Anyone who has come home to find the mini-blinds torn to shreds or your favorite pair of leather shoes marred with bite marks knows the damage a bored pet can inflict. Other than hiding your shoes and keeping your blinds up, what’s a pet owner to do? Here are some ways you can keep you home intact and your pet amused in your absence.
Make sure your schedule includes at least 15 minutes of exercise and playtime each day. If you woke up a little earlier, could you squeeze in a brisk walk around the block or a quick game of fetch before work? What about adding a daily playtime when you return home? Mornings and early evenings are often when energy peaks in pets (as well as people!) so take advantage of that time to burn their extra energy and satisfy their need for attention.
Use technology to your advantage. Many pets enjoy the companionship of a radio or television to keep them company throughout the day. Choosing a program or musical genre that they will be familiar with can help tap into positive associations they have with those sounds and images. Or, you might try a cd or DVD made especially for your pet like Through a Dog’s Ear: Music to Calm Your Canine Companion or DVD for Dogs: While You Are Gone. For an added dimension of interest, try setting a timer to have a program come on and turn off at a certain time.
Some owners will call their at-home answering machine to give their pet a chance to hear their voice. You can even use video surveillance to keep a watchful eye on your pet. If he’s having a bad day, you can hopefully intercept him before he tears apart the sofa.
While a clear view to the outside world might seem like the perfect entertainment solutions, evaluate the scene from your pet’s perspective first. Birds feeding at a feeder outside, pedestrians passing by, the constant arrival and departure of a city bus—these can trigger frustration and add to your pet’s anxiety about being left alone.
Sometimes a second animal companion can help ease the tedium of being alone all day. Plan regular visits to the dog park to give your dog a chance to socialize with other dogs. Is there another pet owner near you that you could arrange play dates with? Perhaps the two of you could set up a rotating pet care arrangement that minimizes the time that your pets are home alone. Or maybe, a second pet would make a welcome addition to your family. Think about the options that might work best for your family.
Work to help your pet associate your departure with something positive rather than negative. One way is to hide treats throughout the house as you’re getting ready to leave (while your pet is distracted or obeying a ‘stay’ command). As you walk out the door, encourage him to find all the treats you’ve hidden. You can also have special toys or objects that only come out when you’re gone. Be warned though, your pet may get so excited about these special rituals and toys that they start looking forward to your next exit.
Who doesn’t like treats throughout the day? With the vast array of food puzzles and treat balls on the market today, it’s easy to provide stimulating activities to keep your pet busy all day long. Check out www.kongcompany.com or http://www.interactivedoggames.com/ for a glimpse of the different kinds of interactive toys available as well as recommendations for games and recipes to make playtime even more exciting.
You can even repurpose household objects to create entertaining toys. Stuff a tennis ball or an empty plastic water bottle inside of a sock for a simple play object. Freeze peanut butter, apple slices, small carrot sticks, or dog food in a treat ball or ice cube tray to create an entirely new experience. You may even consider adding a water fountain to arouse their interest as well as provide a constant supply of fresh water.
Some pets have a hard time adjusting to being alone all day. Follow their cues and bring in outside help if necessary. Perhaps you need to work out more flexible work arrangements so you can spend lunches at home or have a dog walker visit your home to provide much-needed stimulation. Visit your local pet daycare program to see whether that might be a fit for you and your pet. Ask a retired neighbor or responsible teen to pet sit for part of the day. If one approach doesn’t work, be willing to try another until you find the right solution for your family.
Keeping your pet occupied in your absence takes some forethought, creativity, and planning. However, both your pet and your pocketbook will attest that it is well worth the effort!