A guide to pet-parenting during the lockdown

Updated: Mar 29, 2020, 10:28 IST | Mitali Parekh | Mumbai

How many walks should you take your dog on at a time of self isolation? As you spend more time than ever around your pets, here's a dos and don'ts guide

Representational pic
Representational pic

Some may say that they'd rather be isolated with their pets than their humans, and who's to argue? However, balance is key in this 24x7x21 exposure dogs and cats are going to have to their human slaves.

Animal professionals warn that the COVID lockdown could give rise in attention-seeking behaviours and/or ramp up separation anxiety in dogs when you have to go back to work again.

"You may see destruction, running away with things, repeated requests for play and walks," says Varuna Kaur, a certified international dog trainer. She advises a healthy amount of ignoring dogs, especially since long walks will have to be curtailed. "Ensure you stay in a room, away from the dog, for one or two hours daily," she says. "You can do this just after you have exercised or played with it."

Varuna Kaur recommends playing mentally-stimulating games indoors in lieu of long walks
Varuna Kaur recommends playing mentally-stimulating games indoors in lieu of long walks

On the flip side, this is a great time to sort out toilet training, or work on behaviour programmes that need all members of the family, says Varuna. "In toilet training, we teach the dog to recognise the 'surface' it can soil," she says, "keep the puppy on a leash at all times, and lead it to the designated newspaper or mat. With consistent efforts, you should see results within three days."

Apart from that, ensure that every human ensures the dog follows all home rules. To divert energy and mentally stimulate the dog, teach it new games and tricks (see box). Most trainers are happy to set up video calls to help you do this.

Rajvi Mariwala, a canine and feline behaviourist and dog trainer warns against over-stimulation with constant games and attention. "Pets may respond to the stress of a family forced to live together in close quarters," she says. "We also pass on our anxiety by reaching out to them for reassurance constantly."

Her advice is to give the dog attention when it is calm and relaxed, and leave the room when the attention-seeking behaviour, such as jumping on you, pawing, barking, starts. "Participate in calming exercises with your dog such as gently massaging your dog while calming its senses using lavender scent (essential oils or incense sticks). You can also do this with cats, and actively get both species used to handling by caressing their faces and mouths, paws," she says.

This is a good opportunity to figure out what drives your cat/s, as per Mariwala. "You can teach it to come when called using food or playtime. Figure out what it likes to play—chase, stalking, or catching things in the air…" Multi-pet households could see minor inter-species or inter-pet skirmishes as they fight for your attention. Giving them one-on-one training time, and sticking to rules can help skim over these.

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