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What to Know When Leaving Your Dog Home Alone

A tan cocker spaniel lies alone on a grey rug in front of a tan couch in a living room

Claudia Bensimoun author of What to Know When Leaving Your Dog Home Alone

Summer is the perfect time to adopt new methods for keeping your furry best friend entertained when home alone. There are simple ways of reducing separation anxiety and stress. Here’s how to recognize the signs, why they happen, and what you can do to help your furry best friend.

Most dogs get lonely, bored, and anxious without their pet parents around for companionship. “Dogs that are unstimulated, and not physically exercised tend to have more behavioral issues than dogs that have their needs fulfilled,” says Victoria Stilwell, internationally recognized positive dog trainer and best-selling author.

Dog toy expert Nina Ottosson from Nina Ottosson Pet Activity Toys and Puzzles, Sweden, prompted an interesting discussion about the best dog toys to help decrease canine boredom and some behavioral problems that tag along with boredom.

Ottosson recommended a few of her favorite mazes and puzzles. “The best activity treat puzzle toy to keep an active dog busy is the Dog Pyramid and the Dog Treat Maze. The best treat puzzle game is the Dog Twister and the Dog Tornado, as you also can use as meaty ice cream, great for active dogs who need extra-long activity, mix some meaty dog food with water, pour some of the mixtures in the compartments, put the game in the freezer and let it set. This is also perfect for hot days, and when the dog needs some extra activity,” adds Ottosson.

In addition, Ottosson also reinforces how important it is to first introduce the treat and puzzle toys to your dogs while being present, before leaving your dogs alone with them. That way you can be sure that your dog knows how to play with them safely. Ottosson offered the following advice. “I always recommend to supervise the dog when using treat toys, and don´t leave them alone until you know how your dogs handle them,” explains Ottosson.

Tips to Make Sure That Your Dog is Having Fun

1. Don’t Underestimate Canine Boredom and Separation Anxiety

Luckily there are so many ways to ensure that your dog is having a fun time indoors when you’re out and about. Dogs thrive on schedules, and no matter how perfect a summer day it is, they all will benefit from some Dog TVwhen home alone. “Dog TV is a great de-stressor. There are no ads and all the colors are adjusted for your dog’s vision,” explains Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS, Professor and Program Director of the Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University. “Prevent stress in the first place by enriching your dog’s environment,” explains Dr. Dodman. This can be done by doing numerous things such as providing food puzzles, a large crate without a door that acts as a den, and placing the crate in a room with a view so that your dog can see the birds and squirrels outside. Fifteen percent of dogs left alone have overt separation anxiety.”

Dog TV was specially designed with your dog in mind to relieve canine stress and boredom. It was scientifically programmed to keep your dog’s company when left alone at home. It is geared towards your dog’s vision and hearing and has just the sort of content that will ease his stress and perk his curiosity.

Boredom can lead to behavioral problems in dogs. One of the most important things that a pet parent can do is to prepare ahead of time, most especially if you have an anxious dog that suffers from separation anxiety. A good dog bed is a key to your dog relaxing. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for dogs to have numerous dog beds throughout the house in a variety of styles. This is a sure way to keep your dog comfortable.

 2. Choose Mentally Stimulating Toys and Place Them Around Your Home

Whether you parent a large or small dog breed make sure to buy size-appropriate interactive toys. The Julius-K9 IDC® Neon Fluorescent Ball with Closable Handle and the Soda Pup USA-K9 Grenade Chew Toy/Reward Toy - Extra Large are both popular examples of chew toys that can help in preventing a host of problems related to separation anxiety.

Kong has also included the Wubba Weaves to include squeakers. Avoid products that have been cheaply made or that could be toxic, and opt for naturally made products that are eco-friendly. Harry Barker’s toys which are 72% natural rubber, with the rest of the compounds being natural are also a good option.

If you have any doubts, choose well-known brands like the Kong and Ottosson treat puzzle games and activity toys. Preparation is key to your dog having fun and being safe while home alone. Give your dog plenty of options. Just like children, all dogs are unique, and knowing what your dog enjoys is key to keeping him happy.

“There are some great games you can play with Fido, including hiding and seek. This is easier if two people play and one holds the dog back, while the other hides and calls the dog to them. Make it easy to begin with, and then challenge your dog by hiding in more difficult places. You can also give your dog chew time with chews or toys stuffed with food. Try feeding your dog’s meals through durable rubber toys. This is much more stimulating. Try hiding the food stuffed toys in different areas of your home, so he has to hunt for them before he can have his meal. Hide and seek, hide the toy and go find, chase the toy, any kind of puzzle toys, especially the Nina Ottosson ones, will keep Fido entertained,” adds Victoria Stilwell.

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3. Keep Your Dog Active Before You Leave Home

Minimize the chances of coming home to an anxious dog by taking your dog for a long walk before you leave, or having a quick game of Fetch in your own backyard. If you’re into agility, build a small agility course in your garden or living room, and have some fun together before you leave home. Ideally, your dog should be tired from exercise and ready to relax when you leave. Small and large dog breeds all benefit from regular exercise.

