Published Together: The human-animal bond and social distancing

As someone who was part of a team of creatives, business leaders, education institutions, and philanthropists, we all banded together in what can only be described as a midwife-of-a-situation to bring Rapid Growth, a solutions-based journalism magazine to life in April 2006. 

Since that time we have had many creative folks work alongside of us as we sought to bring unique stories to our community, and also those looking at our city as a destination for fun, relocated for work, or a place simply to call home. 

So as we face an unprecedented time in our planet's history that is impacting so many lives, we decided to leverage our community-partners in dialogue to produce a series of stories that reflect our time together. 

The first to kick off this series we call Published Together and is a labor of love from a local businesswoman who, after our one-on-one conversation, set off to write a piece that showcases how we as locals together are helping address problems ... even during this moment of COVID_19.

Please welcome, Jenn Gavin of A Pleasant Dog. 

-Tommy Allen, Publisher


Social distancing is hard on primates. We are designed to live in groups with each other. To look in each other’s eyes, feed each other, and touch each other (especially faces)! We are all starting to feel the strain of coming together by staying apart, and it looks like we might be hunkering down for a while.

Here’s where your pet comes in. The human animal bond is an incredible thing. Those soulful eyes and soft fur have a real, tangible benefit. Science has definitively proven that petting a dog or cat lowers blood pressure and can help with anxiety like the anxiety that social distancing is causing in all of us. Doesn’t it feel good to have physical contact with somebody? Let that somebody be your pet during this time. If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with!

What’s more, many of the behavioral problems people come to A Pleasant Dog to resolve are at least in part due to modern humans having little time to properly exercise and train their companion animals. So, this time of social distancing can in many ways be a gift to the furry one with whom you share your life. 

Go ahead and enjoy this time. Take a stroll. Every day. Twice a day. Three times if you like. Be present in the moment. Watch your furry one sniff the breeze. And the trees. And the spot where Mrs. Smith’s poodle whizzed this morning. Find pleasure in stroking a furry head by the fireside. Take advantage of those furry ears to rant about missing your birthday party. He cares. He really does (even if he doesn’t quite understand every word).

You can also train and learn together! Behavior problems don’t give two whits about a virus, so if you’ve been struggling with separation anxiety, reactivity, leash pulling, counter surfing, jumping up, or any other behaviors, take a few moments out of your day to train your dog (using positive reinforcement only please. Nobody needs negativity now). A Pleasant Dog will continue to offer free training tips via our social media throughout the crisis, as well as discounted virtual private training sessions (yes, they are a real thing, and they work). 

Tricks are a great way to bond with your pet. Here’s a simple one that works with cats and dogs (and most quadrupeds, really). Take out a selection of treats your pet can’t live without. Tiny, pea-sized stinky things are best. Cheese and hot dog make good treats and are just 6 feet away in the fridge.

Starting on a non-skid floor, ask your pet to sit (or lure them into a sit), then place a treat directly on your pet’s nose, slowly raising it over their head and back toward the base of their skull a bit (instead of straight up in the sky). As soon as your pet’s front feet leave the floor, say “yes” or “good” and give the treat. Repeat five to 10 times, per session, slowly getting those feet higher and higher by raising your hand incrementally each time. 

If your dog jumps, you moved your hand up too quickly. Once your pet’s sit pretty has reached the level of awesome you like, give your cue before luring them up. I use “sit pretty,” but you can call it anything you like. 

And half the fun can be in finding a clever cue. Over time, you can fade the lure until you’re just using an empty cookie hand and your verbal cue to get the same behavior (but still praise and treat after, because no one likes to work for free all the time). 

Don’t have a pet to share your home? Mosh Pit, Luv n Pupz, and Fetch MI Home are all reputable local rescues who pull animals from local shelters (instead of bringing them from other communities). If you’re heading toward the lakeshore, Pound Buddies in Muskegon pulls needy pets from that area. And those are just a few. Consider reaching out to see if they might be able to place a foster pet in your care temporarily while you shelter at home. Fostering saves lives, especially in a time when people are less and less able to venture out to assist pets in shelters. Most foster programs provide veterinary care. All you provide is food, love, and shelter. Ready for a commitment? Bissell is sponsoring $25 adoptions at participating shelters throughout the community.  

A final plea: if you are one of the lucky ones with ample change to spare, consider a donation to Pleasant Hearts Pet Food Pantry.  Pleasant Hearts fills a huge need in the community already, providing needy families with pet food and care essentials to keep pets in their families, and that need is only going to grow as this time of COVID-19 lengthens. They welcome your donations here


Jenn Gavin, CPDT-KA, is the owner and head trainer of A Pleasant Dog. For over twenty years, Gavin has learned from and taught dogs and their people. Since opening A Pleasant Dog, Gavin and her team have helped thousands of dogs from West Michigan and throughout the country. A Pleasant Dog specializes in City Dog & People Training using evidence-based, scientifically proven methods, and a lot of love. Its practice offers everything from private lessons for common behavior issues, focused behavior consultations for aggression and anxiety, stay and train programs for busy families, and group classes.  

Photos Courtesy Amy Carroll Photo and A Pleasant Dog. 
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.