For the foreseeable future, we’re going to be spending a lot more time in close quarters with our beloved dogs and cats. And that’s good news for pet parents—even in these stressful times. Rover surveyed pet parents who are now working from home because of the coronavirus outbreak and discovered that:
- 54% said they feel less anxious because they have their pet with them.
- Two-thirds said they feel happier working from home because they have the company of their pet.
- The majority of pet parents (70%) said working from home helps them get more exercise by walking or playing with their pet.
- The majority (86%) of pet parents said spending time with their pets helps alleviate stress from today’s news topics like the coronavirus, economy, and politics.
- Pet parents are most likely to turn to their pets to reduce or relieve stress from news of current events. 40% say they turn to their dog or cat, compared to a significant other (23%) or family member (13%).
However, it’s not always easy to be productive when your furry family member is begging for attention. Plus, pets can go stir-crazy, too!
So how can we make that transition as harmonious as possible and still get a little work done? For that answer, we turned to two of Rover’s experts on dog and cat behavior to share their tips on keeping the peace.
Working from Home with Your Dog
Nicole Ellis is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), American Kennel Club CGC evaluator and APDT trainer. As part of our Dog People Panel, we asked for her advice about keeping your pet happy, healthy and occupied when you’re working from home.
How to keep your dog active indoors
Training is a great way to keep your pet active and tire them out while you are at home together. It doesn’t take long to make a difference.
Some great things to practice on are eye contact, leave it, stays (make this harder with distractions), tricks, and more. Have kids home from school? Consider teaching them about dogs and training and helping get them involved in the training routine too!
- Play some scent games. Start by hiding a treat right in front of your dog and asking him to find it. Slowly add distance between you and your dog while you hide the treat, so your pup will be searching the house for where you hid it, using lots of mental and physical stimulation.
- Play a game of hide and seek—put your dog’s good stay to use! This is a great one to do with kids in the home too.
- Make the most out of your walks together. Even a short walk can be useful working on heeling, stop and sits, eye contact and more. This will tie your dog out more than just pulling your around the block.
- Set up an indoor agility course with household items, from tunnels under chair legs to jumps over mops and buckets.
- Mix playtime together with training. A 10-minute play session followed by 5 minutes of focused training can go a long way.
- Come up with a dance routine together. If you have kids, get the whole family involved, from picking a song to teaching some new dance moves—spin and high 5 are always good ones!
Toys for keeping dogs entertained
I recommend doing a rotation of toys and when your dog isn’t playing remove the toy so it becomes exciting the next time it comes out. Some of my favorites are:
- Pet Play Wobble Ball.
- Stuffable fetch balls, like this one from Kong.
- Kong has a load of interactive toys to keep pets busy, like their classic rubber toy. Freeze them with your pet’s favorite snacks inside, like peanut butter or yogurt, and have a tasty treat that lasts a while.
- iFetch and iDig, requiring no treats giving our fetchers and diggers a workout indoors.
- Puzzle games from Nina Ottosson/Outward Hound.
- A homemade snuffle mat. Put your creativity to use and make something your pup will enjoy—and they’re machine washable! Put your pet’s dinner in the snuffle mat for mental enrichment and stimulation as they eat.
- Play the shell game with some treats and some household cups or bowls upside down. See if your dog can find the treat as you mix up the cups.
How much mental stimulation do dogs need—and how often?
How much mental stimulation your dog needs depends on your dog. An active busy dog is going to require more than a senior pup that sleeps and lounges around all day. But no matter your dog’s age, they can all benefit from mental stimulation.
First of all, try teaching your dog some new tricks. It’s never too late to learn some new tricks!
Second, if you’re a little behind on crate training, it’s not too late for that either. If your dog ends up at a vet or even groomer, having your dog comfortable in their crate can make the whole experience less stressful on you both.
While you’re at home together, go back to the basics and reinforce some solid crate training.
How to give your dog mental stimulation
Do a mixture of different activities, including teaching “down” and calming behaviors. It’s a great idea to teach your dog how to relax when needed. After a play session, work on going to their bed and having a relaxing down.
