the activity. Some like to hide the breakfast kibble in a mat and let them forage for their food. There’s a rich variety of mats available online, and you can easily find sources with a quick Google search. Personally, I prefer the “use what you have” approach. I alternate between an old, loosely woven throw rug, a blanket from Sasha’s crate, and a large bath towel. This morning I used an extra-large old towel and rolled it very tight, tucking treats in at random intervals. It took her nearly ten minutes of concentrated attention to discover the treats.
Snuffle mats can be a great introduction to scent work. I like to give Sasha time with the Muffin Tin game (supervised by Buddy The Wonder Cat, of course.) I’ll hide a bit of hot dog or cheese in a few of the cups, while others use this as a way to make dinner time fun. Here’s a great video from YouTube showing how it works:
Ready for more advanced scent work? Here’s information about the sport of Scent Work, courtesy of the AKC:
Fascinating fact: Dogs have a sense of smell that’s between 10,000 and 100,000 times more acute than ours! The sport of Scent Work celebrates the joy of sniffing, and asks a dog to sniff to their heart’s content; turning your dog’s favorite activity into a rewarding game. It is a terrific sport for all kinds of dogs, and is a wonderful way to build confidence in a shy dog.
In so many dog sports the handler is in control but this isn’t true in Scent Work. Neither the dog nor handler knows where the target odor is hidden. The handler has to rely on the dog, and follow the dog’s nose to success. In Scent Work, it is the canine who is the star of the show.
The sport of Scent Work is based on the work of professional detection dogs (such as drug dogs), employed by humans to detect a wide variety of scents and substances. In AKC Scent Work, dogs search for cotton swabs saturated with the essential oils of Birch, Anise, Clove, and Cypress. The cotton swabs are hidden out of sight in a pre-determined search area, and the dog has to find them. Teamwork is necessary: when the dog finds the scent, he has to communicate the find to the handler, who calls it out to the judge.
Whatever your dog’s age, you can help them stay toned and limber withconditioning exercises. Use whatever’s handy around the house as props, and grab some yummy treats. If you’re counting calories or just not a fan of treats, use your happy voice, or reward your pup with a favorite toy you’ve tucked away and bring out only on special occasions.
Sasha and I have just begun working on the “step stool stroll.” Sounds easy, doesn’t it? The expression “Yeah, no” seems an apt description, at least for my efforts here. Give it a try and see for yourself. Here’s info from the AKC:
The idea is for your dog to walk around a step stool with their front paws on the stool and back paws on the ground. Although it may sound easy to you, dogs generally lack rear end awareness—where their front paws go, their back paws follow. This exercise really gets your dog thinking about what each paw is doing. If you have a small dog, try using a large book that has been duct-taped closed. For large dogs, an upside-down storage bin can do the trick.
Start by teaching your dog to place only the front paws on the prop. Once your dog is comfortable, encourage movement to either side while the front paws stay elevated. You can do this by luring your dog with a treat. Or you can shape the behavior by capturing any back paw movement and slowly building to a 360-degree turn around the stool.
There are more exercises and “how to” instructions available online. Check them out!
And finally, here’s something for the humans in the household. Learn about dog breeds and sports while strengthening math skills–a great idea for these learn-from-home days. According to the AKC:
Math Agility features fifteen playable dog breeds, as well as 60 different breed cards to unlock. To advance in the game, players solve quick math facts, with the option of focusing on addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Players take twelve tours across the game’s map to compete in different agility trials across the United States, eventually ending up at the National Championship in Perry, Georgia. Tours are available in three skill levels, appealing to students of various ages and academic levels.
As this pandemic drags on, many of us still fortunate to be employed are working from home and doing our best to juggle the chaos that can result when mixing professional obligations with life at home. Add in a dog that wants to be a part of everything you do and this is what you get:
And then there’s the one who insists on a front row seat:
Or maybe your dog prefers to get your attention by barking. If you’re using online meeting venues, that can be downright disruptive–especially if you’re online with your boss or a colleague who might not appreciate your pup’s “contributions” to the conversation.
My dog Sasha had a habit of barking whenever I was listening to recorded presentations or whenever she heard strangers’ voices during a Zoom or Microsoft Teams session. At first I tried shutting the doors separating my home office from the rest of the house, but that didn’t solve the problem. Eventually, I realized I needed to give Sasha more physical and mental stimulation. When I focused on giving her the attention she deserves, the result was a happy, quiet dog who now naps while I’m in online meetings. If this sounds like something you might need, read on for some simple ideas to help you and your dog.
