Pet Safety: Keep Calm And Carry On

I live in a community that lights up the sky by setting off roman candles, skyrockets, and any other sort of firecrackers–legal or otherwise– guaranteed to delight thrill-seekers. Everyone else, not so much.

Buddy the Wonder Cat was a rescue who came to us at just three months of age, so we’ve had lots of time to create positive experiences for him. Still, those first three months on his own are etched in his memory, and the Feral Cat Within emerges in times of stress or pain and his first instinct is to hide.

My Rescue Kitty Buddy

We’ve done our best to create a calm environment for the holidays like the Fourth of July. We’ve managed Buddy’s anxiety by keeping doors and windows closed and fans running. We have one pedestal fan that’s so loud–even on its lowest setting–that I’m reminded of C-130 cargo planes and B-52 bombers. We set that up in the bedroom and watch one of his favorite non-scary movies. He’s still prone to diving under the covers, but otherwise he’s reasonably calm. We bolster that sense of calm with catnip, soft treats, and tickle-time with his favorite brush.

Fireworks tend to invoke an Aaugh!!! reaction in Sasha, although we’ve worked hard to help her manage anxiety over noise. Instead of barking wildly at every burst of thunder, for example, she’s more likely to grumble her way through a storm. We’ve conditioned her to be calm (well, calmer) through a barrage of fireworks by keeping her close beside me, and tossing tiny bits of cheddar cheese  or chunks of cucumber her way. She’s agreeable to Buddy’s choice of movies as long as there are no monsters, mummies, gunfights, or battle scenes. If she has to go out in the fenced backyard after dark, we keep her close by using a short leash. That seems to add a sense of security for her, as does having her travel crate set up next to the bed with a favorite toy for company. She clearly views that as her safe zone:

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Here are some helpful tips to remember:

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Wherever you are and whatever you celebrate, I hope you find ways to keep your pets calm and safe!

When Your Work-from-Home Colleague is a Dog

Photo credit: Mirjana Zidar/Shutterstock

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:

Or this:

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 Dog program. 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!

“Life’s short. Let’s play!” Photo ©S. A. Holmes

 

 

 

 

A “New Normal”

There’s a lot of uncertainty and misinformation swirling about these days, with terms like social distancing, pandemics,  self-isolation, quarantine, and shelter in place dominating conversations. And then there’s working from home. Some might find it challenging to work on their own and could feel a bit lonely. For anybody who shares their home with dogs and/or cats, though, they’re never alone!

With that in mind, let’s enjoy a glimpse of the “new normal” from a pet’s perspective…

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In Northern Ireland, working from home is attractive to more than just humans:

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Whether your new office mates are human, feline, or canine, the good folks at CHEEZEburger.com remind us to ask:

Stay calm, stay safe, and take time for yourself.

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Fun Around The House

 

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:

Better Homes & Gardens offers 8 ideas for indoor games: https://www.bhg.com/pets/dogs/dog-training/games-for-dogs/ The Muffin Tin game is #7 on their list. They chose a pricey tin, while I prefer the 99¢ version (and seriously, the dog is not going to know the difference!)

Whether your dog is a puppy or a grizzled senior, check out https://www.puppyleaks.com/brain-games/ for suggested activities sure to stimulate your dog.

Find more ideas at https://barkpost.com/life/12-rainy-day-entertainment-ideas-for-dogs/ (great site, by the way–check it out!) And if all that isn’t enough, BarkPost offers 33 more ideas sure to entertain both you and your dog!

Want to suggest other games and activities? Just add a comment!

Sheltie in down-stay

Sasha says “Let’s play!”