Mental fatigue makes dogs (and humans) feel more physically tired than physical effort alone. You can use this bit of science to help your dog get to what she wants most—a nice long nap.
As a trainer, I’ve learned that many of the hyperactivity and destruction problems my clients struggle with can be resolved by adding mental exercise to their dog’s daily activity diet.
Excessive barking, destroying the house, destroying toys, eating socks—all of those things have gone away after the owner starts to give the dog mentally stimulating activities.
But mentally stimulating activities aren’t things like chess or crosswords for dogs. Instead, they’re training, dog puzzles, KONG toys, and anything that makes them think and problem solve.
Think of a kid returning to school after summer break—all that thinking is exhausting, no matter how much physical exercise they got all summer long.
What are your favorite at-home activities with your dogs?
I love doing scent work, and of course, my dogs love it too. Our dogs naturally want to sniff and this gives them a job to do with their powerful noses.
We spend a lot of time with interactive games such as the wobble ball from Pet Play and Kong toys. When my dogs aren’t playing with these they go away and their value increases each time they come out.
Mikel Delgado is a cat behavior consultant and postdoctoral fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. She has worked professionally with cats for almost twenty years and shares her advice for keeping your cat occupied.
Working from Home with Your Cat
With everything going on in the world, you might find yourself in a very new situation: working from home. Your cat is also finding himself in a new situation with someone in the house all day!
Although most cats will love the additional company, it might get stressful for both of you at times. Cats are very much creatures of habit, and some cats may even find solace in the peace and quiet that may happen during the day when their family is at work and school. It might be harder for them to sleep, they may not want to share the couch, and they may also pick up on your anxiety or stress.
Now is a good time to have a little patience with your feline friend and also to try to maintain as much of the usual routine as possible, with feeding times and other household schedules such as when you go to bed.
This, in addition to some enrichment, activities and additional playtime, can help you and your cat both keep your cool.
How to keep your cat from interrupting you all day
Some cats may take advantage of your sudden availability and assume your calendar is wide open for petting and attention. Work? What work?
Your cat doesn’t know or care that you have just as much work to do and three Zoom meetings today. When you’re talking on the phone, they might assume you’re talking to them!
So what can you do to help keep your cat off your computer keyboard or from trying to play or snuggle while you’re working?
- Tire your cat out early. Engage in some preventative measures by setting up exercise and activities for your cat BEFORE you need to work. A few minutes of playtime with a feather wand, followed by some treats in a food puzzle are a great way to get your kitty to settle down for a nap. A tired cat is a happy cat who is hopefully not climbing all over you while you work.
- Take breaks for snuggles. We all need to take work breaks to stretch and clear our minds. That’s a great time to give your cat some pets or more playtime.
- Provide distractions during important calls. Automated toys, food puzzles, a cardboard box with some tissue paper and treats inside to explore can all give your cat something to do. Even something as simple as moving a chair or cat condo to a new window can capture your cat’s interest for a few important minutes!
- Give your cat a better place to hang out than your keyboard. For example, put a heated bed on a chair near your desk (or even on your desk if you have the room) to give your cat a highly desirable place to lay instead of on you. A cleared off shelf with a cat blanket on it can give your cat a “perch of judgment” from which they can watch you work!
- Don’t reward behavior you don’t want to continue. If your cat meows at you and you talk back, pet them, or even yell at them, that may be the response they are looking for! Reward good behaviors (being calm, quiet) with treats or praise.
- Close the door…but be ready for protest. Keep in mind all of the previously mentioned suggestions. If your cat is scratching at the door, you should ignore them, and if necessary, you can place a mild deterrent, such as a piece of cardboard with sticky tape, right outside the door. This will make it unpleasant for your cat to “protest” by the door.
My most important advice to everyone right now is to be patient with yourself and your cat.
These are unusual circumstances and we have to admit that things are not normal! I hope you and your fur babies can provide a lot of comfort to each other as we practice social distancing.