Exercise. This is good for both of you! If you can go outside, walk briskly through the neighborhood. Have an enclosed yard or other area in which you can safely take your dog off-leash? Toss a ball or Frisbee–even a stick–to get your pup running. Sasha won’t chase after a ball (although she’ll watch Buddy The Wonder Cat chase after anything we throw). Challenge your dog to a “race”across the backyard, and reward with praise and a low-calorie treat. The 10-15 minutes spent exercising will make you both happy!
Indoors, use the stairs or a treadmill if available. You can also create your own obstacle course using chairs, tables, and anything that requires you to navigate your way around objects. Put on some lively music and with your dog on-leash, weave your way around the “course” you’ve created. Vary the route and pace. You might be surprised by the energy you expend with such simple activities.
One fun way to exercise body and mind is to practice Rally Obedience activities. This is a team sport that’s fun for people–and dogs!–of all ages. With kids at home right now, this could be a great way to help them focus while bonding with the family dog. To learn more, check out https://www.akc.org/sports/rally/.
Training time. I’ve adapted the format common in “learn a new language” CDs. I start with a two-minute refresher of the basics (sit, stay, etc.) and then focus our energies on something new and fun. We’ll toss a stuffed squeaky toy across the room; once Sasha pounces on it we encourage her to “Bring it!” and sweeten the deal with a bit of cheese or some other special savory treat. She’s good for a half-dozen rounds before she signals “that’s enough!” with a short bark. Since each round involves a lot of running back and forth, she’s getting plenty of exercise and earning those treats!
Whatever you choose to do, mix and match activities and vary the complexity of tasks, and train in short bursts of time. Ten minutes of fun can be a terrific stress-buster!
Search-and-Find games. Put your dog in a sit/stay or down/stay. Make sure they can’t see you as you hide treats around the house, and then release them with “Find it!” (Get the kids involved and you can get work done while they’re all busy.)
Looking for something different? Hold off on the dog’s breakfast and instead let them “forage” for their meal. Use a snuffle mat to hide some/all of their morning kibble and watch them work for their meal. If you’re a crafty sort, see this site to learn how you can make a snuffle mat. If you’d rather buy one ready-made, check out these recommendations from PetGuide and Amazon.
If you prefer something simpler, grab an old (washable) blanket and fold it multiple times to create layers in which to hide kibble or treats. Bits of cheese or hot dog work, too!
Puzzle toys are another great resource when you want your dog’s attention focused away from you and your keyboard. Kong toys stuffed with peanut butter seem to be perennial favorites, and they’re a quiet source of fun. The Dog People have a list of popular toys, and you can find more at Chewy.com or your favorite pet shop.
Need more ideas to keep your dog’s attention away from your keyboard? Check out the AKC’s Trick Dogprogram. Sasha earned her novice certificate after just one day’s focused training session. Give it a try–it’s fun for people and pets alike!
A closing thought: we’re living in stressful times. Take care of yourself and those you love!
When the sleet and snow is falling and temps are hovering just above freezing, what’s a dog owner to do? In our house, favorite activities include Find It, when I leave Sasha in a long down-stay and then stash tiny treats in odd places. (I try to change up the locations to keep her working.) I think her favorite version might include searching for treats I’ve hidden within a folded blanket. I tried the same with a towel, but Miss Smarty-Pants Sheltie quickly figured out she could grab the towel and shake it so the treats fall out.
Another favorite is the Muffin Tin game. With Sasha in a sit/stay or down/stay (I like to vary the commands), I place a treat in some of the muffin tin holes and add a tennis ball to each hole–including those without treats. (Sasha is a “peeker” so I have to leave her in a different room while I set up.) Sasha had a bit of trouble nudging the balls out until Buddy The Wonder Cat showed her what to do. Sasha now sets the balls aside to get the treats while Buddy enjoys rolling and tossing the balls. I’ve considered teaching Sasha to replace the balls in the tin when she’s done digging for treats but I don’t want to spoil the cat’s fun!
Buddy The Wonder Cat encourages Sasha
Here are some other ideas for games and activities I found while browsing the Internet: