Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Social Distancing Blues?

12 ways you and your pet can make the most of an enforced “staycation”

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Dog and cat shows -- canceled. Agility trials -- canceled. Training classes -- canceled.

Right now, we all have the stay-at-home blues, including our pets, who may not be getting as much activity as they’re used to. Or they might be a little weirded out that we’re spending so much more time at home. They can probably feel the stress rolling off us, and it’s stressing them, too. We’ve come up with some fun ways that you and your animals can stay sane, have fun, get some exercise and train your brains.

First, it’s still OK to take your dog for a walk. Seek large, open areas where it’s easy to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, or go at off-hours to decrease the likelihood of seeing other people.

Have a treadmill? Teach your dog to use it. No reason your dog can’t follow the same exercise program as top show dogs. The American Kennel Club has an article and video on how to get started. Visit to see them.

Set up a virtual rally, nosework or obedience “trial” at home. Have a family member record it and share on social media with friends in the sport. Get others to do it and have someone be a “judge.”

Teach your dog or cat some tricks. Janiss Garza shares tips on trick-training cats in “3 Easy Tricks To Teach Your Cat” on Dog trainer Kyra Sundance has YouTube videos on teaching spin, shake, bow and more.

Does your pet need to get the zoomies out, but you don’t have a yard or can’t make it to another outdoor area? Toss a ball down the hall for her to chase and fetch. Or blow bubbles in the living room.

Puzzle toys for dogs and cats exercise their brains and reward them for activity. Or stuff a Kong or other hollow toy with peanut butter, aerosol cheese, kibble or treats to keep him busy.

It’s spring. Let your dog help you plant your garden.

Got a new puppy? You can still socialize him -- just at a distance. Expose him in a positive way to the sight of other people and animals and objects such as fire hydrants and trash cans, sounds of cars and buses, and different surfaces such as grass, asphalt and gravel.

What about you? Learn something new about pet behavior. You can find lots of short, free educational videos on body language, behavior, training and care at

Take a Coursera class on dog emotion and cognition from canine cognition researcher Brian Hare, Ph.D., at Duke University.

Discover a new fantasy or sci-fi book series with great animal characters or characters who commune with animals. Favorites with memorable animals (and humans) include Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles with Oberon the Irish wolfhound; Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files with Mouse the Temple Dog and Mister the cat; Damien Dibben’s “Tomorrow,” a tale of an immortal dog in search of his human; David Weber’s Honor Harrington books (with treecats!); Tad Williams’ “Tailchaser’s Song” with Fritti; and Connie Willis’ “To Say Nothing of the Dog” with Princess Arjumand the cat and Cyril the bulldog.

Pop some popcorn (go easy on the butter and salt when you share with pets) and have a movie marathon. To get you started: “The Adventures of Milo and Otis,” “The Adventures of TinTin,” “Air Bud,” “The Aristocats,” “A Street Cat Named Bob,” “Babe,” “Balto,” “Benji,” “Best in Show,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Finding Nemo,” “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey,” “Lady and the Tramp,” “Lassie,” “My Dog Tulip,” “Nine Lives,” “Oddball and the Penguins,” “101 Dalmatians,” “Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island,” “Seabiscuit,” “The Secret Life of Pets,” “Togo,” “Turner and Hooch,” “Up” and “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”

Enjoy your unplanned togetherness -- and stay healthy!


Are lap cats

made or born?

Q: My cat doesn’t like to sit on my lap, and he doesn’t really like to be petted much either. Is there anything I can do to change his ways?

A: Having a cat sit on your lap is something special, and if his motor is running, it’s even better. It would be fantastic if we could train cats to be lap-sitters, but you might be surprised to learn that willingness to sit on a lap is a genetically influenced behavior. It’s not something that can be changed through early socialization or training.

And it turns out that cats who want to sit on a lap all the time have been found to be a little insecure. The fact that your cat doesn’t feel the need to cling to you but is comfortable in your presence says something special about the relationship between the two of you.

The good news is that for some cats, sitting close to you -- within 18 inches -- is their version of being friendly. And there are ways you can communicate with him through touch and body language that may encourage him to show you more affection.

Body language tells you if your cat is enjoying your touch. He may be particular about where you pet him and for how long. Running your hands through his fur might be soothing for you but annoying for him. A twitchy tail, a forward flick of the whiskers, ears laid back and rippling fur are all signs that your cat has had enough.

Grooming is one way to “pet” him that he may enjoy. Being brushed can feel relaxing and helps build that bond. Watch his body language: If ears go back, it’s time to stop. If ears are forward and eyes are half closed, he’s relaxed. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Vet visits take

new forms

-- Your veterinarian is an essential professional who will likely be providing pet care during quarantines to help prevent spread of COVID-19, but procedures for a visit may be different. Many veterinary clinics are asking clients to call from the parking lot when they arrive so that a technician can come out and get their pets. To reduce the risk of exposure, you’ll be asked to wait in the car while your pet is examined. Telemedicine through videoconferencing is another option if you are unable to get to the veterinary office. If you have pet health insurance, check your policy. It may include access to a veterinary help line for 24/7 advice. Try to avoid routine visits that could use up veterinary supplies needed for more at-risk patients.

-- Shelters may be overburdened at a time when some employees are unable to come to work. Would-be adopters may find themselves looking at pets online and making a phone call to express interest. To help shelters function in the event of a shutdown, residents may be asked to foster animals, care for found pets at their home and put off surrendering a pet to the shelter. Call your local shelter to see if help is needed with fostering or donations.

-- Basset hounds are recognized around the world as good-natured clowns and tail-wagging philosophers. With their large head, keen nose, pleading eyes and short legs, they have the charm to win anyone’s heart, even when they’re breaking the rules -- a common basset habit. Bassets descend from hunting dogs developed at the abbey of St. Hubert in what is now Belgium. The short, long-bodied hounds took their name from the French word “bas,” meaning low. Their short stature made it easy for them to find and follow the scent of their quarry -- rabbits and hares. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.