Even the most docile cats and couch potato dogs have natural instincts that aren’t as buried as we might think. There are many things we can do as their guardians to spice their life up a little, from big projects to small gestures.
Most dogs get to leave their home territory regularly (and if they’re not, barring a severe medical or behavioral concern, it’s time to start!) but many cats, safely made to be indoors, don’t get to explore. This is where guardians can go wild with creativity. There are all kinds of DIY markups for creating your very own “cattery,” which is much like a dog run but with vertical enclosure and multiple levels. If that’s a little extreme, consider conditioning your kitty to a harness for outdoor adventures or smaller, collapsible enclosures for a little sunbathing. For inside the home, perches, tunnels, catwalks, and good ole boxes will liven up their environment. Jackson Galaxy, known for his cat behavior show on Animal Planet, calls modifying your home to include cat-friendly features “catification” and you can check out many of his ideas put into practice here.
If you have a dog and are out on a walk, try to mix it up a little. Granted, dogs thrive on structure but try to vary the walking route. Even if the only difference is a single street, your pup gets to explore a new area. Wild canids patrol massive territories so it’s understandable many dogs have wanderlust. Also think about why you’re walking your dog. For their benefit, right? Learn to “walk their walk.” Dogs experience and evaluate their world largely through scent. Try not to scoot them along for the sake of doing the usual distance. Our household has learned that a short walk where the dogs’ noses are buried in the leaves are more effective than a fast-paced but inherently less engaging one.
Take the time to play
Playtime is fun but it also simulates natural behaviors like hunting. Make some time to regularly dance around with a feather tease toy for your cat or play a game of tug or chase with your dog. While many pets enjoy toys, others aren’t impressed by a lifeless plush toy and need it to feel a little more like a game/hunt to pique their interest. For when you’re not around, self-perpetuating toys like teasers on a wobbler or circular hide-and-seek toys, like the one pictured to the right and available through Chewy.com, are fun for kitties while dogs will enjoy interactive toys such as the ones discussed here.
Chances are, if they get that urge out of their system, it will not only improve their overall happiness but reduce some unwanted behaviors that result from pent up frustration such as uninvited chasing.
Jaws and claws
Whose cat thinks their couch is a nail file? Scratching posts have long been a popular solution but they’ve gotten stylish upgrades in recent years. Scratching is an enjoyable and natural behavior that Petfinder explains helps keep claws healthy, mark the cat’s comings and goings from the spot, and is part of their stretching rituals. It would be unfair (and likely a losing battle) to try to stop the behavior so what we can do is provide appropriate outlets. That can be as simple as an old piece of carpet to a swanky cat tree.
Among other potentially destructive habits, dogs love to chew – a desire that doesn’t leave when the teething phase is over, though the damage can if they don’t have enough outlets and are taught what those are. Chews like antlers often have the added benefit of aiding in dental health. Whether your pet is a scratcher, digger, or chewer, there are ways to satisfy her need to do these natural behaviors without sacrificing your furniture, throw pillows, shoes, or garden!
The stress between humans and their beloved pets often arises from a difference of opinion on “appropriate” behaviors based on our inter-species differences. We owe it to them (and sometimes our sanity!) to give them the ability to act as the dog or cat (or ferret or lizard…) that they are in a way that fits our human code of conduct.