The West Hartford Pet Owner’s Complete Guide to Leaving Your Dog Home Alone
Does your dog get upset when you leave? All dogs have varying levels of separation anxiety when their best friends leave them home alone. From constant barking, chewing up the house and worse, to just a pup’ wishing she had more to do when home alone for long periods of time.
Regardless of how your canine companion feels when you leave them, this article will tell you what you need to know when it comes to keeping your dog happy and unstressed while they’re at home and you’re at work.
The Way You Leave
First, consider how you leave. Are you doing the old “walk back and forth to find your cell phone and keys dance” every time you say goodbye to Sparky? Is it obvious you’re leaving? This could stress out your dog even more. You don’t have to escape every time you leave, but being smooth about it sets a calmer tone for your dog.
Further, how you return might have more to do with separation anxiety than you realize. If you let them jump, give them hugs, and do the whole “I’m home” thing, it creates a clear discrepancy between being alone – lonely deep puppy sadness – and “you’re home, omg, life is amazing!”
Either way, it won’t effect your dog too much, but for some doggy parents they may want to consider making leaving and returning a “non-event.” You want them to think, “My parents can leave or stay; I’ll be just as happy.”
How To Contain Your Dog When You Leave
Long term containment has a lot to do with your dog’s separation anxiety. Maybe your dog isn’t ready for a crate. Or maybe you’ve left her to roam the house, but now you need to change up the situation due to her favorite game called “couch nibbling.”
There are three main ways to contain your dog while you’re gone and a lot of reasons why you might choose any one of them. Your options are 1) in a crate, 2) in an area blocked off by doors, gates, and/or play pens or 3) roaming free in the house. Getting this right plays a huge role in keeping a dog happy who was left home alone.
Before using crates, it’s important your dog loves her crate. There are lots of resources on the web that explain how to get this to become a reality, but here’s a good one from one of my favorite trainers, Karen Pryor.
While you don’t want to leave them in there for too long, during certain periods in the day, like before the dog walker comes during work or maybe for a quick run to the supermarket, is totally fine.
The best part of a crate is that you can guarantee that they won’t get into any trouble that could cause harm to your home or, more importantly, to their own health. This is also a great way to help with potty training. For more info on potty training, stay tuned to our future blogs
Area Blocked by Gates, Doors and/or Play Pens
You may want to use an area that is secured by gates, doors, other barriers, or a combination.
If your dog is great with “holding it” and won’t destruct too much, you may want to allow them an area a little bigger than a crate. You can put their crate inside there as well, just make sure the door can’t possibly be shut by somehow locking or tying it open. We recommend this so dogs cannot get caught in the door or lock themselves out. If your dog struggles with potty training, we would recommend against this idea.
Free Run of the House
Some dogs get anxious, then start chewing, using the bathroom, and other destructive in-home behaviors. However, if your dog becomes anxious when you leave, but not necessarily to the point of making a mess the home, feel free to leave them out in the house. Just be careful you have fully pet proofed certain areas so they’re unable to ingest anything hazardous to their health. Lastly, it can’t hurt to shut some doors before you leave the house.
There’s no right answer when it comes to which containment area to leave your dog in. For some, crates are amazing. However, I would always try to transition to a containment area with gates, then free run of the house if possible. It all depends on how your dog takes to every new environment. Work in small increments and don’t be afraid to take a step back.
Extra Environmental Considerations
- It’s recommended to have at least a basic surveillance camera to check in on your pups every now and again to ensure they aren’t getting into any serious trouble. It could also help to be sure that your dog walkers and other professionals are doing the job they say they came to do. We don’t recommend paranoia; just a little bit of accountability checking is all.
- Turning down the lights and shutting the shades can help your dog to calm down in your absence. Further, you can put a blanket over the crate to switch their bodies into rest and calm mode. Less anxiety causing stimuli for a stressed-out dog, the better.
- Be sure to note what the weather will be like – especially during winter and summer months – so you can plan on keeping your dog comfortable. Maybe it’ll rise to a high temperature and humidity level while you’re at work or possibly, it’ll be too cold while you’re gone. Investing in a smart home thermostat control is the best for this situation – in this case you can control the thermostat and accordingly, your dog’s comfort level, from the office!
