How to stay sane at home with the help of your pet

While Americans are increasingly isolated from one another during the coronavirus pandemic, we can take comfort in the companionship of our pets — and even have some fun while we’re at it.“I think in times of uncertainty and fear, you latch onto the things that are constant,” Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian and founder of Fear Free Happy Homes, told TODAY. “It’s that predictability when we come home from work or shopping — or even the next room — and our pets greet us like conquering heroes or rock stars. That’s rooted in unconditional love and loyalty, and laughter as well. … They’re actually good for us. It’s all about emotional well-being.”
Cristina M. Molina, an office manager in Los Angeles, is working from home on a rotating basis during the coronavirus pandemic with her beloved dog, Porky.Cristina M. Molina / Courtesy of Christina Jackson
Now is the perfect time to practice enrichment activities that stimulate the minds of our pets and strengthen our bonds. For instance, Becker and his wife recently adopted a senior dog named Quin’C and have been teaching her new tricks by rewarding her with praise and treats.

“Dogs are lifelong learners,” he said.

We can play games with our dogs, such as creating a scent hunt by hiding little bits of kibble or treats around the home — under the bed, at the side of a dresser, or the top of stairs. Becker noted it’s important to avoid hiding treats in the couch to keep it from being “disemboweled.”

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“Dogs are so food-driven, especially if you do it before their meal, it'll be absolutely joyous,” he said.

Dogs typically relish attention from their people during social distancing, no matter how silly.Christina Jackson

If children are home from school, they can create do-it-yourself projects to make toys for pets. Cats love batting at feathers tied to the end of a stick or string because it engages their prey drive.

The Beckers recently cut holes in a box to create a whack-a-mole game for their dogs. Becker lay on the floor poking a turkey dog through the holes, letting the delighted dogs eat a little bit from time to time.