2020 is a year that I think we will all be pleased to put behind us and look forward to 2021! We have so much to catch up on and we will all be making plans!
And those will definitely include the furry members of our family! So here are some of my suggestions...
The first step is recognising anxiety and not mistaking it for disobedient or ‘shy’ behaviour. Barking at other dogs, refusing to go out for walks, howling or being destructive when left alone are all signs which are easy to think of as ‘naughty’ but are actually indications your dog isn’t coping and needs your help.
Often these problems can be traced right back to their earliest experiences of life, which is why getting a puppy from a reputable breeder is so important. Good socialising in a family home right from birth is absolutely vital to help a puppy develop into a well-rounded and confident adult.
In fact, what many nervous dogs lack is self-confidence, which is why they struggle to manage in social situations and when they are left alone. One of the best ways to combat this is training! All dogs, regardless of breed, thrive on learning new things! It exercises their bodies, their brains and gives them huge satisfaction. It also means you will be better able to keep control in situations they may find stressful and shift their attention from things that trigger them, back to you instead.
Start by going right back to basics with simple commands like sit and stay and work on really reliable recall. You can move on from there to more complex tricks if you like! Working together like this will deepen the trust between you and your pet, enrich your relationship and help you to help them to remain calm in difficult situations.
A balanced diet
Lockdown hasn’t been kind to waistlines and that may well include your pets! We know over 60% of cats and dogs carry too many pounds and as the New Year is the classic times for diets, why not include them as well?! Have a look at the food they are on and see if it comes in a lower calorie version, make them work for their dinner (and burn calories!) by using an interactive feeder rather than a simple bowl and, if you can, increase their exercise by giving your dog as much off the lead time as possible and playing games with your cat using things like a fishing rod.
Take time to rest
And after they have done all that exercise, they will need a lovely place to chill out! If you didn’t treat your pets to a new bed at Christmas, now is the time to do so, especially as the sales are on! All dogs, but especially our golden oldies, will really appreciate a big, deep bed. Look for one thick enough to support their joints and large enough that they can stretch out fully. Cats love these things as well but they also really appreciate being able to hide when they rest! This is why they particularly favour covered igloo type beds. And don’t forget to wash their beds regularly! You can add a capful of Zoflora to your wash to make sure they smell just as good as they look, whilst eliminating odours and leaving a beautiful all day fragrance.
Keep litter trays odour-free
How much attention do you pay to your cat’s litter tray? Most of us just give them a daily scoop out and maybe a weekly rinse but your cat will thank you if you put just a little more thought into it.
You wouldn’t like to be disturbed while you are on the loo and neither does your cat, so make sure the tray is in a quiet part of the house and ideally not somewhere where they could be cornered. Although cats are a predator species, they are also a prey one and won’t feel comfortable if they have to enter a small space that they could be trapped in. This is why some don’t like covered litter trays, especially in multi-cat households where they may have to run a gauntlet of another cat on the way in or out (not all feline housemates are friends!).
If you have an old kitty, they probably have stiff joints, so make sure their tray has as low an entrance as possible and use finely ground litter so it isn’t too harsh on their paws when they squat. Also, make sure you thoroughly clean the tray at least weekly, nobody likes a smelly toilet! Spray or wipe it down with diluted Zoflora to disinfect and to eliminate any odour, just make sure to use the Fresh Home range of fragrances which have been specifically developed to be kind to your cat’s sense of smell.
Banish those bad habits...
Finally, I would really love to see more pet owners seek proper advice for their pet’s behavioural issues! So many struggle with their pet’s behaviour, thinking it is normal, just a quirk or something that can’t be helped. Or, they realise there is an issue but turn to the internet (which can be a great source of information but can’t give you individualised advice, which really is invaluable) or, poorly qualified animal behaviourists, who can easily do more harm than good.
Dogs who bark at other dogs or who can’t ever be let off the lead. Cats who groom themselves bald or live together but you know they don’t really get on. For us as owners, these are things we often learn to live with, we walk our dogs in quiet places or really early in the day. Our cats keep themselves to themselves so we don’t worry too much but actually for them, their lives could be much easier.
A properly qualified and experienced animal behaviourist can make a huge difference to both your pet’s life and to yours. They can help you understand why your pet acts like they do and how you can help them to learn to cope with training and emotional support. Unfortunately, pet behaviour is an unregulated field and the term ‘behaviourist’ isn’t protected so anyone can call themselves one. I only recommend people who are registered with the Association of Pet Behavioural Counsellors (APBC), like the APDT they are the most stringent in their membership requirements.