*What* To Give Your Dog When You Leave The Home
Now we’ll shift gears to what everyone has been waiting for. We’ll spill the beans on all the best toys, games, and other types of things that you can use as an aid to your pup’s separation anxiety.
If you can get your dog excited about what they’re going to get when you leave, that may correlate into one happy doggy. We’re talkin’ stabilized heart rate, blood pressure, healthy #2s later, and more.
Different Dogs Need Different Things
Maybe your dog doesn’t need much – or possibly you’re running so late you forgot to give them a special toy or game to play. Some owners can get away with leaving some small treats to be thrown on the ground or put into her food bowl. Here, you would say goodbye then place the snack down; they’re busy eating the treat(s) while you’re making your way out the door. She couldn’t care less.
For many dogs, just a few treats thrown on the ground isn’t good enough. If this applies to you, you may want to invest in a separation anxiety toy. These toys come in all different shapes and sizes. Check out our list of toys to get a good idea of what’s out there to use.
1. Chew Toys
Used Properly, These Chew Toys Are Approved For Unsupervised Use
The Original Kong
Prices range from $3.72 – $9.99. (Purchase on Amazon)
I put Kong first on the list because they’re the most well-known brand that sells, among other things, toys that help with separation anxiety. Every pet parent should have three or four Kong toys in their home. The video we posted in this Kong section will explain the need for more than one in a household, so check that out in a moment.
The main way to use the Kong is by taking treats or kibble and stuffing the inside of it. Then you give it to your pup and they spend a few minutes up to an entire day trying to get out the inner contents.
Make a Frozen Kong Cocktail
A while back one of my clients told me about a “scientific” study he did. He compared the time it took for his dogs to get frozen vs. room temperature peanut butter out of a Kong. His results indicated that “the frozen peanut butter took a hell of a lot longer to lick out compared to room temperature peanut butter.”
To make it last longer, take the Kong and turn it upside down with the large opening on top. Throw a treat or two in the bottom, then add a glob of peanut butter. Toss in whatever else you’d like and put it into the freezer. If Sparky is expecting one of these when you leave, she’ll probably help you with your bags and show you to the door.
Similarly, you can fill the Kongs with beef or chicken broth. Throw that sucker in the freezer. It’s a nice zero calorie munch for your pup that will keep her occupied until it’s completely finished.
You can purchase a few different types of original Kong toys. It’s offered in X-Small to XX-Large. They have softer Kongs for our lovely geriatric puppies too. Here’s a link to a picture that shows which Kong is perfect for your dog.
The Kong Company
Further, The Kong Company is a really cool; I’m not sure if they still do this, but I was told by an employee at Pet Supplies Plus in West Hartford that if you have an idea for a new dog toy, they’ll listen and help create it for you and the public. Lastly, their products go way beyond just their best selling original Kong separation anxiety toy. To see all of their products, check out their website at www.kong.com.
There’s a good video that explains how and when to use a Kong even better than I’ve explained above. It’s done really well too.
The Everlasting Bento Ball
Prices range from $3.72 – $9.99. (Purchase on Amazon)
This is one of my personal favorites that I have had good success with. It’s like the Kong but with a few twists. It’s a rubber ball where one side is comprised of a delicious hard-to-chew treat and the other side is made of a little compartment where dogs try for ever to get out the treats. Here’s what it looks like:
For this toy to really work, you have to keep buying their flavored ball replacement sets. The good thing is, is that they have come down in price from a few years ago.
If a dog loves the Bento Ball and has issues with separation anxiety, this toy can be a savior. I have personally seen some dogs take to this treat stronger than any treat I’ve ever tried. While the Kong may be better for some dogs, this will definitely take the place of #1 separation anxiety toy in many dog owner’s homes. If it doesn’t become the go-to toy, it’s still a must add to your separation anxiety product arsenal.
2. Brain Games / Dog Food Puzzles
Another way to keep dogs busy while you’re gone, is to provide them with brain games also known as Dog Food Puzzles. You can leave them one or multiple puzzles to solve and keep them busy for a while.
There are a few different levels of these games, and it depends on how advanced your dog is when considering which type of game to purchase. The difficulty levels are rates as level one, two and three.
As I searched through websites and Amazon, I noticed a cool company selling brain toy products called Outward Hound. They were nice, professional, and got back to me right away via email after I reached out to their headquarters. I was provided with cool graphics and a blog to share about why you would choose a level one, two, or three brain game.
They also sent me a great graphic. Since they were first to respond, they get the prime referral on our blog. Check out this cool graphic that gives you the quick details on all three levels with the corresponding toy you can buy directly from them.
Trixie Pet Products
Another company, Trixie Pet Products has a large offering of brain games as well. Here’s a link to their website.
How Do I Keep My Dog From Getting Bored of These Toys?
Dog toys are best used when owners put them away during times they aren’t being played with. Check out our short blog on why it’s smart to put your dog’s toys away. It explains how to get a dog excited when they’re offered something. Essentially, a toy’s effect will surely be lessened if they are left out all the time.
3. Pet Cameras
Another great way to help solve the issue of separation anxiety. They allow you to see your pets while you’re gone, and depending on the product you can play, interact, send treats while you’re gone, and more.
While searching for the best pet cameras on the market, I came across a company called PetChatz. They were on the Ellen DeGeneres show and have had lots of success. I spoke to a nice man Joe from their company who provided me with some awesome graphics to help explain the product a little better.
And look – you can have fun video chats with your dog from out of the house.
Now, just because I’m listing this next product second, does not mean they are second best. They’re simply listed second for no reason. The Petcube is my other favorite camera in the emerging pet camera industry. Petcube’s website says that their products allow you to “see, talk, play, and treat when you’re away.” They sell two different types of cameras. I’ll show you both, below.
First, the less expensive and smaller PetCube Play: (purchase here)
And secondly, their premium offering, the Petcube Bites: (purchase here)
They also offer a PetCube Care program, where you can choose between their Basic, Most Popular, and Best Value plan for $4.99, $9.99, and $24.99 / month respectively. For more information on these plans, visit their PetCube Care program page.
Lastly, check out their short promo video. It really pulls at the heart strings!
I like that this product has the option to play with your dog with a laser pointer. I’ve seen many a dog exercise themselves relentlessly in the presence of a laser pointer. If your dog takes to these things, it could be a game changer. Imagine providing your dog with exercise while you’re on a coffee break at work. #mindblown
This can also do a lot of the other things that PetChatz can do, with the exception of having your puppy see you. However, you can see them through their phone and computer apps. Their app also allows you to share the videos with your friends and family on your favorite social media sites.
Record Their Behavior at Home
If you don’t have a pet camera or the ability to get one, you can always find an old iPad or smart phone and record them through the device’s video recording feature. Seeing what is going on at home before making a plan to make it better could be advantageous for pet owners. We can try all these different tips and tricks, but it isn’t until we can see what we are working with, can we properly know how to tackle it.
4. The Thundershirt
This next product is so cool, it gets its own section of the blog. It’s in a league of it’s own. Their website says that this product is 80% effective in decreasing stress related to vet visits, noise, travel and separation anxiety. Here’s a link that will bring you to four scientific articles that they claim prove its effectiveness (scroll to the bottom of the page you’re taken to). Check it out to decide for yourself!
Personally, I don’t have experience with this product, but know some people who use them and swear by it. If your dog struggles with anxiety when you are out of the home, it’s definitely worth a shot.
Here’s a cute little video that gives a quick, yet thorough explanation of how this works and what it does. The video also notes that they stick by a 100% satisfaction guaranteed or your money back policy.
5. Dog Monitors
A dog health monitor is a way to become a little more scientific with your methods. You can buy other pet products until you’re blue in the face, but you’re playing from behind if you don’t have *all* the details about whats going on with your pet.
Dog monitors can tell you heart rate, breathing rate, activity level, etc. They can do a lot more too, depending on which monitor you buy.
