Your dog doesn’t understand the concept of a Zoom call and barks continuously until you hang up, before bringing you a tennis ball. Your cat, meanwhile, is busy knocking the various photos and knick knacks off the windowsill onto the floor. The dog wants to play, the cat is bored, and you’re close to dropping them both off at the local shelter – at least until the end of the working day.
Pets have been the saviours of lockdown, keeping us company while we sit at home in our pyjamas and making us laugh when things get too much. A survey of pet owners by the University of York found more than 90% of respondents said their pet had helped them cope emotionally during the first lockdown, with 96% adding their pet helped keep them fit and active.
Our animals provide us with comfort and joy, something not to be underestimated during a global pandemic. However, they can also be a complete nuisance when you’re trying to work from home. In general, cats have no concept of personal space when you’re on your laptop and dogs tend not to understand why you can’t always play. So what can you do to stay sane, while keeping them happy too?
Keep them entertained
For many of us, this year has been dull. We’ve not been able to do the things we normally do for entertainment, like seeing friends, going out for dinner, going to gigs or going on trips and holidays. Although we’ve had Netflix and knitting, lots of us have felt bored under lockdown – and animals feel the same way.
It’s important to make sure dogs get enough exercise to prevent them from misbehaving because of boredom. When dogs are bored and under-exercised, the pent-up energy can lead to destructive behaviour like chewing furniture. If you only have time for a short walk, bring a ball or encourage some running – tiring them out will lead to fewer distractions when you’re trying to work.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to take your cat for a walk, but stocking up on toys and things for them to play with. Spend some time each day playing with them using feathers on string, ribbons and other things for them to pounce on. Scratching posts and high-up areas like cat trees are a good idea too, so your cat has plenty of places to nap during the day.
Interactive toys can be a great idea if you don’t have time to throw a ball every few minutes. Puzzles are a good idea for engaging their minds and can keep dogs entertained for longer. For cats, laser toys or electronic mice will give them something to chase while requiring minimal effort from you.
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Teach them to settle down
Cats tend to settle where they want to – and if that’s your lap (lucky you), then it’s probable that you’ll just have to deal with it. Make sure they have comfortable places to relax if they want their own space. Some cats like enclosed areas to sleep in, like boxes with blankets in. If the cat really won’t leave you alone – and you want it to – you could try tempting it into a cosy bed with a treat.
As part of your family, it’s important for dogs to learn to relax, lie down, and have time on their own. You can encourage this by training your dog to settle down on command. The Dog’s Trust recommends sitting quietly on a chair with your dog on a lead and a blanket on the floor. Drop tiny bite-size treats to your dog as a reward for settling down on the blanket, but don’t say anything to your dog while doing this.
Keep rewarding relaxed behaviour and remember, they don’t have to necessarily be asleep to be settled. They may be awake but happy chewing on a toy, leaving you free to get on with work.
Stick to a routine
We’ve all felt out-of-whack this year. There isn’t an aspect of our lives that COVID-19 hasn’t affected in some way or another, including our daily schedules. Like humans, pets like structure to prevent them from feeling unsettled – so feeding, walking and playing should ideally happen at the same time every day.
This might mean dishing up meals at the same time every morning, or taking the dog for a walk first thing, before you start work. Cats tend to create their own routines, but if you know your cat is more active in the evening, it might be better to play with them then.
And if they are being annoying, try not to get angry at them. This year has been just as disruptive for them as it has for us – and shouting could well make their behaviour worse.