Zoos found out decades ago that just having food, water, shelter, and veterinary care wasn’t enough for animals in captivity. They had to look not only at each species, but at each individual animal, to figure out how that animal could best manifest its genetic exuberance and work both body and mind. Some animals need to graze, others burrow, fly, swim, groom, watch, or play.
What does this have to do with pets? As a veterinarian, I often counsel new pet owners on the steps necessary to help their pet live a happy, healthy life. A big part of being happy and healthy involves enrichment activities.
Let me be specific. If a pet owner reports their dog likes to dig, rather than say that they must stop their dog from digging, I’ll tell them this is a perfectly normal and pleasurable activity for some breeds and individuals and rather than try and stop or curb it, they should instead provide a place where’s it okay to dig to China.
Same with chewing. There’s constructive chewing and destructive chewing. For example, does our dog QT love chew? Well, let’s just say one of his many nicknames is Chewbacca! When he chews on his plush toys (best ones have water bottles inside), Kong toys, or dental chews, we praise him. He’s encouraged to do this enrichment activity often, or teething, burning off energy, and pleasure.
Once you find your pet’s favorite activity, do it as often as you can.
Here are the favorite activities of our five dogs:
1. Gracie. Our Lab/Pit mix loves me to rub her belly while she lies in the sun on the grass or deck.
2. Shakira. Our 15-year-old blind and almost-deaf Golden Retriever still goes wild over retrieving a tennis ball. On the first retrieve she sets it down in the grass and rolls on it like Rolfing.
3. Quixote. His favorite thing is lying on his back under my wife Teresa’s chair getting his belly rubbed with her foot.
4. Quora. This tiny senior likes to put her front feet up on Teresa’s cedar chest that sits at the foot of our bed as I’m putting on my socks in the morning. She loves to vigorously lick my face and ears as I use my fingers to massage the truck of her body.
5. QT Pi. He loves to sit on the couch in the evening between Teresa and me, and have us play with him using various toys he’s brought up for a good thrashing.
What are each of your dog and cat’s favorite activities?