If you have children to drop off at school and are headed off to work, take turns with the kids playing hide and seek with Fido, and hiding some stuffed frozen Kongs around the house. All these fun activities and the extra attention that he’s getting, will help to minimize the impact of everyone leaving home at once.

4. Alternate Kong Stuffing with Healthy and Natural Fillers

If you have a dog that enjoys his Kong, alternate Kong stuffings before you leave home. Like people, dogs enjoy a variety. Tossing the same Kong- filled treat every day, for instance, will probably bore him. Instead, look up some healthy alternative Kong fillers like a cooked salmon and quinoa filler, and praise him when he tries it out. Avoid stuffing that could be dangerous to your dog. With so many healthy Kong filler recipes online, it suffices to say you won’t have a problem with tasty Kong fillers.

5. Read Your Dog’s Breed and Energy Level 

With every breed being so different and every dog has its own unique quirks, you’ll probably know exactly how much exercise Fido is going to need. If you have a relaxed adult Labrador, chances are that a walk around the block and his favorite Kong will be sufficient. On the other hand, if you’re the proud parent of an adolescent Shepherd in training, the right choice of exercise and pet activity toys are crucial.

The best option? A brisk 20 -30-minute walk or jog around the block, or a mere 10 - 15 minute run at a nearby dog park where he can exercise off-leash, and burn up that energy. You do not have to spend hours at the dog park. As long as your dog can get to enjoy daily off-leash runs, this will help to avoid depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, and even aggression. Avoid enclosing your dog for hours inside a crate.

What you do each and every day with your dog will have an effect on his overall behavior. Pet parents today are trending toward more frequent, yet shorter trips to the dog park. This can be done early mornings before leaving for work, or in the afternoons as a family outing with the children.

6. Realistic Expectation Factor

Puppies will be puppies! If your puppy has a history of playful destruction, plan ahead. Consult with your veterinarian, your trainer, or a dog behaviorist that specializes in separation anxiety and stress. 

Choose age-appropriate dog toys that you know your dog will like and play with. There are many factors like breed, size, age, and preference for certain materials like hemp or rubber that influence how favorable a toy will be. Perhaps hide a few frozen treat-filled toys around the house under beds and behind curtains. The idea is to keep your furry best friend mentally stimulated and out of trouble so that nothing else takes precedence over those tasty treats and toys. 

Timing is everything! With a young adolescent and active breed, exercising beforehand is vital to ensuring that your dog is ready to settle down with a good chew toy like the Kong that will engage and comfort him. Limit how long you leave home in the beginning stages when training your puppy or dog to stay by himself, to half-hour sessions, gradually extending your time away from home as your dog accepts being by himself. By doing this you’re minimizing his stress level. 

You can even start off by going out of your front door and walking around to the yard. Try glancing through the windows to see how your dog is reacting. If he’s yowling away, wait until he stops, returns home, and reward him with a tasty treat. This has to be done only when he’s not barking or howling, otherwise, you’ll be reinforcing the barking and the negative behavior. When you’ve done this a few times, and your dog realizes that you always come back home, he’ll be less anxious after you leave.

7.  Limit All Excitement Before You Leave Home

When about to leave home, many dog parents make a big fuss before leaving, dangling their keys and patting their dog goodbye. Avoid making a big fuss when leaving the house. Once you’ve finished exercising your dog, he’ll be satisfied, head for the water bowl, and probably jump on the couch to relax. This is the time to start minimizing contact with an anxious dog by limiting the amount of time spent looking for keys, especially if you have a dog that suffers from separation anxiety.

Praise your dog when you get back home and reward him if he’s busy playing with his activity toy or taking a nap. If you get home to a puppy or adult dog that has displayed symptoms of separation anxiety or boredom, avoid getting angry. Instead, adopt a more dog-friendly approach and try again. 

Shorten your trips, and possibly use babyproofing gates to limit the areas that your pooch has access to while you’re away. Take your dog to the veterinarian for a check-up to make sure that his behavioral problems don’t stem from an illness. 

With the right time management skills along with some mentally stimulating dog activity toys, Dog TV, adequate exercise, and veterinary care, you can teach your furry best friend how to cope when home alone. Keep in mind that if you have to spend much time away from home, it’s best to find a good doggie daycare or caring pet sitter that’s been recommended by a veterinarian or friend.

“Make time for your dog every day even if you have to schedule it. His needs are still important, even if you are busy, meeting those needs every day will make for a happier dog and a happier you,” says Victoria Stilwell.

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Meet The Author 

Claudia Bensimoun - Author of What to Know When Leaving Your Dog Home Alone

Claudia Bensimoun

Claudia Bensimoun is a freelance journalist and author, and specializes in veterinary content, and eBooks. She's a long-time feature writer for Animal Wellness magazine, Fido Friendly magazine, and the United States Dog Agility Association. In addition, Bensimoun has written for numerous pet websites, magazines, newspapers and online publications. Her interests include wildlife conservation, animal welfare, disaster/humanitarian relief, veterinary research, and veganism.

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