Sep 08 2017

Home Alone: Tips For Busy Owners And Stay-At-Home Pets

It’s back to school for some of us, back to work for others, and back to busy, busy days for most. Wondering what to do with your pet when you go out? Read Caesar Milan and Jolanta Benal’s ways.

Tips for Leaving Your Pet Home Alone

These days, most of our dogs spend their people’s workdays at home alone. Often they’re bored and lonely. Fortunately, we can help that time pass easily — without spending a lot of money.

Make ’Em Tired

The best thing you can do for your home-alone dog is supply some good, hard, first-thing-in-the-morning exercise. You saw that coming, right? How much exercise — and what kind — depends on your dog’s age, fitness, body type, and state of health, and also on the weather. Is your dog old, arthritic, and short-nosed, or is she an adolescent Border Collie mix? Is it 90 degrees out, 15, or 55? Check with your vet if you have questions about your dog’s exercise tolerance. The result you’re looking for is that your dog gets home and flops down on his bed to snooze. For most dogs, off-leash running, trotting, and sniffing are ideal, because they supply not only varied physical exercise, but mental stimulation as well.

Keep ’Em Busy

Next, put away your pet’s food bowl and use food-dispensing toys instead. This tip mainly works for dogs. Some toys–such as the Kong–can be stuffed. I often suggest a mixture of half canned and half dry food. For champion chewers, freeze the stuffed toy until it’s hard, so as to make a long-lasting excavation project. Other toys release dry food piece by piece when the petknocks or pushes them around. Some of these toys offer variable difficulty levels, so you can frustrate your pet just enough to keep her active and engaged, like Grandma at the slots. Did you forget to wash out the food toys from the day before? Then take your pet’s entire breakfast ration of dry food and scatter it on the floor as you leave the house. Successful foraging is most pets’ idea of a good time.

Do test-drive chew toys when you’re home and can supervise. Many food-dispensing toys will stand up to all but a minority of jaws, but others aren’t suited to hardcore chewers and may crack. If your dog can break the toy or chew pieces off, he and it need a chaperone. Rawhides and natural bones are also unsuitable for a solo dog.

Daycare and Dog Walkers/Pet Sitters

Daycare is a common suggestion for home-alone dogs. But many dogs don’t enjoy the company of their fellows, and many of us can’t afford the fees these days. If you can possibly spring for a daily dog walk, though, do it. Yes, many dogs are capable of holding their urine and feces all day long. But it’s not good for them. Dr. Marcela Salas, of Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, explains that holding on for long periods can lead to urinary tract infections. And the highly concentrated urine a dog produces during a long wait can increase the likelihood of crystal formation and cystitis. Dr. Salas also points out that if your dog is old and creaky, she’ll benefit from getting up and taking a walk. You can also hire a walker who makes house visits, so your cats can have someone to keep them company for a while.

If you can’t afford a professional walker, trade favors with people. Maybe a job-hunting friend would like someone to drool on her bathrobe while she rewrites her resume for the dozenth time. Bake her some cupcakes when you get home. Or maybe your dog isn’t a candidate for daycare but does have canine friends. Can you trade a workday playdate for an extra Saturday afternoon walk?

Don’t Leave Your Dog Alone Outside

One idea I don’t endorse is leaving your dog out in the yard.

One idea I don’t endorse is leaving your dog out in the yard. Even assuming your fence is tall enough and dug deep enough to keep him from escaping no matter what, dogs left alone outside are vulnerable to intruders. Besides, a dog in the yard by himself isn’t keeping fit with calisthenics. At worst, he’s working on problem behaviors such as barking and lunging at passersby; at best, he’s hanging around by the back door hoping somebody will come and let him in again.

Signs of Separation Anxiety

Finally, boredom, pent-up energy, and loneliness are one thing; separation anxiety’s another. Does your dog get restless and whiny as you prepare to leave? Does she gnaw at doors and windowsills while you’re away? Will he not eat when alone? These are a few of the behaviors associated with genuine separation anxiety. If they ring a bell, get competent, in-person help; usually, separation issues are best treated by combining appropriate medication with behavioral techniques.

If your pet does have separation anxiety, there are still some things to keep in mind for your pet– specifically, your dog.

Walk your dog before leaving home

If you want a calm dog, before you leave the house, make sure you schedule time for a brisk walk or a vigorous game of fetch in the backyard or nearby dog park. Having an anxious dog home alone is bad enough. Having a dog that is anxious and hyper is a recipe for disaster. Exercise helps calm your dog down in two ways. Physically, it tires your dog out, so he might be up for a nap while you’re away; and emotionally, exercise can level out your dog’s brain chemistry in the same way a good workout can leave humans exhilarated.

Hire a dog walker for dog exercise

The best-case scenario would be you coming home for lunch and spending a little quality time to break up your dog’s day. But if your schedule or commute doesn’t always allow that, it may take a village. If you have someone close by with pets, this is a great time to encourage some neighborly reciprocity, where you can arrange to let each other’s pets out when the other one isn’t home. You could also hire a dog walker to come by and provide a professional field trip. Before you do it, check out our tips for hiring a dog walker.

More dog toys, less destruction

A bored dog left to his own devices may act out by chewing up your devices. Boredom can be as much of a cause for acting out as separation anxiety. For this reason, it’s vital to leave out your dog’s favorite toys and anything else you can think of that he can use to entertain himself in your absence. Dog toys make great diversions. Aside from keeping him away from your toys, you’ll provide distraction for your dog during the day, so he won’t be as anxious about you being gone. One word of caution: don’t rely on toys with treats hidden in them. Once the dog eats the treat — which could be in minutes — he’ll grow bored and move on to the furniture.

Are two dogs company or double trouble for separation anxiety?

A common solution that many pet owners advocate is to adopt a second dog to keep the first dog company. This can be a great idea or a bigger dog problem. There are many variables to consider, including the size, gender, energy, and temperament of your dog and of the potential new dog. Talk to your veterinarian about whether a second dog is a good idea for your current dog and what you should look for in a new companion. Adopting a second dog can bring a lot of happiness into everyone’s life, but it isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. You don’t want to be faced with a situation where you have fighting dogs, or be forced to re-home a second dog who didn’t work out.

If you currently don’t have a dog, and you’re considering adopting one, think about whether your lifestyle is conducive to sharing your life with a dog. If you think your potential dog might be spending time home alone, that should factor in your decision when choosing your new friend. Look at dogs who are more low-energy and don’t need as much exercise or outdoor time. Better yet, consider adopting an older dog. Many older dogs have difficulty being re-homed, but can be a perfect fit for you. They typically are much calmer than puppies, and many are already housebroken. So don’t pass up a dog just because he’s been around the block a couple of times—it may mean he’s ready to take it easy. Here are seven good reasons why you should adopt a senior dog.

So, if you’ve got a busy schedule like the rest of us, don’t fret– there’s always something for your pet to do at home while waiting for you! *pictures pitbull sliding across the hardwood, Risky Business style*

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