I found an nice blog website called Canine Journal and they’ve already done the work for me on a blog called “Best Dog Activity Monitor, which compares several of the activity monitors on the market today.
A Full Arsenal of Products
Imagine leaving your dog to the most exciting day ever. While you’re gone, they get started with a Kong and a Bento Ball. Then, some time spent playing brain games that you’ve left out for her. With the addition of the Thundershirt and an interactive pet camera, you can pretty much guarantee they’ll be happy, busy, and at other times calm and sleepy.
Remember, with products like the Kong, it’s important to have at least 3 – 4 of them. Or a couple Kongs and some Bento balls. It’s a process and a cycle. For example, a frozen Kong has a life cycle. It goes from the freezer, to with with the dog, then into the sink.
Rule Out Health Concerns
If your dog suffers from worrisome in-home behaviors like incessant barking, chewing, housebreaking, etc., it’s always smart to rule out health conditions first.
In this situation, it’s good to start with knowing your pup has a clean bill of health. Regular checkups, new blood work and all – make sure you aren’t dealing with something you didn’t know was exacerbating the issue.
Talk to a Behaviorist
If you’re looking for professional help with your dog who suffers from separation anxiety, look no further than a behaviorist. Don’t go to the vet looking for the “be all end all” advice on dog training or behaviorism. Veterinarians are amazing and some of the best people I know, but you wouldn’t go to a car salesman and ask for a flu shot. Thus, don’t go to the vet asking for credentialed dog behaviorist advice. To find a dog behaviorist, you can start with a search at the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. You can also check out the The Association of Professional Dog Trainers or the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
Exercise Your Dog
Here’s something you already know: dogs need exercise! A study in the journal Plos One notes that along with early life experiences and quality of maternal care, daily exercise attributes to proper welfare and management of dogs (Tiira, K, Lohi, H., 2015). Without exercise, your dog might show you what looks like separation anxiety, but is actually just general anxiety and restlessness.
Find a Dog Walker While You’re At Work
Unless a dog gets good exercise, none of these products or training suggestions can be used to its full potential. When your dog is properly exercised, they are tired. Hence, they don’t have to take their energy out on chewing your couch.
Consistent dog walking and exercise can improve health (German, A., et al., 2017) and eliminate the majority of maladaptive in-home behaviors. During our training sessions, I tell clients that before we can approach any behavioral issues, proper exercise must satisfied.
Why It’s Important To Use A Dog Walking Company…with “W2 Employees”
If you need help in the middle of the day getting your dog to exercise, make your kids do it. If that’s not possible – or you don’t have kids – get yourself a dog walking service. When dogs are left home for the entire work day, they lose out on fun exercise which can aid the doggy blues.
Sites like Rover.com and Wag! are good alternatives – but only in certain situations. Each and every rover staff is paid not as an employee, but as an Independent Contractor, or a “1099.” They can’t legally be trained by their employer. Further, they seldom have an authentic buy-in and connection with their company and it’s vision.
On the other hand, a Dog Walking service with W2 employees can train their employees, and work as a team – the employees are in a better position to want to represent and love the company, brand, and value that they stand for (so long as they’re treated right!).
If you’re in our area, feel free to reach out to us at any time for help with your dog walking needs. We currently have availability for clients who need help dog walking anytime between 9-5, M-F! Check out our home page and about page too.
Let Us Know What You Think
So there you have it – an extensive list of tools that can help you in the battle against separation anxiety. I assure you, however, that this list isn’t exhaustive. Do you have any other tricks or tools that help your dog with anxiety when left home? If so, please include them in the comments below. Together we can make this list of ideas even better.
Also, have you had experience with any of these products? Care to share anything else that has to do with this subject? Please, we’d love to hear it all!
Owner, David’s Pet Services
Tiira K, Lohi H (2015) Early Life Experiences and Exercise Associate with Canine Anxieties. PLoS ONE 10(11): e0141907. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0141907
German, A., Blackwell, E., Evans, M., Westgarth, C (2017) Overweight dogs exercise less frequently and for shorter periods: results of a large online survey of dog owners from the UK. 6(11)