Now that most people have a little bit more time at home, it is a great opportunity to start training, games, habits, that you’ve never had time to do with you pet. Perhaps you are not at home enough in the ‘normal’ scheme of things, but COVID has now given you an opportunity. Use this valuable time to foster a special bond with your pet and build on previous training to take them to whole new levels.
Why not train you pet a little further now that you have more time on your hands? With dogs the great method of positive reinforcement has been shown to work wonders. Simply reinforce good behaviours with a treat. You can even use a clicker (if you have one) for training. Follow each click with a treat and give a click any time the correct behaviour is seen. The reason for the clicker is because the human voice can have lots of variety, so in these early stages a definitive click is superior. Use clear, simple, one-word commands when teaching good behaviours to make sure they understand the message.
Did you know that clicker training has been used successfully on cats and other animals too? It is not exclusively to dogs. The reward-based training mechanism is a winner with most animals!
Perhaps set yourself a goal that after lockdown your pet will put their toys away by themselves…
Why not also play games with your pet? Perhaps hide their toys or treats around the place? Keep up their mental stimulation and encourage them to use their senses. Clearly, you don’t want to hide too much food/treats (especially if they don’t find it for a while!), but that can be a great incentive for playing a “scavenger hunt”.
Use chew toys like a Kong or a treat-puzzle Lickimat and stuff it with kibble/treats and see how long they take to remove the food. In the process, the chewing is great for stimulation and dental hygiene too.
You can train cats, as described above. You can also play with them! Sometimes all it needs is a ball that if bounced against a wall. Or a light/torch/laser pointer that you dart round the room with one hand (which you can even do semi-consciously while you do other tasks). Something like a wand toy works amazingly well, which you can also make your own. Simply attached a piece of string to a wooden rod/bit of bamboo and add a feather or suchlike to the end. If you have a suitable cat toy, attach that to the end! Catnip spray is also a great way of enticing them to play.
Take the opportunity during lockdown to make sure you handle them lots, so that they are not only friendly, but house-trained, and maybe even litter trained. You can use straw/hay as litter or wood pellet litters, like Oz-pet, Pet’s Dream, or Heaven Scent (something non-clumping). Place the litter box in the area in which they may have shown a preference to doing their business. Alternatively, some suggest putting some of their droppings into the litter box, so they recognize their natural scent, encouraging them to go. Encourage your pet to go to their litter box when you see signs of needing to go. They may not be perfect at it, but it will certainly help cage tidying!
Why not also get inventive and create some DIY toys for your small animals? It’s amazing what a bit of wood or cardboard can do!
Once this is all over, you may have to go back to work, and you won’t be around as often as your pet would like. How do you avoid the puppy eyes, or the purrkid that sits on your feet?
Give them some time space during the day too. While it might be exciting and fun to give them stimulation (especially if they are restless because you can’t get out and walk them), they also need to learn to entertain themselves. There will be a big difference between during lockdown and after lockdown, especially if you have children making noise around the place!
Let’s all see the positives in this COVID lockdown: we have been given extra time with our pets!