When we close the door on our pet and leave the home, sometimes it’s hard to know what we’ll come back to. Bored, anxious, or even just curious pets can find themselves in a lot of trouble that could ultimately result in destruction, vet bills and frustration. If you’re leaving your pets alone for the first time or have a pet who likes to get into mischief, here are the first few steps to take to help ease the process and important things to know before you close the door behind you.
First of all, it’s important to know that some breeds are more prone to separation anxiety than others. When choosing a dog, if separation anxiety is a concern, try to steer away from breeds such as labrador retrievers, german shepherds, and australian shepherds. Dogs that can be left alone and don’t suffer as seriously from separation anxiety include french bulldogs, chihuahuas, and basset hounds.
It’s also vital to consider your dog’s age when talking about leaving them home alone. Young puppies under 5 months of age shouldn’t be left home alone for extended periods. Dogs that can be left alone should be over 18 months of age, and even then should ideally only be left for about four hours a day. When leaving a puppy home alone, be sure to leave them with a puppy pee pad as they begin to learn about potty training.
All of the solutions below should just be considered supplement to a dog getting plenty of outside time to run around. If you find yourself too busy with work or travel, you may want to consider getting additional help such as a dog walker or boarding facility.
Try on your pet’s perspective
That’s right, get down on all fours and try to look around your home from the point of view of your pet. Things that we may miss from a standing position are right at eye level for our pets, and it’s easy for us to miss potential trouble spots. For cats, ajar cabinets, blinds and curtains, or easily tipped shelves, are all potential dangers. When you’re leaving a dog home alone, look at what items can be easily grabbed off of couches or tables. When your pet turns destructive, it’s not just an annoyance, it can actually result in injury like broken teeth, cuts, or choking. If your pet is tearing up the house, make sure you’re providing them with appropriate outlets. We’ll talk about busy toys for pups later, but other solutions can be complicated snacks like frozen carrots or tough toys that can take long amounts of time to tear apart. For cats, every couch or chair looks like a place to scratch, so make sure you position scratching posts in places that are natural and convenient for them.
If your dog simply can’t be trusted to roam on its own, a crate is a reasonable way to keep it out of trouble. Make sure you have a crate that’s a reasonable size for your pet, that it’s comfy, and that they aren’t left in for excessive time. The confined space not only keeps your dog out of harm’s way, but also can provide them a sense of comfort and control. Another option when leaving a dog home alone is swaddling. There are products on the market that can do this for you, but it’s as simple as gently but firmly wrapping an ace bandage around your dog’s chest and abdomen. Finally, calming white noise is a great way to keep your pet from being agitated by outside noise and to keep a soothing background sound. You can do this simply by leaving on a TV or radio at a medium volume. Young kittens can also benefit from a similar technique where you simulate their mother by providing a heating pad and a metronome or a steady beat that replicates their mom’s heartbeat.
Without opposable thumbs, it’s hard for our pets to get in touch with us during the day, but a pet cam lets you peek in on your pet and even interact with them from afar. Pet cameras are a high tech solution to separation anxiety and boredom, and they’re just as fun for pet parents as they are for pets. The Petcube pet camera even incorporates a laser pointer that lets you remotely play with your pet. Look for a camera that has night vision since many pets are nocturnal, as well as movement and sound alerts so you can stay on top of your pet’s activity.
Although technology is great, it’s no substitute for a real person, but the good news is that technology has even made finding a walker or pet sitter easier. Apps like Rover and Wag make it easier than ever to find an experienced pet tender who understands everything from health issues to playtime.
Our pets aren’t acting out because they are bad, it’s usually because they are bored. When leaving your pets alone, keep them engaged with busy toys. The best toys for dogs home alone are ones that challenge them mentally and physically and require them to solve puzzles in order to earn treats or food. There are off-the-shelf products you can buy for this, but you can create your own simple version by filling an empty soda bottle with treats, cutting a small hole in the bottle, and making your pet roll and push the bottle to get the treats. Some cat and dog owners also like to hide treats around the house and create a fun scavenger hunt that gets their pet back in touch with its wild hunting ways.
Give them freedom
If you have a yard space, install a doggie door so that your pet can go outside and get occasional exercise. Even for multi-pet households where they may be pets that shouldn’t be outside, there are special collar and door pairs that allow only certain pets out. If you have a cat, consider a catio that might safely let your cat explore the outdoors but within a confined space. A catio can be as simple as a large cage or fabric pen, or it can be as fancy as a fully enclosed patio. When you leave a cat alone, a catio is a great way to give your cat the joy of the outdoor while keeping it safely inside.
It’s important to remember that our pets are animals who evolved to be hunters and pack animals. Their life may look cushy to us, but it can be frustrating and boring for them. Try to inject your pet’s life with a little bit of their wild activities while keeping their home space safe and secure.
The owner’s behavior is also just as important. When leaving a dog home alone, know that the dog feeds off of your behavior and if you make a big ordeal of leaving, your pet is going to feed off that behavior. Try to leave calmly, occupy your dog before you go, and don’t make an over emotional scene of saying goodbye to your pet.
Leaving your pets alone can be a trying experience, dogs are pack animals that can naturally suffer when they owner or “alpha dog” is away. Even though cats may be quieter about their suffering, leaving a cat alone can still cause it to have depression, obesity and boredom. Following these simple tips will not only keep your pet happier, it will keep them healthier.