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Michelle Kelly, a veterinary nurse from Letterkenny, has this helpful advice for pet owners for when the weather is too bad for outdoor adventures:
Is the bad weather putting you or your pet off going outside for a walk? Some dogs and cats hate the rain and cold and sometimes conditions are too dangerous to get outdoors.
Thankfully, there are many ways of keeping pets mentally and physically stimulated, preventing any destructive behaviours due to frustration and pent-up energy if they cannot get out for a walk or play. All of these can be done indoors or in the garden and you don’t need to go out buying any expensive treats or equipment.
Using your pet’s daily meal as a challenge can encourage them to slow down and enjoy their meal. There are many puzzles available such as Food Mazes, Snuffle Mats, Kongs or Licky mats (extra challenge if the licky mat or kong is put in the freezer as they have to work harder).
A snuffle roll can also be a good idea. Simply scatter the pet’s food over a towel or blanket, roll it up and tie it in a knot. This makes them work for their food and can be super fun.
Training some tricks
Cats and dogs can be trained to do tricks. Ignore the saying ‘You can’t teach old dogs new tricks’, My labrador, Nala, is 7 and as long as she has plenty of food as a reward she will happily learn a new trick.
To prevent excessive weight gain, use their own daily meal as their treat by weighing out how much they require in a day and use it as a reward.
Tricks such as: Sit, Down,Stay, Turn/spin and Hi-5 can be the quickest to teach and once they are taught you can move on to trickier ones like: Crawl, Reverse, Heel (walking directly beside you) and Middle (where they walk with you between your legs).
Giving them a job
Pets love being given a job. Working breeds like Cocker spaniels, Springer spaniels, German Shepherds, Collies, Labradors and Pointers to name but a few, can be very quick to pick up new tasks and thrive when being worked. Teaching them how to ‘retrieve’ something for their owner can be very rewarding to them along with teaching them how to ‘tidy-up’, especially if they are like Nala and pull out all of their toys from the box before she can decide which one to play with!
Although some people do not want their pets to be able to do it, if you tie a towel or rope to the fridge or a door handle, your pet may learn to open it for you. This can come in handy when your hands are full!
Agility is super fun to do for both the owner and the pet. You’ll need plenty of treats or their favourite toy to lure and encourage them in the beginning. You also do not need to go out and buy loads of things to start it up, your own furniture and blankets/towels are more than enough!
Small foot stools can be used to jump over, put a broom across if it helps too. Build up the height by getting taller chairs.
Get a few pairs of shoes and set them out for weaving in between.
Chairs and blankets can make a tunnel.
If you have a hoola hoop they may jump through it or even place it on the ground and get them to sit inside it.
Hide and seek
Teach your pet to sit and wait for a certain command (this can be ‘come’, ‘break’ ‘find’ ‘search’ or any other word that you wish to use) before they get up to move.
When this is perfected with you closeby, try to make it more difficult by choosing a hiding spot, use your release word and let them find you.
Cats love boxes and feel safest when up high. Have a look around the home and see if there are any spare cardboard boxes which can be stacked up to provide your cat with a ‘jungle gym’. It can be used as a place for them to play or to relax and provides them with a great view.
All of these tasks and games help your pet engage with you and encourage a stronger bond between you both. If there are children in the house it can be fun for them to join in too, either as a distraction or they can do the training! (Make sure to supervise at all times)
Engaging your pet’s brain is great for their development and allows them to become more trusting of you. It also helps them to concentrate and may even reduce destructive behaviours as they are releasing energy.
Michelle Kelly qualified with a BSc Honours in Veterinary Nursing from LYIT. She works full-time in a clinic in Derry. She is the proud owner of a labrador named Nala, who goes everywhere with her, even to work.
As a dog owner in the North West, Michelle says she sees a lot of misunderstanding around owning a pet. With her first hand experience in a veterinary practice, she wants to give up-to-date facts and information to pet owners and to be a person people can turn to for help and advice, especially in the local area of Donegal.