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.
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!
Sasha is no fan of hot, humid weather. That’s why we’re out for our daily walk by 6 a.m. and home again before 7:30 a.m. at the latest. Depending on our route–and how often we have to detour or backtrack to avoid off-leash dogs and other challenges–we usually enjoy 1-2 miles a day. Even at that early hour, though, we stop for shade and water breaks as needed.
Knowing when to stop is easy: Sasha heads for a shady spot, goes straight into a down-stay, and waits for her water. We stop at least once and sometimes more often; I let her choose the time and place. I carry a Gulpy Jr. water dispenser on all our walks; it’s a BPA-free water bottle with its own tray. It’s small enough to fit comfortably in a pocket of my cargo shorts and large enough to keep her hydrated for our walks.
I’ve been experimenting with different leashes and harnesses on our walks. I keep looking for a hands-free leash, but have not yet found one we’re both comfortable with. Our current favorite harness is the SENSE-ation front-clip harness, although even that has its drawbacks (namely, sagging and “gapping” as noted in this review). I like the front-clip harness to help manage Sasha’s tendency to channel her inner sled-dog speed when trying to hurry past something that’s scary to her. In this video clip, she’s wearing her harness. You can see–and hear–that she’s anxious to get past something she doesn’t like (in this case, it’s a dog she can hear but not see behind a wooden fence):
Despite her anxiety, there are signs of progress most days. Here she’s locked on to bunny rabbits and robins in a yard. Previously, she’s been so focused that I couldn’t move her forward. I’d score this one a C+ because she did–eventually–move on:
And one last clip in which she’s demonstrating the “Look at that” behavior (she saw the neighbor’s dog) before focusing her attention back on me. Notice the slack in the leash? I’d score this one a solid B+, maybe even an A-. What do you think?
In the many months I’ve been working to help Sasha overcome anxiety after having been attacked by off-leash dogs, we’ve tried just about every strategy and training technique that’s been published on the subject. Like most things in life, some days we make more progress than others. Sasha is doing her best to be brave in scary situations, and I make sure she knows she’s loved and safe with me.
If we’re in a trigger-stacked environment, Sasha defaults to what I consider her “stress bark.” She’ll lock eyes on the target, lunge, and generally appear to warn off the other dog with fierce “Don’t come over here!” barking. This happens most often when unleashed dogs approach. If I spot the danger before she panics–and before the dog gets too close–I can persuade her to turn away and move on with me. I’m glad to report we’ve had fewer interactions with unleashed dogs recently, and the dogs we see on our walkabouts have been far enough away that we’ve avoided major distress.
I looked back through the training log this morning and noticed a definite pattern of improvement emerging. While experts might shake their heads over our methods, I’ve seen the best results when I let Sasha choose how to react. Sometimes she’ll park herself next to me when we see someone on the opposite side of the street walking our way with a leashed dog. She won’t make much eye contact with me, preferring instead to focus on the treats in my hand. In between nibbles she’ll toss occasional glances at the dog and a short bark or two.
We’ve made progress when passing dogs behind fences, too. Wherever possible I will cross the street to put more distance between Sasha and the other dogs, but until recently that didn’t reduce the stress reaction. Lately, though, I’ve seen different behavior. I can tell from her tone, and the brevity of her response, that it’s a “Hello there!” sort of bark. Initial greetings completed, Sasha then hurries along, muttering softly while looking anywhere but back at the dogs. The mutters stop when we get past the yard, and her pace slows as well. It’s almost as though she’s determined to ignore the distraction and convince herself all is well. The online dictionary Wiktionary describes this sort of behavior as “whistling past the graveyard” in an attempt to seem calm in the face of something frightening.
Every day I see her inching past her fear as she explores the world around us. Yesterday we saw two dogs–a Dachshund/Chihuahua mix (her owner says she’s a “chiweenie”) and a 12-year-old Cocker Spaniel. I confess to an “oh no” moment when I saw them, as the chiweenie has charged off-leash in our direction once before. This time, the dogs were leashed and moving away from where we stood diagonally across the intersection. Sasha saw them, barked once and then just stood there, watching them. (Cue the trumpets!) We followed a block back and Sasha was calm and interested the whole time. She barked just twice, and was rewarded for stopping and looking. From there, it was an easy step to “Let’s Go!”
Of all the strategies we’ve tried, the “Look At That” counter-conditioning approach yields the most consistent results. Here’s a video explaining the LAT approach:
My goal is to help Sasha become more confident wherever we go. The “Look at that!” counter-conditioning approach has helped us both enjoy our daily walks. If you have a reactive dog, you might give LAT a try.
Two years ago, we introduced Buddy The Wonder Cat to Sasha. We’d been a one-cat household since Katie, our 14-year-old Calico, passed away, and without a dog for 17 years since losing our beloved spaniel Alix. It’s fair to say we were a bit nervous about bringing home a rescue with an unknown history but we hoped Buddy, being the (mostly) mellow kitty he is, would eventually accept the newcomer.
Those early weeks were a challenge for everyone involved. It helped, I think, that we let Buddy stake out his preferred territory—which included the bed, the upstairs guest rooms, my lap, and the office. Buddy make it clear, right from the start, that the office was his domain, as evidenced here the day after we brought Sasha home:
The backyard became neutral territory, and as the days warmed into spring the two of them slowly became comfortable together:
They grew so comfortable with each other that Buddy supervises all the training sessions and joins in play time:
And when Sasha injured her leg and had to be confined to her crate, Buddy first tried to unzip the screen to help her escape. When that didn’t work, he stayed as close as he could:
They share most of the water bowls scattered through the house, although Sasha tends to ignore the bowl in the laundry room where Buddy is prone to wash his paws. Sasha also ignores the water bowl next to her food dish at the end of the kitchen island. That, too, is Buddy’s territory, where he likes to fish for ice cubes (really!) while he watches Sasha eat. I feed him first, having discovered that Sasha won’t start eating until Buddy comes to keep her company. Between his enthusiastic splashing and Sasha’s habit of drinking at the edge of the bowl and dribbling water in the process, all the water bowls have catch plates under them. The kitchen bowl is currently Buddy’s preferred place to dunk strings, grass, and miscellaneous things he drags in from the yard, so he has plenty to keep him occupied while Sasha eats.
I generally feed them early mornings and late afternoons, with the water bowls picked up before meals for cleaning. Yesterday, I gave Sasha a snack of cucumbers (her favorite treat) mixed with her kibble, hoping to help her calm down after yet another dog charged us during our afternoon walk. I’d intended to feed Buddy next, but he’d apparently decided food came second to offering sympathy and support for Sasha: