Pet Behaviour Expert Interview - COVID-19, Entertaining Your Pets & More
During this weird time, it's hard to know exactly how to treat your pets. How do we adapt to the new isolation lifestyle? What useful things can we be doing with our pets during this time? How do you make sure they're okay when everyone goes back to work? All these questions and more are answered by Rosie a pet behaviour expert from Pet Sense in this in-depth interview. Pet Sense provides behaviour consultations for dogs, cats and rabbits in and around Bristol and North Somerset.
Mat: Hi everyone, I'm Mat from Pure Pet food, and today we've got with us Rosie from Pet Sense, Rosie is a clinical animal behaviourist and she's going to talk a little bit with us about what we can do with our pet while we’re stuck in isolation and some of the problems that might arise from that, and then some of the handy solutions, that we can come up with to keep our pets entertained. So, Rosie are you alright just to briefly to start with just introduce yourself?
Rosie: Yeah, thanks Mat, so yeah, I own and run Pet Sense which is a behavioural consultancy practice. And I'm based in Bristol in North Somerset, and I do behavioural consult for dogs mainly, but I also do some for cats and occasionally rabbits too. And I’ve been running Pet Sense for around 10 years now, and this is the first time we've been stuck in isolation since I've been working. I think it's for most people it’s the first time we’ve been stuck in isolation. So, it's bringing up lots of new questions and problems for everyone.
Mat: It's a new challenge for everyone in all sort of ways, isn’t it?
Rosie: Yes, and then I'm getting a lot of inquiries from pet owners that are either already experiencing some trouble with their pets struggling with them being home more or they're worried about when they return to work for example.
Mat: And if you’ve got dogs or cats yourself and have you had to change anything at the moment?
Rosie: So, I’ve got three dogs, two senior dogs and one is a young adolescent. So, they’ve kind of got different challenges, I’ve got cats as well and I’ve got 2 kids. So, I'm juggling. The dogs are getting used to everyone being around. I mean I'm quite lucky in that because I'm self-employed, I'm quite flexible with them anyway. So, my dogs are not on a rigid routine like a lot of dogs would be. They’re used to me coming and going a fair bit but having said that I'm still making sure I’m implementing things now. So that the dogs aren’t used to 24/7 company or attention ready for when things do start to return to normal, so I'm encouraging them to settle in their bed while we're working.
And making sure they are getting the right rest that they need. So, this is particularly important for puppies as well where they might have to be home all the time and they're not going to get the sleep that they need. Making sure that they can’t follow us around the house everywhere, so sometimes I'll just shut the door when they settle somewhere, I’ll just shut the door and then spend some time in the garden without them. You know when one of us goes off to the shops as well, one of them sometimes comes in the van with me just for the trip, I don’t get them out, but just for the trip.
It's kind of keeping… because that's obviously what they do with me, they come with me on workdays normally in the van. So just trying to keep some sort of routine, making sure we're up at the same sort of time, their one walk a day is at a similar time to normal.
Mat: Sounds like you are trying to kind of mimic as much as what it would be like a normal life as possible.
Rosie: Yeah that’s it. I mean within reason yeah, just not getting them used to the expectation that we are available 24/7 and I think that's particularly true for puppies where they don't know any different. And if we don't teach them that isolation is Ok now, that can really prove problematic later on.
The cats, as well, just briefly with them, I'm just making sure one of them in particular is quite sensitive to noise movement, so the kids being around it's a little bit tricky for her. So, I'm just making sure as well that she's always got places to go, get up high, hide a little bit. The dogs and cats have got their own quiet area, so the kids very much in my house the rule is to leave the animals alone, and if you want to interact with the animals, call the animals to you and if the animals they don’t want to come to you then we respect that. So, the kids aren’t pestering the animals at all, you know when they're on the bed, that is their time.
Mat: That’s really useful information, to be fair I’m all eyes on the puppy front as I mentioned before we just welcomed a puppy into the families, we’ve got a little Pip and we’re kind of already a little bit worried around what kind of we go back to work and things will change. So, it's useful to know of trying to kind of separate yourself as much as possible to get them used to what life will be like after.
Rosie: Exactly, so such an exciting time isn’t it? And in a way you know, there are loads of advantages to being around more, because hopefully, everyone’s toilet training will be spot on. But yeah just you know if you've got baby gates, if you've got a puppy pen, really make the most of those areas and make sure that puppies have time away that they associate being shut away from you with really nice things being given to them to occupy themselves. So it's not the other side of a gate or a barrier pining for you, it's that they're happy preoccupied doing something self-reinforcing, loads of things to chew at, stuff Kongs, all of those things that they can hopefully do in their quiet safe space, but they get used to there being a barrier between you. That's the first kind of step, is that they can’t always get to you and can gradually build up that without being a shut door but to start with for most puppies it's probably easier that they can still see you. And then you would build up to shut doors.
Also, another good thing you can be doing with puppies right now is car work, so if you've got like your car on a drive outside your house, so obviously be careful about going down the pavement and people passing you and stuff but you can be working loads on however you want to travel your puppy and that can kind of be a way of building in that bit of distance between you as well, because if you're going to travel puppy in the backseat or the boot and you're in the front of the car, that's quite a nice exercise for the puppy to learn that they can't get to you, they can't always be at your feet or on your lap. And yeah just building up you know of cause a cool place to have your dinner.
Rosie: Get the engine running, and just get them used to the noise and the sensation of the car engine and stuff.
Mat: Well that's useful, now that I’ve heard all that, I’ll be starting to do exactly what you’ve just said. So thank you for that information, I think to be fair, when you put it to your pet you have covered a lot of tips around kind of what you do with general dogs and cats, but is there anything else people should be aware of or is there any kind of other tips or tricks you to give to keep them entertained?
Rosie: Yeah I think another concern a lot of the dogs have is that walks now potentially restricted. So obviously each of us can do one walk a day, so if there is only one in or in the household or one adult, the dogs exercising might be used to two walks. So now they're restricted to one walk for example. It's making sure that they are getting stimulation at home. It's a really tricky balance actually because we want to make sure they're getting appropriate stimulation to replace the physical stimulation they might be missing out on, but equally, we don't want to continually occupy our dogs.
They still need to be able to sleep for a large portion of the day, and they need to know how to switch off even when we’re around, and that leads on to that whole returning to work issues. So, it's a balance between keeping them occupied but not all the time.
Rosie: So I often tell people to still feed their dogs their set meals a day on that retain so that they're not hungry, but to take a portion of that food and use it throughout the day for the dog to work for. That can be in the form of training, scatter feeding, activity feeding, there are all sorts of different ways depending on you know the texture of the food.
And just thinking about scent work, for example, is a really good one for every single dog to really use up their brain. So, there's going to be loads of online scent work courses cropping up over the next few days and weeks. I highly recommend all owners getting involved in doing a little bit of scent work with their dog, it is really fun, you don't need any space at all, you can do it in an indoor flat. Really really tiring for the dogs and really reinforcing for them, so…
Mat: What does it entail, not going into too much detail?
Rosie: Well, there's kind of different levels, that's the thing you could tailor it for owners so you're not getting into you know too much of the nitty-gritty behind all faction and searching, and indications and all of that. So, you could get up to teaching your dog how to indicate that there is like police dog drug detection, so indicating that there is a scent, a particular scent there, so some people use like a kitchen herb like oregano, and that’s your dog drug effectively that they’re searching for.
Then when they find an area where there is a small amount of that herb or drug, they will indicate however you’ve trained them to indicate. So, it might be that they bark, it might be that they sit and stare. So, you can get really really interesting, but for a lot of owners probably a bit too in-depth. So, for pet owners, it might just be as simple as hiding a ball around the flat and getting them to search for it. Or a bit of one piece of food. But yeah, you need a little bit of guidance in terms of how to build up the difficulty level is useful so you’re not just doing it by yourself and the dog doesn't really understand what you’re trying to get them to do.
So, I would always recommend a little bit of help to get you there, but yeah, any level of scent work for however interested an owner is.
Mat: We will definitely try that, we’ve actually started doing an online puppy course and one of the questions I had around kind of puppy is because it's quite applicable for us at the moment is kind of for those people who we’ve recently picked up a puppy and we were at the breeder's a couple of weeks ago, they were telling us that you know everyone's wanting a puppy because everyone sees it is the perfect time to train one. There is the issue around kind of obviously now is vets have gone into a situation where they're only seeing pets in emergencies, people struggling to get vaccinations and to be able to take them out and socialise and walk. What would you do in that situation or is there any kind of tips around to kind of help with that?
Rosie: Yeah, well, first of all, I would just also say going back to how you introduce the puppies. That puppies are for life not just for isolation.
Mat: That’s what I thought you’d say.
Rosie: As I'm sure you did Mat, they take a lot of planning and forethought and to do it responsibly it takes a while to find your right breeder, to do your research, to… you know it takes time to get who are picking up your puppy. And I would say 2 things, one is things are going to return to normal at some point, we don't know how long but at some point within your puppies lifetime. And you know are you still able to look after that puppy when it's a grown-up and you’re back to work. Secondly, any breeder that you bring up now saying I really want a puppy while I'm off work, if they got a puppy free for you right now to do that, the chances are they're not a great breeder.
A good breeder will have puppies booked you know weeks in advance. However, for those responsible owners and responsible breeders you know that has just happened to coincide like yourself that pick up a puppy at this period. There are you know… there are limits at the moment, especially to socialisation opportunities. There are a few things I would say, one is try and look at the positives of it. So, everyone worrying and the fretting about the fact that they might not be able to get their puppy vaccinated and then they’re limited into what they can do. And that there's not… you know this puppy classes can't be run, there are no dogs in the park for the puppy to go and play with, etc.
So instead of looking at the worries of it, look at what you can do and some of what you can do is actually quite beneficial given what's happening outside. All puppies, even if they're not vaccinated yet should be carried out about you said you've got backpack which is brilliant for your puppy. If you've got a really large breed puppy and you’re not able to carry them far, then try to pram like… it sounds like a joke but it's not. Anyway basically to keep your puppy safe from you know a disease that might be out there but exposing them to the outside world and if you yourself are in isolation and you can't leave your house, even standing in your front doorway with the door open or window or in your garden gateway open and just letting them watch the world go by, even if it's the odd car or cyclists or anything. You know whatever might come past, you have to be showing puppies the outside world, we cannot just keep them in the house until whatever period that vets are able to vaccinate.
Secondly, if you can now put your puppy on the floor and you're worried that they’re not getting into the physical interactions with other dogs. I would say there are some positives to that. I think when we think of socialisation we often think of them getting to meet and greet and play with other dogs. And actually, that can lead to a whole host of issues further down the line. So I see a lot of adolescent dogs that the owner takes them on a walk to the park, they see a dog on the far side of the park and run because they think he is a playmate and the owner’s got no control, they don't know anything about that dog on the other side of the park, it might be old and arthritic and not really want to be you know raced up on.
And when they’re on the lead they can often start to show frustration based behaviours when they walk past to the dogs because they can't get to them to go play with them. So actually we don't want to set an expectation the other dogs and puppies are there to be played with, what we want from our dogs is for them to see and acknowledge another dog but actually, they want to prefer to stay with you. So really I think we should look at the positives of the situation right now, and puppy owners can be working on seeing other dogs at a distance across the other side of the road or you know everyone's keeping their space and teaching them when there's a distraction, good stuff comes from you.
Or you’re busy playing or interacting with your puppy, so it's not actually that bothered about everything else going on anyway. So, I think this is a really good opportunity for making sure that we've got really responsive dogs and really bonding that relationship with us. You know rather them, dogs are amazing they’re far better than my owner you know and I just want to go and play with every single one of them.
Mat: That's really good advice. Yes, we've obviously been taking her out, and there’s a lot and we are kind of… I don’t know if this is right or wrong but we'll let her play around in the garden with us, and we’re just keeping her to our own garden but she sees dogs across the way obviously we're keeping it close and kind of giving treats to kind of reward her and things. Yeah, that is really good advice, and to be fair you’ve given lots of good advice in this call to kind of implement straight away, so thank you for that.
Rosie: Let me know how you get on; I always like a photo or a video as well because I can’t cuddle any puppies right now.
Mat: I’ll definitely send it across. But is there anything else to include? I know you covered a lot.
Rosie: I think another thing that I’ll say for puppies is to get your fancy dress box out. So, you know anything, not even fancy dress, just things that the puppy might be used to seeing at this time of year. Your umbrellas, your big coats, woolly hats, scarves, glasses, sunnys, anything you've got lying around, high-vis jackets, just make sure your puppy gets used to seeing those things on you guys. Again, because they're not out and about seeing builders and all sorts of people on the road, it’s up to you guys to just make it the norm as well. So, walk into the room wearing something so your puppy just looks at you like what’s he wearing now.
And it’s not a big deal to them, so that's another easy thing puppy owners can be doing, but I think that probably covers the majority of my tips.
Mat: Yeah, you’ve covered a lot there. Thank you very much for that. And yes, thank you for your time, and where if anyone's interested in getting more information from you where can they find you?
Rosie: So, I'm on Facebook and Instagram. And I do try and put quite a lot of tips on both of those platforms for dog and cat owners. And I do have a site which is pet-sense.co.uk
Mat: Perfect, thank you very much for your time and we really appreciate it.
Rosie: No problem, nice to talk to you.