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Tips for pet parents - small changes that make a big difference

We all try to be the best pet parents we can, but when life is busy, it can be easy to forget the small things that make the biggest difference to our very best friends...

There are some small things that you can change that will make the biggest difference in your pet’s world. And if they could suggest something to you, we’re pretty sure they would pick one of these:

For the dogs...

1. Shake up those walks!

Most people tend to have a dog walking routine that doesn’t vary much. We usually have our favourite, often most convenient walks, but we often forget why we walk our dogs in the first place!

It isn’t just for physical exercise – instead it’s a chance to spend quality time together doing something we both love. It’s time to give your dog a change of scenery, to indulge in the sights, sounds and sniffs of the great outdoors – and it's a great bonding exercise.

So, every now and then, explore a new dog walk. Get on to social media and ask people what their favourite walk is in your area and go and discover it for yourself. 

Try to find ways to vary your regular walks too… even if it’s just reversing your direction every so often. Take toys and treats – and instead of spending the time on your smart phone, focus on your dog instead, and make a resolution to transform your walks into something interactive – and fun!

2. Play together, stay together

One of the best ways to bond with your dog is through games and play – and interactive toys give you a way to do this; exercising your dog’s brain as well as their body.

There are lots of toys you can buy but you don’t have to spend a fortune – in fact many household objects can be turned into interactive dog toys.

You can use old cardboard kitchen towel rolls, put food in them and fold over the ends so the dog has to either open it up or rip it apart (terriers love these kinds of games!). Or you could hide food in the folds of a large towel so the dog can sniff them out.

The secret to interactive toys is pretty much in the title… you work with your dog to encourage them to find the food and help them if they need it.

Not only is this a great resolution for your dog, it’s a lot of fun and another great bonding exercise. And a great opportunity to reuse household items!

 3. Meal magic

For most dogs, a highlight of their day is dinnertime. But we all so often forget that our dogs are descended from scavengers who would have spent ages, and quite some brain power, hunting out their food, and then chewing and gnawing it.

So, let’s remind them of how their ancestors would have done it and tap into some natural behaviours that we all too often ignore.

There are lots of choices:

  • stuff some of their dinner into a Kong or two for them to gnaw
  • scatter-feed them in the garden (literally throw their kibble onto the grass for them to sniff out and find
  • split their dinner into several portions and ‘hide’ them in different places, such as under things like towels or plant pots etc. This gives them a treasure hunt with you on-hand to encourage them
  • use other interactive toys

You don’t have to do it all the time, but it adds interest to your dog’s day, keeps their brain stimulated as well as their stomach, and it’s fun for you both.

 4. Work to improve the bond between you

There are lots of ways to improve the bond you have with your dog. These include:

  • playing games
  • reward-based training
  • spending quality time together getting plenty of exercise, grooming and just being in each other’s company
  • doing things that help you understand your dog better, like learning about canine body language so you know what your dog is telling you

Make this the decade that you really bond with your dog and have the relationship you’ve always dreamed of.

For the cats...

Small changes can make a huge difference to your cat’s life, too.

1. Interactive toys and games that simulate hunting

Cats are hunters. They’re experts at it and love doing it, but so often we don’t give them the chance to indulge in this hard-wired predatory behaviour that keeps them both happy and healthy.

Now obviously we don’t want them decimating the local bird and wildlife populations, so we need to provide alternative simulated hunting opportunities. This is where playing games with your cat is really important. If possible, try and set aside half an hour a day for ‘cat playtime’ especially if you have a mostly indoor cat.

Good interactive cat toys must fulfil three criteria. They must:

  1. Be safe
  2. Move, as they need to simulate hunting – and prey doesn’t just sit around and wait to be caught… it’s the chase that’s the fun bit!
  3. End in a reward. Toys that don’t let the cat’s hunting behaviour ‘succeed’ can give rise to frustration.

This can be as simple as a chase toy that you hold and wriggle around, and you reward the cat with a treat when they catch it – or you can get onto the internet and start your hunt for the perfect cat toy. There are plenty to choose from!

Far too few people play with their cat – and many think their cat is lazy when actually they are bored and depressed. You can change that.

 2. A palace fit for a cat

Cats are natural athletes, they like interesting places to explore and lurk, enjoy jumping and being able to have varieties of heights – and of course need to have the opportunities for regular pawdicures. It’s up to us to provide interesting environments so our cats can live life to the full and have an outlet these essential needs.

Look at your cat’s living environment and think how you can transform it into the perfect haven for them. Again, this doesn’t need to be expensive. Most cats can’t resist the lure of a cardboard box – and one in a corner of the room is often greeted with feline enthusiasm.

A multi-level cat tree can double up as a scratching post, an activity centre and a place where your cat can climb and look down on the rest of the family (as if they don’t do that all year round anyway!). Make sure it’s attached to the wall so it can’t fall over, however.

About the Author

Carolyn is an accredited behaviourist and trainer with over 20 years experience working with dogs and other companion animals. She has written books, over 500 published articles and trains owners and professionals alike both nationally and internationally. Carolyn is also an experienced broadcaster and presenter, has appeared in five TV series’ and countless radio shows. Her passion is for helping owners build a strong and positive relationship with their dogs and fully develop the potential of the bond between them.

More articles from Carolyn Menteith

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