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COVID-19 has given us a new normal, necessitating social distancing, working from home, and increased sanitation measures. These are very unique times for most people, including pet owners. A silver lining is that this time indoors can be used to connect with your pet in new and fun ways. Check out the suggestions below to help you and your pet bond, exercise, and avoid going stir crazy.
In addition to the many health benefits of massage, spending some personal time with your pet can be a calming and centering practice for you as well. Click here for our article on how to provide relief and comfort for your pet through massage. While this article was written with dogs in mind, the techniques can be used on cats as well, though they may be a little less tolerant.
This is a great opportunity to practice some basic strengthening techniques. Here are a few easy exercises that you can do on a daily basis that will not only stimulate your pet’s brain, but keep them strong and in good spirits.
- Treats. Kibble will do, but you may need a high-value treat for some exercises.
- Area with good traction, like a carpet or yoga mat.
- Broom handle.
- Books or a folded towel.
Sit to Stand
Have your pet sit squarely in front of you then, using a treat, lure them to stand and take a step, followed by a request to have them sit again. This exercise is similar to a squat in that it strengthens the muscles of the rear legs. A sit to stand to sit counts as 1 – start with 5 – 10 in succession once daily. If you have an older pet, start with 2 or 3.
Treat to Shoulder
Have your pet stand with all four legs as square and even as possible. Kneel at your pet’s right side with your left arm placed under their belly for stability, which will also prevent them from walking forward or sitting. Though your arm is just below the belly, you should not be touching the belly or holding up their weight.
Have your pet face forward and hold a treat in your right hand. Start with the treat right in front of their nose then SLOWLY lure your pet’s head from side to side. It should take five seconds to move to one side. If facing forward is 12 o’clock, lure their head slowly to 3 o’clock, then to 9 o’clock, or towards the shoulder on each side. If your pet is not able to stretch that far, ease up on the distance of each stretch.
This exercise helps with neck and torso flexion, as well as challenges their balance. Start with 5 to each side and build up, adding a few each week.
Using a stair (or curb, if it is safe to go outdoors) have your pet place their front paws on a step, making sure that their rear paws are stable on the ground behind them and squarely placed. Feed your pet a treat, but feed it about one inch above their nose, so that they are looking up slightly, which shifts weight to the rear limbs. Make sure your pet does not have to reach forward for the treat and, if you see this, be sure to hold the treat closer to their body.
If you have a smaller dog or kitty, you can do this by using a book or rolled up towel to create a bit of height. If you have an older pet that might not be able to safely stand on a step, you can amend this exercise by simply having them stand squarely with the treat just above their nose.
Whichever way you complete this exercise, try to see if your pet can stand in this elevated position for 20 seconds to start (repeat for a total of 3 sets). If you have an older pet, start with 1 set of 10 seconds. This exercise helps strengthen the core as well as the pelvic limb muscles.
Place a broom handle flat on the ground. Using a treat, lure your pet to step over the “rail,” and offer the treat when completed. Once at the other side of the broom handle, repeat the process and have them return to the starting side. This exercise helps with thinking about paw placement, hip flexion, knee flexion, and elbow flexion.
Once your pet gets the hang of it, challenge them by elevating the stick, either by placing a small book or pair of shoes under each end. Yes, even kitties can be encouraged to do this! Start with 10 – 15 times over the stick to start.
“Find It!” Game
This is a great, mentally-stimulating game for pups. Instead of feeding your pet’s entire meal in a bowl, take some kibble out for a quick game. Start by having your dog sit, then toss a few pieces of kibble about a foot away and say “Find It!” Practice this a few times, then toss the kibble a little farther away, again saying “Find It!” as they rush to eat it. Continue to get more creative about the placement of their kibble as your dog gets the hang of the game.
This is a great time to start clicker training with your pet (yes, even cats can be trained with a clicker). Clickers can be ordered online or created at home. For a makeshift clicker, remove the metal lid of a glass Snapple (or similar) drink bottle. When pressed, the lid will create a small click noise.
First, start by getting your pet accustomed to recognizing the click as an indication that they’ll receive a treat. Using a high-value treat, press your clicker, then provide your pet with a treat immediately. Do this 10 – 15 times and repeat until your pet recognizes that a click equals a treat.
Once you have reached this level of understanding, you can start to develop behaviors and teach tricks. You can also use the clicker for basic cues like “Sit!” or “Down!” by catching your pet performing these behaviors and clicking as soon as you recognize it and treating afterwards.
Hopefully, you’ve found a few new activities to pass the time and deepen your bond with your pet. Not only will this strengthen your relationship, you may even have some new tricks to show friends when things get back to normal!